Is bullying ever okay?

Bullying is awful and a big deal. I don’t envy kids today – thanks to social media, school bullying doesn’t end with the last bell and can cause serious psychological scars. But it’s not just kids who get bullied. There’s that woman who accidentally shared a picture intended for her husband with a whole Whatsapp group, who is being shamed by almost all of South Africa through the continual sharing of her picture. Or the parents of the kid who fell in with Harambe, who were blamed and accused of being bad parents. Or anyone who is shamed in shopping centers for breastfeeding, or for having a toddler throw a tantrum, or for going back to work, or for not going back to work… the list goes on and on.

I often write about feeling judged, about my continual affirmation that no one can tell me how to raise my kid. I’ve talked about not apologizing when Harley cries, or about how I know what’s best for my little one and how irritated I get when other people tell me that she must be cold or need to eat differently. I am adamant that every baby is different and that I don’t care what people do – if they want to use disposable or cloth nappies, if they opt for breast or bottle, if they stay home or work, if kids are put in creche/day care or stay home with a nanny or au pair. Everyone needs to make life work for them, and who am I to judge anyone for any of those decisions? So I’ve been a bit taken aback by a new instinct I’ve had.

Harley car seat 9 monthsAs I hope you’re all aware, I’m part of an, um, AWARENESS campaign called #CarseatFullstop. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness among parents – the fact that so few parents have their kids strapped into car seats, let alone strapped in correctly is terrifying. The idea is that we assume all parents want their kids to be safe. And we all make mistakes sometimes – there are plenty of people who are just dashing out for a quick trip to the store or who have a screaming kid and just let the little one sit with a seatbelt, or held in someone’s arms. We all make safety mistakes, but hopefully by raising awareness we can cut those down dramatically and encourage all parents to keep their little ones safe.

But then I see someone doing it wrong, and I feel such a strong urge to comment. To the neighbor who lets her 8-10 year old girl ride in the front seat, or the woman at Pick N Pay who lets her 3-year-old ride loose in the backseat, or the man who helps secure his wife’s seatbelt in the passenger seat as she holds their baby in her arms. It doesn’t have to be a high-speed accident to have catastrophic effects. If any of those families are in a collision at just 30 kilometers per hour, those little ones will be horribly injured, if not killed. That’s a big deal and reminds me of what got Mandy so upset to begin with, what got her to start this campaign – if you aren’t sure as a parent if you’re doing the right thing, maybe you should think “is the alternative my kid dying“?

And yet, I wonder about sharing this kind of information with strangers. In the same way that I hate people who tell me what to do with Harley, and become even more oppositionally defiant against whatever they tell me to do, would I have that impact if I told people the dangers of not strapping their little ones in? Would they just think I’m a raving lunatic telling them what to do? Would it come across as bullying? I want to name and shame some of these people – share pictures of kids loose in cars on Facebook or Twitter to hopefully push parents into doing the right thing. When I spoke to my sister-in-law in the States, she was so surprised about the campaign; the social stigma where she lives is so high for parents who don’t use car seats that no one would dare take a kid to school or the store without strapping them in securely. On the one hand, I think that’s great. But on the other hand, does that count as bullying?

If I shared a picture of the Land Rover I see every morning doing the school run without kids strapped in, and it was shared across Facebook and that parent was shamed for their dangerous inaction, is that bullying? Does it count as bullying if it could save a child’s life? And how would I feel if someone did the same to me – shared a picture of me out at a bar or restaurant with Harley in the evening, or without socks, or still breastfeeding at 9 months old? Would I feel bullied? Probably. Would I change my behavior? Hell no – I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. My child isn’t in danger, isn’t at risk. But I’m sure in some people’s eyes, she is being neglected or something because she isn’t always bundled up or sleeping in bed by 8pm.

So when is it okay? Is it okay to talk to people who aren’t strapping their kids in? Is it okay to tell them about the dangers? Or do I just keep writing, keep sharing, keep hoping that they open their eyes and change their behavior once they realize that what they’re doing is wrong?


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