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Bullying: Zero Tolerance
Imagine you're a sixth grade boy. You moved to a new school district in elementary school and it was a difficult adjustment. The kids made fun of you on a daily basis, only because they didn't take the chance to get to know you and you were new. You tried to play along with them and give it back to them, but teachers always caught you. They labeled you a troublemaker and often said you were an instigator.
Instead of befriending you, the rest of your classmates continued for years to bully you. You realize that acting out and playing along with them gets you in nothing but trouble, so you begin to withdraw. You become a quiet person, a shell of who you really are and really want to be. You ache for those comments to be friendly, for those other guys to want to hang out with you on the weekends and sit with you at lunch. Instead, they continue to throw nasty comments to you. What's worse, everyone tells you that words don't hurt and to ignore it.
When 6th grade comes along, you feel like it's a chance to make a change. There are more people around you now, but it's still hard to make friends. You've never really had an opportunity to learn. You keep repeating the mantra "they are only words" as other kids hurl hateful words at you. You are in an academic assistance class and all of the other kids think you are different and you are slow. This is an X on your back you didn't need and the other kids are relentless at reminding you of it.
During gym class, the boys exclude you from games. When forced to play, you hear them call you gay slang words, even though you're not gay. It infuriates you, so you react, and you get caught and in trouble. Because of your previous teacher's commenting on your tendencies to instigate when you were in elementary school, the gym teacher thinks that you started it and doesn't reprimand the boys calling you those names. You are sent to talk to the principal and a call goes home.
Even when you explain to your parents what happens, they are disappointed you were called into the principal's office. They tell you you'll have to deal with the kids at school and "toughen up." If only they knew the pain it caused you and the tears you cried every night before you fell asleep.
Because no one stopped the verbal abuse from the bullies, they've decided to take it a step further. During class one day another boy was calling you names. You shot back and told him to knock it off. As soon as the bell rings, you get up to leave class. Once in the hallway, you feel the blow of someone to your left side and your right side is smashed into the cold concrete walls. Your head hurts and there is blood. Your elbow hit first and is instantly swollen and black and blue. Your cheek is cut and bleeding. Your attacker? Gone.
Someone witnessed the incident and both you and your bully are in the principal's office. The school, having no strict policy for bullies has no choice but to punish you both. You receive the same punishment as the boy who pushed you into the wall, yet you did nothing to provoke it.
Imagine feeling that helpless, knowing you are in a place that is supposed to be safe yet there is nothing in place to ensure your safety when it comes to bullies. Whether it it because people don't consider it a problem in your school or if it's too difficult to define a bully and create a policy, it is important that all schools work out a way to protect the children that are sent there every day.
A Bully is an Abuser
So while I know that if I suspect abuse at home and I must report it, what must I do when I suspect or even know that there is abuse going on in school? What can be done to help the children that are bullied under our noses inside a building that is supposed to be a safe place for them?
There is no clear answer to this; without a strict policy enforced, the child may be left to suffer at the hands of his or her abuser (the bully).
Do you think bullying is an issue worth addressing in our schools?
Bullying Has Always Been Around, Hasn't It?
Bullying is more and more in the spotlight. There are headlines all the time discussing bullying. From Lady Ga Ga to the new movie Bully, the issue of bullying is coming to the forefront and is becoming something we need to find a way to eliminate, especially from our schools.
One of the most frequent comments when discussing bullying and its impact on children is the fact that bullying has been around forever. Many naysayers believe that it's a phase, that it is something that happens to everyone at some point in time and is just a fact of life for school children. The truth is that bullying today doesn't have the same face it did even 10 years ago. Technology has made it so that bullies can follow children home and continue to harass and abuse them through the internet and cell phones.
Bullying can take many shapes and it must be clear to educators and parents alike that bullying, much like abuse, can be physical or emotional. Either way that it is presented, it can be devastating to the victim and must be taken seriously.
In the case of cyber bullying, schools find they can only do so much. What doesn't happen on school property might not be something that the school can help. Because of this, schools should be even more vigilant protecting their students in ways that they can by enforcing strict policies around bullying in school.
Giving the Victim a Voice
What does a loose policy on bullying do for the victim? In many cases it makes the victim feel victimized over and over because he or she is not able to see any justice for what is happening to him or her. This will often be internalized, causing students to become depressed and even consider suicide. We know that news stories regarding teen suicides being related to bullying have become all too common.
One excuse many adults try to give is putting the blame on the victim not on the bully. So often we hear things like, "He likes all kinds of attention: positive or negative" or "He instigates so what does he expect?" These statements are dangerous. Some children do not know how to seek attention in good ways and will end up with negative attention, but I cannot accept that a child wants to be called derogatory names or be beat up in school to get attention. Deep down inside, those actions destroy a child. We need to step in and make a change.
We need to be the ones to say it's not OK for our students to come to school and be hurt, emotionally, physically or otherwise, while they are in our care. We need to teach students that the way to approach life is to be accepting of everyone for all of their differences and to learn to work together. Fostering this kind of atmosphere will not only help students who are bullied feel safe, but allow all students to learn life skills to help them be contributing, successful and positive members of our society.