Parent bullying: The one-upper society

By Sue Scheff:

Every day we hear or read about kids using words as weapons to inflict harm upon one another — whether it’s on the playground, in the hallways of our schools, in their own homes, or online. Peer cruelty happens every day.

Where does this behavior come from? Although many experts have weighed in on this topic with their academic and psychological input, my perspective is more personal. I know firsthand that this type of cruelty starts at the top — adults.

I have been the victim of both adult bullying and cyberbullying. Sure, everyone at some point in their life has behaved in a way they are not proud of. However being an adult means learning from your mistakes and never repeating them again, especially when there are children watching.

Some adults don’t seem to understand this.

Grownups, especially parents, have a difficult time being accountable for their behavior when it comes to their child. When confronted with a situation that triggers a tailspin, as we witness on reality shows such as Dance Moms or Cheer Perfection, parents are quick to defend their poor behavior saying they are only “supporting their child” or “speaking their mind.” In reality, do they understand that there are adult ways to behave without harassing or tormenting or (dare I say) bullying others? I often wonder if when they watch themselves on screen, do they see their behavior for what it is — adults behaving badly?

These are parents (grownups) acting like children. They are harassing one another other, sending nasty text messages back and forth and literally disrespecting each other in front of youths. This behavior actually extends into their homes where they continue ugly gossip and refuse to stop even when they know kids are listening and watching.

Some parents continue their feuds online. Don’t they realize their kids can read? There is nothing wrong with a good debate or sound argument, however when name calling and personal information is displayed (keep in the mind the Internet is public and permanent), and they are bringing minors into the fray, it is wrong on all levels.

See me, hear me, love me

Is this what these people want — attention? Like a child that craves a parent’s attention, even if it is negative — is that what these grownups are seeking?

Many of these adults will go to extreme measures to have us believe they live a charmed life while using their tongues and keystrokes to belittle others. Why do they seem to take pleasure in causing harm to others? Are we back to wanting attention or stroking their ego? Maybe the charmed life isn’t as charmed as they would have us to believe.

I believe it is because we now live in the “one-upper society.”

What is the one-upper’s philosophy? Parents are pressuring their kids to be over-achievers; it is not good enough to do your best anymore, you have to compete with the Jones’! Little Sally has to be the best swimmer, little Joey the best ball player, and your child the Einstein of the school. If they aren’t, there is something wrong with them.

Kids enter kindergarten much further along than generations past, so when do they have the opportunity to be kids? Their parents are always pushing for more, more, more — cramming their schedules and expecting them to exceed in everything. We have read many articles about the competitiveness to get into daycare! And these children haven’t even started school yet.

Is this race for the top for the parent or the child? And when things don’t go their way, parents take no prisoners.

Yes, parent bullies have become a new silent society that no one is talking about. But our kids are taking note. And unfortunately following in their parents’ footsteps.

It starts at the top. That’s where bullying comes from and if grownups act like children, how do we expect children to act any differently?

Takeaway tips:

• No one is immune to verbal abuse. Words can be a powerful weapon at all ages.
• Think before your speak. Is your concern truly about your child or about you?
• Never engage in debates if you don’t feel you can’t be rational – we are adults and parents. This includes online discussions. Your kids are watching you.
• Always remember that you get more with kindness and respect than you do with bullish behavior.
Lead by example, actions speak louder than words.


Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. Find her on Twitter @SueScheff.