Recently I met a parent who cited bullying as one of the main reasons she had decided, now that her children were approaching school age, that she was going to home school them. “Why would I want to expose my children to that kind of environment? I hated school. I was teased and bullied and the schools today have larger class sizes where the teacher can barely manage to teach students, let alone monitor behavior.” She said. Having been a public school teacher, I can’t argue with part of her argument, class sizes are larger. But I do believe that most teachers are paying attention and do their best to keep the classroom safe. In reality, most bullying happens in the unsupervised moments; the locker room, at recess, on the jungle gym, during those moments of the day, which are not closely monitored because kids should be free to play, right?
At the same time I wonder where her protection will end? There is a part of me that questions the efficacy of her solution to this problem. Sure, if she home schools, she can control her children’s environment and be there to intervene should a mean child cross their paths. But in reality, the world is not full of Mr. Nice Guys. If you can’t learn to stick up for yourself as a youngster, when will it happen? Will she follow her kids to work and tell the boss off for them when he’s having a bad day?
More importantly, should today's mom and dads feel so scared that they believe this type of protection is necessary?
I received this letter from a girl when I was in the 7th grade. I didn’t really know who she was except that she was bigger than me with way more street smarts. I got the letter on a Friday and I sat in my room all weekend scared, crying and worrying about what I was going to do. Luckily, this strange behavior eventually caused my mom to wonder why I was holed up in my room all weekend instead of out playing. Even though I told her not to, my mom came in my room and caught me writing my last will and testament.
I’m not sure what my mom did or if she did anything besides reassure me that the girl was not going to kill me and inform me that yes, I would still have to go to school. I didn't really believe my mom, but the girl never showed up on Monday and I’m still alive to tell about it. What matters most is that I really believed what the girl wrote, and I was preparing to die.
You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard recent reports of kids who have committed suicide in response to incessant, targeted bullying. I have to admit that sometimes, when I hear about these terrible incidents, I am split between remembering what it felt like to be really scared and alone, to wonder what would happen if my mom hadn’t intervened or if I didn’t have a mom who paid a lot of attention and never noticed a change in behavior….and thinking that publicizing these types of deaths in some way adds an element of sensationalizing that might be appealing to a kid that never got any attention, who felt lost and kicked aside. I worry that this sends a message to kids that in death they may somehow finally be recognized, appreciated and loved?
I really hope not. I know that the parents of these children feel that by publicizing their child’s untimely demise, they are outing the problem, in the hopes that it won’t happen to another child, that no other parent will have to experience the loss of a child due to what unfortunately has become a backward social institution that is somehow ingrained in our society.
What makes a Bully bully? Clearly, there is an element to bullying that seems to be innate. It’s happened for generations and despite our seeming advancements in education and civilization, it continues to haunt both children and the parents who care for them. Is this just a part of nature, to weed out the weak? Or is it a test that is designed to make you more resilient, to give you that feeling that you faced something truly horrible and survived?
Is it a perpetual cycle where all the kids who are bullies have been picked on themselves and this makes them feel that picking on others is somehow justified or offers a sense of satisfaction?
Is bullying a biological trait? Are bullies bad seeds, inherently mean and anti-social who lash out without provocation? If allowed to continue unchecked, do they eventually grow into malformed adults with dangerously violent physical and mental behaviors?
I think maybe they are just addicted to negative attention. Perhaps they, like many kids, feel painfully inadequate or unable to garner positive attention through a child's regular channels of recognition. Maybe bullying is the only thing they think they are good at? Being a kid today is highly competitive. Parents and schools can be nurturing and giving, but they may also put so much pressure on children to succeed that it pushes some kids over the edge. Others may just give up without even trying because they feel like if they’re never gonna be the best, what’s the point?
I know when I was a kid I was teased and bullied by at least 2 boys. I was a girl then. I got teased because I was tall because I was hairy, because I had size 12 shoes. I told my dad about the bullying and he told me to stand up for myself and that if I did hit the kid that I was supposed to go to the school office and report what I had done and to have them call my dad. My dad told me he would back me up all the way. Finally one day when the bully Abraham pushed me up against the locker, I had had enough and I fought back and shoved him back into the lockers harder then he had shoved me and I punched him. I called my dad immediately and he came to the school and backed me up. Nothing happened to me as a result of hitting Abraham because it was self-defense. Abraham was surprised and after that he never bothered me again.
There is some truth about standing up for yourself but nowadays when kids carry weapons, guns, sometimes it is better to call the police and have the school handle things. Times have changed and as such the measures parents take also need to change.
Can retribution stop a bully?
My first incident of bullying happened on the bus. A kid named Andy would taunt me EVERY day. For some reason- because the bus lady didn’t say anything? Because I thought if I ignored him or acted like I didn’t care he would stop? Because my parents were pacifists? -I didn’t do anything about it. Although small for his age, and maybe one of the smallest kids on the bus, he was on his way to being a child star, so he was definitely one of the cool kids. But I guess even when you have booked a commercial and starred in an after school special, at age 11, when you’re smaller than everybody, it’s still a priority to pick on someone else, to make them feel small so that you can LOOK big. Because to me, at age 12 and probably a head taller, being the recipient of his taunts made me blind to his physical size. I was afraid of him and felt belittled and angry. Over a period of two years he teased me every day on that bus, all the way to school and back.
I guess the anger built up. One day at lunch I saw him on the quad and he must have said something to me because I just starting kicking the shit out of him- literally. My face turned red and I was crying and kicking at the same time. I couldn’t stop. I kicked at his legs and then got him on the ground and just kept kicking. This went on for 4-5 minutes before the yard duty broke it up. The next thing I knew I was in the principal’s office and he was asking me, “Why did you do that? You are such a good student?” I was. I was a teacher’s pet, I did well in school and when I saw kids cutting class I was appalled. When I told the principal about the teasing on the bus, he said he was surprised I hadn’t done anything about it sooner. Then he called my mom. Of course, I hadn’t told her anything about it because I was embarrassed, I wanted to be a cool kid and in so yearning, had protected Andy, by not saying anything. But at that moment, this reasoning was really working against me. Luckily, my mom believed me and so did the principal apparently since no consequences happened to either of us. And you know what? He never teased me on the bus again.
Recently a lot of videos have been released that illustrate similar situations in which a taunted child gets physical retribution against the perpetrator. The clear response to these viral videos is applause for justice done.
Although retribution can be effective, I have definite reservations about teaching this as a means to an end. I definitely think children should feel confident to stand up for themselves, but I stop short of thinking that physical violence is an effective solution to a social problem that is in and of itself comprised of physical and emotional violence.
And some part of me wonders if this may not be the link that makes the victim into the perpetrator.
Other than the perpetrator and the victim, the silent observers, the complicit, also play a role in bullying that can not be overlooked. While there is a sense of shame that cajoles the victim into keeping mum, and a sense of getting away with a known wrong that keeps the bully quiet, what keeps the onlookers from stepping up and doing or saying something? It seems we are all pre-programmed to participate in some kind of implicit contract.
Within my lifetime, the social perception of bullying has changed dramatically. I grew up in a time where a common response from an adult about being teased would have been either to stand up to the bully, or ignore them- but never to tattle. Interestingly, nearly all of the stories people wrote to me about being bullied ended with an authority figure finding out- either by a parent or child telling them.
This may partly be because the reaction, and the forms that it now takes have also changed. Now there is cyber bullying, making it so the taunting does not end at school, but follows the child home (the former safe house, where a kid could escape from their bully) and to their after school and weekend activities through social networking, a place where millions of people are privy to what you're doing, and still...the norm is to keep mum.
Here's a story a friend told me about his niece, "Omi was in the girls bathroom at school and was physically assaulted by the girl bully. Omi's hair was pulled and she was punched several times in her face and all over her body. Omi is scared to go to school now. Several days after the incident in the girls bathroom occurred, Omi had plans to go with her friend to the movie theater. Omi's friend posted on Facebook that it was going to be a fun day at that the movies. The bully responded to Omi' friend post and threatened to see them at the movie theater after the movie ended so she could beat up Omi some more. My aunt has urged Omi and and her friends not to post anything on FB so as to not let the bully know where Omi is so she won't get attacked. "
Of course, one could say well, just don’t let your kids go on facebook. While this may be effective, is it letting the bully win? Either way, if all the rest of the child’s friends are on the social network, the bully will continue to cyberstalk. Some say it is the responsibility of social networks to police against cyber bullies- but unless the bully's behavior is overt, as opposed to just tracking a child so they can bully them in person, what can the social network do?
Instead, if all the silent onlookers got up the nerve to say something, maybe this problem could be fixed once and for all.