Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bullying

Bullying has become a hot topic of late and, with all hot topics, it's likely to stay on the radar for another week or two and then be replaced by the next big thing.  We can't let that happen, because whether it's a front page story or not, bullying is a painful reality of life for many kids and its effect, from low self-esteem to suicide, is permanently damaging.

The stories that have brought this issue to the forefront recently have mostly involved gay teens targeted by classmates for scorn and ridicule for having the audacity to be themselves.  But bullying also affects kids who have committed other infractions against the norm by being too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too...something that one person or one group has decided is worthy of mocking.

We all remember how it was in middle and high school.  Blending in was the best approach unless you could excel in a socially accepted way such as sports or attractiveness.  Winning a poetry contest or being the best tuba player was not the ticket to acceptance.  And, no matter what you may think, humans are social creatures and want to be accepted.  We want to fit in and when it's pointed out to us that we don't, it's an enormous blow.  To be excluded from the group, to be singled out as on the outside, hits us at our very core. We want to belong, we need to belong.  Bullying tells us that we don't. We have failed in our most basic job as a human.

Is it any wonder why some kids see no way out other than suicide?  Kids in particular do not have the ability to see life in perspective.  There is today and tomorrow, but there is no years and years from now.  So telling them this too shall pass means nothing.  They are suffering right now and that's all they know and they want the suffering to end right now.  I'm not against the "it'll get better" campaign because it does send a good, true, and hopeful message.  But when you're in the throes of abuse, when you are afraid to fall asleep because the next day will just bring more of the same, hearing that some time off in the future things will change may not be enough.  You don't have that kind of time.  Tomorrow will not be better, you believe with all your aching heart.  So you stop the suffering now.

I am not going to lie to you and tell you I have the answer.  If I did, I wouldn't be writing this post, I'd be calling a national press conference to let everyone know.  I'm writing this instead because the stories I've read have broken my heart and knowing that there are so many more similar stories out there is impossible to take.  I want to believe we can all do something to change it.  They say the first step in combating a problem is recognizing it.  So putting the spotlight on bullying can help.  We can at least identify a problem we can all agree upon.

Whoever created the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was never bullied.  Words hurt, they cut to the bone.  You hear the same ones too often, you take them on as your identity.  When you are told too many times that you are "less than," you believe it.  Especially with a child's still developing brain, the messages received become imprinted until you don't have a choice. You are what the bullies say you are and each day you live they'll remind you of that.  Either live with the torment ringing in your ears, or find a way to end it.

Some might think that we're exaggerating childhood bullying.  Kids should toughen up, they'll say.  It's a rough world and we shouldn't coddle them.  They need to learn how to fight back be strong.  I'll give them a small quote from the mother of Eric Mohat, who shot himself after being victimized by bullying at school:  "They flicked his ear, they pushed him into lockers, they called him gay, fag. The bullies went up to him and said, 'Why don't you go home and shoot yourself? It's not like anyone would care.'"  It's not coddling to say no one should have to be treated that way. 

Students verbally abusing other students is wrong and the offense should be treated as if it were a serious physical attack.  Kids don't all have to get along, but they have to treat each other using the Golden Rule.  Yep, this atheist just mentioned religion.  And suggested it be taught in schools.  Each school should have a clear, no bullying policy.  Bullying should be spelled out -- verbally or physically attacking another for a perceived difference.  No hate speech should be permitted.  The bully should be suspended immediately from school, counseled on their violation, then returned under strict supervision.  Second offense, expulsion.  The bullied child should have their parents immediately notified, counseling offered, and requested accommodations fulfilled (transfer to another school, homeschooling).  Those who stand by while bullying is going on should be held accountable to the same extent as the bullies.  Criminal fines should be written into the law and levied against the parents after they have been notified of a first offense.

Now that the litigious side of me has had its say, let's look at what else we can do.  We can as parents try to raise loving, accepting, tolerant children.  That's not as hard as it seems since children do, to a large extent, model what they see and hear.  If you demonstrate the right way to treat people and show them what to do if someone is being treated unfairly, they will follow.  Next, treat your children well.  Seems simple enough, yet, sadly, not all parents do this.  Many bullies come from homes where they are bullied themselves and, in an old story, the abused becomes the abuser.  Stopping the cycle of abuse is crucial.  Raise your kids to be strong and confident.  If they see something wrong, we want them to have the fortitude and willingness to speak out about it.  Bullies are encouraged not only by people who agree with them, but by those who remain silent.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Let your children know they can tell you anything without repercussions.  Support them and believe them.  If they are having trouble with a bully, don't think "this is a great learning experience" or "they may be exaggerating" or "this will blow over."  What seems trivial to you as a grown up is monumental to a kid.  Remember how every little thing seemed so much bigger when you were so much smaller.

There's so much we can do and so much the schools can do and so much the politicians can do, yet it may never be enough.  And that is the saddest part of taking this on.  The suicide that brought this story into all of our hearts and minds, Tyler Clementi, was not a young child or someone stuck in high school hell.  He was a smart and talented college student at a large urban school with an active LGBT community who knew his whole life was ahead of him.  Yet the shocking invasion of his privacy and the ridicule and humiliation of having an intimate encounter publicly aired was too much even for him. 

Smalltown Boy
Bronski Beat

"Pushed around and kicked around
Always a lonely boy
You were the one
That they'd talk about around town
As they put you down

And as hard as they would try
They'd hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them
Just to your soul
No you never cried to them
Just to your soul"



Jeremy
Pearl Jam

"Clearly I remember picking on the boy
seemed a harmless little f**k"

18 comments:

  1. Parents need to have this conversation with their kids. Not just about speaking up if they are being bullied, but also about sticking up for kids who are being bullied. I firmly believe that bullies have been bullied. They either get bullied by their own parents, older siblings or other bullies. It is their meager grasp at control and power. In reality they are cowards. With low self esteem. Our kids need to be taught this!! Stand up when you see something wrong!! Don't sit back and watch it happen and be glad it is not you. I don't know who said it but "evil happens when good people sit back and do nothing." I don't believe in hate. I believe there is love and there is fear. Bullies don't hate. They are afraid. Of what they don't understand, of not being accepted... If our kids understood that the bullies are such a minority, and that they are the majority and what power they have then things would change. If the parents won't help, go to a teacher. If the teacher won't help, go to a principal. Keep going up the chain of command until things change! Most of all LOVE your kids! Let them know they are irreplacable. They are perfect the way God made them. They are VALUABLE. I don't have the answers that is for sure. I cannot control other people's kids...but I am going to make DARN sure that my kids know what's what on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. my boys are 15 and 11 i've talked to them about bullies.and that if they see anyone being bullied to step up and tell them to knock it off
    take up for the bullied kid.we have no idea how bad it is in school,it's true they all want to be excepted unfortunately theres a few that just seem to stand out from the rest.i wish i knew how parents of bullies are handling it.i guess i'm one of the lucky ones i don't ever remember being bullied and i certaintly didn't bully anyone,i was very shy and quiet in school.but i do worry about the boys,it would break my heart to know someone is bullying them.just from hearing about it.no matter how old you are you never forget it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @CJFan_Audrey (Twitter)October 13, 2010 at 8:13 PM

    This is a great post Shari! Thanks for doing your part to raise awareness for this serious problem. As a parent of young kids, I worry about my kids being bullied. You try to raise your kids to be confident, strong and to feel close enough to you that they talk to you about things that bother them. Somehow most kids won't want to tell their parents that their peers are being cruel to them, with their actions and with their words.

    Kids need parents who lead by example - parents who are kind to others consistently and foster a sense of humanity in their homes. Kids truly need good schools with good teachers who are in tune with their students and notice when someone is being bullied. Furthermore, we need teachers who are not indifferent about this serious problem.

    Like the song goes, "I believe the children are our future..."
    We should care about this epidemic, everyone should.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @CJFan_Audrey (Twitter)October 13, 2010 at 8:19 PM

    Oh, BTW - I love those 2 songs. They're on my playlists :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great article Shari. Bullying is no fun. I was very shy when I was very young, and I was bullied. Thankfully I fought through it. Not all kids have the tools to do this. Bullies have low self esteem, it's the only way they can make themselves feel better. Sad, and yes, this comes from their home life.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This day and age bullies can act in a very public way through the internet and reach countless others which in turn gives them even more power over their targets. Classmates and even teachers can be bullies. We cannot tolerate it in any form and must be our children's advocate's. Who else is better suited? Authorities will do nothing in most cases and will only downplay the situation. We must be in our children's lives and they have to trust that we are there for them. They must know their value in our eyes.
    Even adults can bully and be bullied. It's not in good fun. It's not okay. It's sometimes the difference between life and death. Just as surely as putting a gun to someone's head bullying can be and has been deadly. It leads many to go on to abusive relationships and to tolerate emotional and physical abuse. It can reduce a person to shell of their former self and lead to longterm depression and withdrawal. It's like an infection continues to grow. No wonder authorities want to sweep it under the rug as though it does not exist.

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is another great article and needs lots of attention. When my daughter was in middle school - there were some times when she was picked on - but it wasn't the normal things... She was head of the cheer leading squad - absolutely beautiful girl (inside and out)... and it happened to her... We talked about it and there was a "no excuses for fighting" at her school. I told her that I did not want her fighting but if someone started beating her up - that she should defend herself. We talked about the fact that if someone is picking on you, there is probably something horrible happening in their life. That many times those picking on others are really trying to "make themselves feel better"... I was trying to get her to empathize with the situation of others... Well - one day in the girls locker room a girl did everything she could to start a fight with her... and my daughter came home and told me how she had talked that girl down and out of the situation. I was so proud of her - and this incident gave my daughter a lot of power back internally. Even though my daughter had everything going on - there were still people who were picking on her... So - depending on what is happening - different people are targeted (even those who are typically seen as having it all)....

    I think every person should always be reaching out to smile, say "HI" and try to befriend those who have (for whatever reason) not been fitting in. It continues from grade school to the boardroom... and all of us can make a difference.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kids can be cruel & down right relentless. Growing up in a small town there were a few things that were important. Hunting, fishing & sports were what a man did in order to be a man. If you weren't interested in those key things then you were a faggot or a pussy. Inappropriate & politically incorrect words to write in this blog perhaps. It's even worse when those harsh terms are directed toward a 10 year old, by other 10 year olds. A kid in grade school just acts like themselves & until it’s pointed out that they’re different & things start to change. The words he uses are more carefully chosen & he second thinks his actions. He starts wondering why he doesn’t like all those normal things all the other kids do. Why is he different? He wonders how some people can be so hateful when he is so nice. Treat people how you would want to be treated, right? Staying friendly to others & simply ignoring the comments had become a daily occurrence that he must deal with it & push forward. While growing taller & with a painted on grin, this now middle school kid still felt the size of a 10 year old. Maturing physically but mentally reduced. Still he was that innocent little boy who thought he was the normal, until repeatedly told otherwise. You were spot on Shari. It’s like brain washing. If you’re constantly told something you begin to believe it. Sexual orientation was being questioned/decided for him before his body was even close to figuring that out. How can someone decide that for a kid? Half way through High School this young man had mastered the art of acting like the comments didn’t bother him. Delivering an Oscar winning performance by this off beat kid who had been typecast since childhood. Remembering to say as little as possible so they couldn’t judge him. Becoming more insecure by the day because of the words. Also realizing that they are wrong. They said he was a fag. They didn’t know him, who he liked, who he was attracted to.......

    ReplyDelete
  9. continue
    .........A real ahh haa moment. Wait a minute, He likes girls! Just because he couldn’t throw a football, or doesn't care to kill animals, or maybe has a softer handshake doesn’t make a him gay. Angry at his childhood peers & hating all those cowards for making him think he was less than normal. Maybe he wasn’t normal for that one horse town but he was normal dammit! The affects of those words will never dissolve. An adult man lives with an insecure nature & constantly feels inferior to others. Not good enough, worried what he will say or if will sound dumb. Always expecting that manly man to look down on him with judgment in his eyes. That inner voice telling him to keep eye contact with the stranger, don’t look away. They will know you’re insecure if you can hold eye contact. Many years after the words, he still struggles being in crowds. An unbearable feeling of dozens of judging eyes focused on him is too much to stomach. Adults can hold in the mean words but he still thinks they are saying things. That feeling just doesn’t stop once the damage is done. He can only hope his own children escape this same ridicule & feel excepted while growing up in this mess of a world. Verbal abuse is a silent killer. In many cases literally but also a killer of the soul. Bruises afflicted in a physical altercation will fade in time but a words will hurt for years, if not forever.
    I will never forget the kids that said all those words to me. I won’t forget the people I thought were my friends who laughed at some of the remarks directed at me. Even the smallest remarks made by adults still ring in my ears. Parents please express the dangers of verbal bullying to your kids. Unless you have felt it you will never know. Take my word on it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. suicide is contagious. the depression and sense of loss people feel when they lose a friend or family member to suicide is very intense. at this moment i can't go into detail about how i know, because i won't be able to type. it just hurts ...too much. well okay. my first encounter was a friend of my moms when i was a teen. mom hurt so bad over the loss of her dear friend. physical illness, severe depression and hopelessness and lack of support is what really killed her. i was sad but didn't understand the depth of my mom's sadness.
    when my son was young, he lost a very dear friend for somewhat the same reasons. i was rotten with insensitivity. expected my son to carry on in spite of his sadness. i deserved what i got. and i really cannot fault people with their hateful comments about the motivation for when people end their lives with suicide. you never fully understand if you haven't walked in someone elses shoes. i've always felt it should not have been my son, it should have been me. i want you all to know that if any of your kids have friends who are depressed or have committed suicide, they need your emotional support. they need to seek help for their friend. and find the real reason behind, whether its for attention, which can be a kind of mental illness, or because of despair over a percieved unlivable situation, they need help. AND WE HAVE GOT TO PAY ATTENTION AND TAKE WARNING SIGNS SERIOUSLY, NOT EXPECTING FOLKS TO GROW 'INTESTINAL FORTITIUDE', OR KICKING THEM WHEN THEY ARE DOWN!
    we need to stop beating each other down . crawling all over each other to get to the top, and stand beside each other and hold each other up. EVEN JESUS HAD SOMEONE TO HOLD HIS CROSS FOR A MINUTE SO HE COULD REGAIN HIS STRENGTH TO CARRY IT THE REST OF THE WAY!
    i'm a poor person to be carrying on about this. but i am so badly not wanting anymore hurt in this world. sorry for the long letter..it would be a lot longer if i told it all, because there were more suicides among the kids that were friends in a period of ten years. i will not bring this up again. just know its no joke folks, sometimes life really hurts too much for people to stand.it shouldn't be that way.
    thank you shari for letting us have a place to say our piece. God bless you:)

    ReplyDelete
  11. i also want to tell you that no one is expert. no one infallible, but you are very well on track with this blog. very to the heart of the matter of so many things obout our human nature that need attention. the lord has given you wisdom and you share it. the lives you touch with this blog will be helped and built up. we appreciate you so much. and i apersonally appreciate every single one of those who shared their comments on this very powerful subject.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Shari,
    Thank you for writing about this subject.

    Anonymous October 14, 2010 9:37 AM Thank you for sharing your heart with all of us and letting us see what bullying is like from the victims perspective. Very brave and very eye opening. You should become a speaker on the subject and go to schools. What you wrote is exactly what should be said, maybe then kids would see what it does to the victims and what it makes the bully become. Thank you again.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, thank you Shari for your perspective on this problem. Just today I was photographing Millsap Jr. High football team & witnessed verbal bullying in action. I overheard an 8th grader say to a much smaller 7th grader "you look like a little troll, a little troll that wears make-up." The smaller boy just kept looking at me. With this article fresh on my mind, I stood up & asked he big bully "does it make you feel big to pick on a little guy"? His response to me was "yeah it does". It was disgusting to me.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous and jesssmom,
    I wrote a long comment that wasn't saved. I'll just say for now thank you both for sharing your stories. You have contributed so much to our understanding of the toll that bullying can take I can't thank you enough.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Not all victims end their lives, however the damages of bullying can go on for years. Your article made me think of a young man I met a few years ago. I have a friend, a civil engineer, whose (adopted) son was the victim of bullies in school. They taunted him mercilessly, would wrap in in duct tape, shove him in lockers, and it went on for way too long. The boy became more and more withdrawn, and less and less engaged in school. I said to my friend, "Did you know?" He said not at first but when he found out, he said he didn't know what to do about it. With a hurting heart, I said to him, "that you did nothing gave your son a really bad message." The parents later divorced after the boy was out of school. He was living at home, and the mother said she couldn't deal with the kid, so she left. Then my friend had a girlfriend who had no tolerance for the boy, which just about put him totally over the edge but fortunately the father wised up and took a stand for him - dumped the girlfriend - and got him appropriate help. The father also got help to learn all he could to help his son. The young man is withdrawn and somber, unable to function in social situations, get or keep a job. He's musically talented but literally incapacitated. It's almost like his emotional growth stopped the day the bullying began.

    Not all kids become victims. Some learn to stand up for themselves, become more determined to succeed, take on an "I'll show you!" attitude and maybe become more successful than they would have otherwise. But how many silent victims do we have - like the story above? How many lives are negatively impacted forever leading to any number of destructive behaviors? I'm so glad this subject is the new 'cause of the day.' I hope we never stop talking about it. I hope it helps.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Jake, thanks for sharing that story even if it was disheartening to hear that bully being so bold about his awful behavior!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Jake, Thank you for calling out the 8th grade Millsap boy that was bullying the 7th grader! Bullying and sexual harrasment has become a major problem at Millsap Tx. school. It seems to be an epidemic and as far as I can see, the Millsap ISD administration is not doing anything to improve this situation. The bully has more rights than the poor kid he is picking on. The schools need to start getting involved with this problem but they are never held accountable and the bullying keeps getting worse.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Millsap High School has no problem with bullying as long as it is done by one of the star athletes or if he/she has a mother that teaches there. Jake just happened to see this while taking team football photos but it happens all the time. We used to have kids that would stand up for the poor kid being bullied but if the teachers won't, why should fellow students.
    Ashamed to be in Millsap, Tx.

    ReplyDelete