I’ve read many articles on bullying. I’ve seen bullying dissected on television, experienced it vicariously, and researched it to my own “layperson” limitations. At this point in time, I think the attention brought to bullying, albeit too little too late for too many, is a step in the right direction.
Bullying is not new. It knows no color lines, age limits, gender, or lifestyle preference. It is as heartbreaking and destructive today as it has been in the past. As in many social issues, however, it seems it takes a series of extreme or horrifying events to bring about some collective attempt at a resolution.
Fear, desperation, and lack of support feed into bullying. Parents in denial feed into bullying. Schools reluctant to seriously address the problem feed into bullying. The recent outcry has forced the hand of many wink-and-nod officials to extend the expected “new policy” and swear allegiance to it. Well, I hate to burst the placating bubble of the very institutions charged with educating and protecting children, but a “new policy” just doesn’t do it.
Why is it that we as adults are so afraid to take the bully by the horns, so to speak? Are we afraid of lawsuits? Of being viewed as a whiner? Overprotective? What the hell are we afraid of?
We aren’t living in the age of the bully being the kid who steals lunch money. We are living in an age of violent bad behavior. The more we see, the less we feel, and kids mirror our own acceptance of it. Violence is seen by kids everywhere, on television, in the movie theater, on games, on the streets, in the homes. Bullying has taken on a life of its own via the Internet, the perfect vehicle to anonymously spread anger and hatred. Put these factors together and we have a recipe for disaster. So why are we surprised at the spike in bullying and its destructive and all too often violent ends?
Well, here’s my two cents worth.
“Bullying” has an innocent connotation. What we see today is far from innocent. It isn’t sticking a tongue out at someone, or throwing their new hat into a tree. What we see in bullies today is a feeling of superiority, a gang mentality, cruelty, and indiscriminate hatred. Call it what it is. A hate crime.
Parents in denial are a huge part of the problem. The “not my kid” defense is overused and counter productive. Parents should wake up, recognize, and address problems in a child’s behavior. Parents will be doing them a favor in the long run.
Parents of a bullied child must get involved and stay involved. If you “think” something might be wrong with your child, follow your instincts, rather than wishing away the problem, or ignoring it. Question your child. Dig deep and do your job as a parent. Your child will probably beg you not to interfere, but after a few incidents, interfere away. You will survive your kid being upset with you, and your child’s safety and well being is in your hands.
An older child might prove more difficult to draw out. Talk to them and find out what they want to do. They need to feel some control and they should be allowed to be part of the resolution. They need to understand possible retaliation, and what to do if they encounter it. Parents need to help them come to believe that it is a temporary situation. Life will get better, but in the meanwhile, you are there to see them through it. They need not only your constant support, but reassurance that you will do everything in your power to protect them. Talk to them every day, and if more needs to be done, do it.
Go to the school if you haven’t already. Demand a meeting with school officials and the offenders and their parents. Demand several follow-up meetings and attend every one. Track progress. Report any and all recurring incidents to the school and to the police. Document everything. Don’t be satisfied with a pat on the hand and assurances such as “We’re looking into it.” As difficult as it may be, try to be fair and recognize honest attempts and positive strides in diffusing the situation.
So you’ve done all that and nothing worked? More steps can be taken, and in extreme cases absolutely should be, but be prepared for a battle. Schools and institutions don’t like to admit to failed policy, but they dislike publicity even more. Write letters. Find out who else has had similar issues and contact them. Bring the issue out into the open. You may be surprised to find you are not alone. Bullying also feeds upon secrecy and isolation.
The heartbreak in all this is that your child is a victim of a largely emotional crime that many consider minor. The reality is that this “minor” problem can destroy self-confidence, trust, relationships, hopes and dreams for the future, and even promising young lives. Like drugs and violence, bullying doesn’t just happen somewhere else. It can and does happen in any safely cloistered little town in America. Don’t wait for tragedy to motivate you. Take the bully by the horns, now.