Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare. We’re going to talk about bullying. The reason I decided to address this issue today is because I came very close to contributing to the bullying epidemic. Here’s what happened:
Last night, a friend of mine texted me and asked for advice on how to handle a problem she is having with her child. You see, her child has endured continuous bullying since last school year and the school system has turned a blind eye. She’s done everything a parent could do to help her child and I have been with her through her journey. Or, at least that’s what I believed. I listened to her, expressed outrage on behalf of her family, and offered advice. But, that’s all. Last night, she asked me to help her take definitive action. This was not her first request. I’ve put her off before because of the holidays, sick kids, and again last week because of the horrific dental experience (ouch!). I wanted to put her off again, but not because I had a legitimate excuse this time. I wanted to put her off because I was tired. Because I had enough to worry about. Because I don’t want to get involved with something that isn’t really my problem. My kids aren’t being bullied.
This morning, I realized that I was the reason our society has such a problem with bullying. Not just me, but people like me who don’t want to get actively involved in solving our bullying problems because it isn’t at the top of our list of worries. I care about children who are being bullied–I think most people do. When we hear about bullied children, teenagers who have been driven to suicide because they can’t cope, or kids who have been beaten up at the bus stop, we all express outrage. Outrage doesn’t solve anything–action does.
Back in middle school and high school, there was a girl in my classes who was terribly bullied. (We’ll call her Kelly) In eighth grade, the boys would dump everything out of Kelly’s desk when the teacher was out of the room. People called her names. In high school, a group of ‘popular’ girls thought it would be funny to nominate Kelly for Homecoming Queen. I listened to the girls whisper about how funny it would be and how ugly the Kelly was. I was furious, but I said nothing. When the Homecoming Court nominations were announced over the intercom, I glanced at Kelly and felt ill when I saw the humiliation on her face. I said nothing. When the ring leader of the popular girls went up to Kelly after class and said, “If you want, I can help you with hair and makeup,” it was obvious that Kelly knew who’d instigated the nomination and that she knew she was the butt of a cruel joke. I had never been so outraged in my entire life, but I kept my mouth shut, afraid the bullies would turn their attention to me instead. I felt terrible for doing nothing to help her, but I told myself that Kelly partly to blame for her predicament–if she didn’t cry when people picked on her, the bullies would eventually get bored and leave her alone.
Outrage. Did my outrage help Kelly? No, because I didn’t act on that outrage. My silence made me a coward and blaming the victim for her situation made me just as bad as the bullies–maybe worse. I still think about Kelly from time to time, and every time I think about her, I regret my silence and the role I played in the continued destruction of her self-esteem.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people try to justify bullying. Just like I did with Kelly. Here’s what I’ve heard from parents and kids alike:
- She talked behind my back first, so this is what she deserves.
- He’s a tattletale and nobody likes a tattletale.
- If she wasn’t so fat (or weird, stupid, ugly, etc), people probably wouldn’t mess with her.
- It’s not like anyone hit him on pushed him in to a locker–it was just name calling
- If she walks like a slut, dresses like a slut, and acts like a slut–then she’s a slut.
- Can’t he take a joke?
- I wasn’t spreading rumors. I was only repeating something everyone already knows. It isn’t a rumor if it’s true.
- When I was in high school, kids picked on each other all the time. Now everything is considered bullying. Where do we draw the line?
- He’s always been overly sensitive. Maybe he needs to grow a thicker skin.
I’ve also heard (and probably dished out) some really lame advice:
- Stick and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.
- If you don’t react, the bullies will get bored and eventually leave you alone
- Talk to your teacher
- The only way to take care of a bully, is to stand up to a bully
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no clever tactic that works across the board. Real life isn’t like A Christmas Story where bullies stole lunch money, pushed kids into snowdrifts, and laughed moronically. In reality, bullies are clever. They wait until the teacher has left the classroom before knocking their victim’s book off their desk. Or, they wait until school is over and take their bullying on line. Often, these bullies know just how much they can get away with without getting in trouble.
Though many of our school systems have issued strict anti-bullying policies, the problem persists. When concerned parents talk to administration, they’re often told that nothing can be done unless a teacher sees he bully in action. So, what is the solution?
There is no easy solution. Bullies are often victims of bullying. Some bullies are abused or neglected at home. Others are mimicking behaviors they’ve seen. The truth is, bullying is acceptable in our society because we stopped teaching our kids to be nice to each other. Common decency has gone out of style. Our society is disconnected. Even though most people are theoretically against bullying, we don’t take action unless it directly affects our own child. Though we might be the first to ‘like’ or ‘share’ an anti-bullying post on Facebook, are we willing to really do something to help?
Maybe your child has never been bullied, but are you certain he won’t be bullied in the future? I have four kids ranging in age from twelve through twenty-two. A child who is popular one year might be tormented by their peers the next. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve called school principals, cried with my child, spent sleepless nights worrying because my child didn’t want to go to school anymore. I’ve watched an honor roll, perfect attendance student change into a sullen, unhappy student with bad grades. All because of bullying. None of my kids are being bullied right now, but circumstances change rapidly. Just because my children are doing okay doesn’t make it okay for me to bury my head in the sand and refuse to stand up for what’s right. Bullied children often feel alone. They need others to stand up on their behalf. Will you stand up?
Talk to your children about bullying. Not just once, but make it an ungoing conversation. Teach your child to be kind. Teach him or her that it’s never okay to treat someone badly. Words hurt. If your child is being bullied, work with the school. Work with other parents. I wish I could offer an easy checklist to help you deal with the situation, but every situation is different. I wish I could tell you that every school district will work with you to solve the problem, but sadly, this is often not the case. Prepare for a lot of tears and sleepless nights because as a parent, there is nothing worse than watching your child suffer.
Ask your child to Take The Pledge to stand up against bullying. If you are the parent of a child who is being bullied, visit Flip the Script for helpful information. Victims of bullying often feel isolated and alone. Stand up for them. Do not keep your silence. Don’t be part of the problem.
Be the Solution.