The headlines are shocking. Another child commits suicide everyday because they are tortured and bullied so badly that they decide to end it all. It’s almost become a silent epidemic. The focus in the headlines most recently has been gay and lesbian students being singled out and tortured and bullied because of their sexual orientation.
I want to reinforce that sexual orientation is NOT the ONLY reason some kids act like chickens trying to establish pecking order in a chicken coop. Sometimes bullies don’t have a good reason at all to single out and profile another child to pick on. I know this first hand. I know this because I was one of those who was bullied for no good reason.
What I do know is that the bully him or herself is usually in one or more categories. They are afraid of something regarding the child they are picking on. (IE: If the child they are picking on is gay, they may have fears about catching AIDS, or come from a household that shuns homosexuals.) They are jealous. (IE: Little Tommy may be shy and not talk to anyone but he’s always bringing cool toys to school and the bully can’t afford these types of toys so intimidates Tommy to take them from him.) They are learning by an example of intolerance, even if it’s unintentional. (IE: Sadie picks on the only Jewish girl in the whole school because her grandfather, a WW2 era German immigrant, speaks proudly how he found and imprisoned many Jewish persons during the war.)
Schools are now having meetings about what to do to recognize bullying and how to stop it. I think this is an excellent idea. I simply wish that back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was in school that they would have recognized this as the problem it is, and did something about it then. The problem with this is that it seems like they never learn. It was widely publicized that the shooter in the Columbine High School tragedy was a bullying victim who had snapped because he had enough. This was more than a dozen years ago, yet every day since then, we have kids who make headlines either because they bullied someone, or were bullied. When is it going to stop?
It’ll stop when schools and parents, and anyone and everyone who is in a child’s life starts realizing it’s a problem and stops ignoring a few kids when they come to them for help. I saw the school counselors on a daily basis for years because of my bullying. I would go to teachers and principals, and they were aware of the problem, but never really did anything to the kids who were treating me that way. I even had a few teachers get in on it. Yes, I was bullied by teachers. I was even tortured so badly by one teacher and the other kids because I had the stomach flu and threw up in class, that I developed a fear of throwing up and stopped eating and developed a germophobia from hell. Yes the principal intervened and encouraged me that food wasn’t going to hurt me but that’s about all he did for me. I was not helped much by the fact that the school counselor was the husband of the teacher who treated me badly. I would still hold onto my germophobia to the point where I would wipe down and disinfect my forks and spoons in the cafeteria (or bring my own from home), hold my breath until I was blue every time we would drive by the hospital, or I’d walk past the school nurse’s office, and I’d have a near panic attack any time I was around another person who was sick. I became almost obsessive compulsive about hand washing and hygiene. Only after I had kids of my own did I have to face up to the fact that holding my breath wasn’t going to keep nasty bugs from entering my body. Fortunately I never really got sick a lot in the first place. When I was fifteen, I did develop Irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. I even got so stressed out that I fainted from time to time and had to be on a heart medication because of the strain this did on my nerves. The doctors said I was going to stroke out. Fifteen year old girls shouldn’t have high blood pressure. But I did.
The bullying continued and I was treated like I was dirty all the time. Every time I would go into or leave out of a room, or touch anything, the other kids would make spraying noises and spray pretend Lysol. I was the kid who never got invited to parties. I was the kid who never hung out with anyone, and I was the kid who would fly solo on field trips and group projects. I was the kid who got in trouble for destroying school property when a couple idiots Super Glued my locker shut and I had to get the janitor to remove and pry the door off of my locker for me to get my books. Nothing was done to the kids who Super Glued it shut. So yes, the school was aware. I wanted to drop out of school and move, start over with a fresh slate, however I never missed a day of school in the whole twelve years I went. My mom was constantly telling teachers to not let the things that were happening to me, happen. Back then truancy laws were a lot stiffer, and going to school in another district was not an option. The family could not afford to move and it seemed that when a teacher who was aware of the problem tried to intervene, and would punish the bullies, that just made the problem worse for me because they’d take it out on me because it was because of me they had gotten swats and detention.
There is also some debate as to what a bully can do. Do they tell an adult? Do they fight back? Do they ignore it? A few kids would fight back and make the bully go away. Ignoring my bullies sometimes just invited them to be more persistent because if it was obvious to them that I wasn’t going to give them attention, they’d pick up and throw rocks at me. If I threw a rock back, it would just initiate a rock throwing fight.
So what can be done? Well, while I agree that kids should have some degree of privacy, I think parents should have access to their child’s email, social networking pages and phones, if they have them. (Why is it necessary for kids to have these things anyway? With my boys, if they MUST get on the computer, it is only to be on a research project for school.) Kids might be bullied in cyberspace. Cyberbullying is a whole different ball game because often times the cyberbully is desensitized to the emotions they are invoking in their target and if they can’t see it, it doesn’t affect them. If parents let their kids online at all, it should be on a centrally located computer in the living room, not in their bedroom. No excuses. I can’t trust my oldest son enough to stay off of sites full of spam, and adware no matter how many times I tell him not to download that stuff so I had no choice but to block any and all sites that tempt him to do this. Parents must take initiatives here. Many times they are clueless as to what is going on. They should watch for changes in appetite, attitude, and more as often kids can’t find the correct words when something is bothering them.
And surprisingly not ALL bullies come from unloving homes. Again, parents are clueless sometimes as to what’s going on and unless they get involved, the bullying epidemic is going to continue. Parents need to sit their kids down and tell them that picking on someone who is different, is NOT OK under any circumstances. It’s difficult when kids come from a household that’s showing prejudices toward another person, be it for the color of their skin, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. A little tolerance taught in the home can go a long way with a child as they learn from example. I firmly believe that bullies aren’t born, they are made unless they have some biological reason for attacking another child for any reason or none at all.)
I am a thirty-eight year old adult woman, who, overcame most of the problems bullying did to me. Kids who are picked on need to be made to realize that they are valuable no matter what a few cruel classmates or people online say. Since I was never invited to go anywhere, and never got to hang out with anyone, I discovered books, movies, writing, pen pals, needlework, photography and art. It was mine for the taking and it has all paid off for me today. If you are a parent to a child who is picked on, encourage that child to tap into their creative side. This will in turn give them confidence that will make them less of a target, because if they become proficient at painting or music, they will in turn meet other people with the same interests and who can become a mentor rather than a tormentor. And sometimes being creative can tap into those emotions they have a hard time talking about. My youngest son is messed with because he’s small, likes “Star Trek” and is a vegetarian because he has pet chickens. But he doesn’t hesitate to turn around and tell his classmates, “you don’t know what you’re missing because Spock is cool”, and he’ll gently talk to and baby a rooster that will flog anything except him with such gentleness. I don’t ever want him to lose that because he is developing his own personality and he’s developing interests that can be beneficial to him for a lifetime. He may end up wanting to be the first man to go to Mars because he’s a Trekkie, or he could run an animal rescue because he loves chickens. I am confident that he’ll be just fine, because after he started telling the kids why he was just as passionate about chickens as they were violent video games, they backed off and leave him alone now. I just wish that schools will start instilling confidence in bullies and bullying victims alike…because to some degree, lack of confidence is a common denominator in both groups.
I hope the awareness of bullying as a problem will continue and not just fizzle out like a passing fad. It’s been a problem for as long as there have been school yards. (Nellie Oleson picking on Laura Ingalls comes to mind. If you notice though that Laura never backed down from Nellie. Nellie’s arrogance and picking stemmed from what she was learning at home! It was when she was older that she realized to chill out.) It starts at home. Parents should talk to teachers about this. Teachers should listen. They should all come together. And maybe, just maybe, school will be a Utopian place to be.