Let's Wipe Out Bullying: Laughs For Losers
Picture this: You or someone you love being bullied. No picture needed, right?
Where there's a school, there's usually a bully.
A new school year is upon us, with its focus on academics and academicians (both teachers and students), favorite Fall sports, libraries, technology, bullying....
“Wait,” you might say. “Why is bullying included in this nostalgic look at a new school year?”
First of all, there is nothing “nostalgic,” entertaining, or engaging about bullying. Think about it. Most of us have known poeple who were the victims of bullying. Many of us have watched bullies in action. Some of us were victims, and others (shudder) were the bullies themselves. There may be schools with fewer incidents of bullying than occur at other schools, probably due to a strictly enfroced anti-bullying policy, but the sad reality is this: wherever there’s a group of kids, from kindergarten to high school, there’s usually a bully or two or six lying in ambush, licking their lips in anticipation of the suffering they plan to inflict upon an innocent child, adolescent, or teen-ager.
It's been around since Cain and Abel, perhaps.....
Bullying is nothing new. As long as there have been kids, adolescents, teens, and, yes, adults on Earth there have been bullies. It has nothing to do with the balance of nature and everything to do with human nature. After all, doesn't everyone feel the need to feel important? Bullies just take a short cut to fulfilling that need at the expense of other people. In fact, a bully comes very close to fitting the definition of a sociopath; she seems to think anything she does is okay as long as it is beneficial to her. (Surprised at the feminine pronoun? We'll get to that later.)
For years, the "bullies have no self esteem" school of thought has been bandied about; in some cases, that is true. In many other cases, though, bullies are bullies because they have too much self esteem coupled with a mean streak. They are leaders of a negative ilk who are able to amass "followers" who would rather assist them in their efforts than risk the possibility of becoming their victims. Identify the kids who are bullying a fellow student on the playground. It shouldn't take long to find their leader; there always is one. Sometimes a bully has so much confidence in his ability to terrify and intimidate that he prefers to work alone and be feared from afar.
Bullies all around us.... They muddle the picture.
....But there is no excuse.
There have been many incidents which give witness to the tragic consequences of bullying reported by the news media. Far too many victims of all ages have been driven to suicide by intimidation and constant harassment. You might recall the recent case of the college student who killed himself rather than face the humiliation caused by two fellow students who thought it amusing to publish compromising pictures on the Internet. Indeed, the burgeoning of a web-based society has allowed bullying to be taken to new heights.....or depths. Remember the mother who harassed one of her daughter's peers until the young woman could take it no longer? Then there's the other type of victim, the one who decides to make others suffer in retaliation for all the bullying to which he was subjected. This victim-turned-predator scenario, as in the cases of those who perpetrated some notorious school shootings, is particularly tragic. The former victims had learned their lesson too well and had amended it slightly: if only the fittest( in their minds, bullies) survive, then I guess I'll become one of them. We know, of course, that bullies are a far cry from being "the fittest." In the narrow world into which a victim has been trapped, however, it's not much of a stretch to understand how their perceptions could have been so tragically altered.
The major issues seem to be identifying a bully and putting a stop to the bullying. Sadly, this is easier said than done. For one thing, some of the world's worst bullies have been able to hide their cruelty behind a good-girl (or good-boy) facade so that no one (except their cohorts and the victim, of course) would ever suspect them of such unspeakable acts. For another, many victims have been so terrified by threats of retribution from bullies that they suffer in silence until it is to late for anyone to come to their aid. Also, in far too many cases, if the victim does gather the courage to identify his or her abuser, the bully's parents are more than willing to rush to his/her defense with cries of, "Not my child!" This enabling behavior, of course, is just another reason why a bully is a bully in the first place.
You can find on the internet the video of the 13-year-old in Upper Darby, PA who was attacked and hung by his jacket from a fence by a gang of bullies. Members of the Philadelphia Eagles learned of the cowardly attack and stepped up to the plate when, on ABC's The View, they assured the victim that they "have his back". But how many victims of bullying have the support of a major league football team? What about the girl who was harassed during elementary school so badly that she has chosen to be home schooled rather than risk unbearable humiliation at the hands (perhaps "mouths" would be more appropriate) of her peers? Or the promising young man who was driven to suicide his first day of high school thanks to the cruel "welcome" he received that day from bullies?
Is There a Solution?
What can we do to stop bullying until karma kicks in? To begin, we can start by setting good examples. If your child witnesses you being rude to a clerk, a waitress, a teacher, you're sending a message that the way to survive is to intimidate. If, on the other hand, he sees you being kind and courteous in daily scenarios, he might learn a lesson of a far different persuasion. Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer of TV fame, certainly is on the right track with his "How Dogs Can Teach Kids Empathy" program, in which he takes dogs into the class room to give kids a unique look at social interaction. Another idea is organizing parent advocate groups that take a look at how to deal as a group with the problem of bullying and the "Not My Kid" school of thought. A strict no-tolerance policy in our schools in addition to educating the educators on how to identify and deal with bullies are essential. Also, encouraging kids to develop a skill in something that builds their confidence (e.g., karate, judo, even public speaking) might steer them away from developing a "victim mentality."
When I taught English at the middle school level, I made it clear from the first day of school that rudeness or aggression of any kind toward another person, whether it be another student, a teacher, or a custodian, would not be tolerated. In fact, I displayed signs proclaiming BE NICE! in selected positions throughout my room and assured my students that if they didn't (Be Nice!) they would read each sign (17 in all) in front of the class as a reminder. The kids knew that I was serious. By the end of my last year at the middle school, very few kids had been asked to read those signs. When I moved up to the high school, I assumed the signs would not be necessary. (These were high school students, after all, and aren't high school students more mature than middle schoolers?) However, I ended up with a lot of my former middle schoolers in my high school classes; it didn't take long for some of them to request that I post those signs. When I overheard a few of my colleagues having a good laugh over the BE NICE! signs they'd noticed in the detention room (yes, my room was used for detention), I spoke up. "Did you ever try it?" I asked. Without waiting for an answer, I added, "It works."
My advice, then, is this: Be an advocate against bullying every chance you get. Make it clear to your child and anyone with whom he/she comes in contact that bullying of any kind will not be tolerated. Enlist your neighbors to do the same, and together come up with a list of consequences for bullying (denying privileges and actually following through, for example). Finally, take your concerns to school; suggest that parents, teachers, and administrators draw up a firm policy on bullying so that victims aren't afraid to identify bullies, and bullies are firmly aware of how easy- and dangerous- it is to fall from the slippery slope they've chosen to navigate. In other words, a bully needs to see himself as the loser he or she really is.