We interrupt the usual light-hearted nature of this blog to get a little controversial ... a little in your face ... a bit "let's lay it on the line." The topic of today's blog is bullying and the misconceptions regarding it, IMHO.
Nothing gets me more edgy than to hear someone say something to the
effect of, "Bullying is a part of growing up. Stop babying kids. They have to cope with the real world sometime." Those comments are almost always made by adults with no children, parents whose children are not in the line of fire or parents whose children are the bullies. Few children get through their school years without getting made fun for something...a weird shirt, a project that falls apart, rooting for the "wrong" team, screwing up a game in gym, or simply having an altercation with another kid over a disagreement. Few kids don't make a faux pas at some point that gets them razzed for a few days or weeks. Such pitfalls don't qualify as being bullied. Here, we are talking the aches and pains of growing up.
Many people who have not suffered as victims of bullying or who have not known bullied children don't understand that the child who is routinely bullied (purposely and viciously picked apart) is constantly fed a message that is equivalent to blow after blow after blow with a blunt object. Repetitious bouts of physically and/or psychologically messing with another kid to deliberately punish them for not being who the aggressor thinks they should be is bullying. The kids who fall victim to such acts need to be protected. We are all shocked when we hear about the 1st grader who shows up at school with a knife or gun. Yes it's rare; yes it's tragic. What people don't understand is that true bullying is just as rare (in that not every kid in the class is being bullied) and as tragic, leading to a lifetime of minor to serious emotional damage, or in rare cases, death. And it's not just the bullied child whose life becomes a living hell. No matter what your age, ask yourself: What does the parent of a bullied child go through? Most parents can leave their teen, ages 12 and up, home alone for a while without over thinking it. Can you imagine what it must be like for the parent who wants to give their child more freedom, but instead has to analyze their child's current emotional state to decide if it's safe to leave them home alone? And even if everything seems a-okay...what if their child is covering up a desire to harm herself or someone else because she just can't take it anymore?
Some people try to blame the victim for allowing bullies to treat them in such a way. Or they blame the parents of the victim for not teaching their child to stand up for himself. What people don't understand--and this is where the whole root of the bullying problem lies--is that children (and people in general) respond to their world and the teachings within it in dramatically different ways due to unique mixures of personality, genes, and environmental factors. What about the parent who has reached the point of begging their child to respond to a bully with a good punch in the nose, but whose child refuses to do so?
The reason a kid is being tormented really doesn't matter. It's the fact that he or she marches to a different drum within a certain group of more like-minded peers that may cause someone to pick on him. It doesn't matter if the victim is the "wrong" color or religion in a community heavily composed of similar backgrounds, if the kid likes chess and couldn't care less about sports, walks funny, has a learning disability, is gay, is a late bloomer who tends to be immature, lives with their out-of-touch grandparents, is the only girl on the football team, is a little person, is overly or "underly" outgoing, is the only boy who takes dance classes, the movie geek whose interests don't fit with the rest of his peers, whether she is the kid with perfect grades or the class dunce. Kids can find any number of reasons to label another "different." Perhaps what all parents really need to do is stop throwing their kids into the activities everyone else is doing just because everyone else is doing it. Perhaps, as parents, we need to focus on--and teach our kids to focus on--the differences between people, but in a positive light. The pressure that leads certain kids to become bullies comes from somewhere. Where did they get the message that not doing the same thing or not fitting into the same cookie cutter is such a bad thing in the first place? Lessons in tolerance and appreciation for uniqueness need to go way beyond the ones we see on Sesame Street that teach us how people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We get that as preschoolers, but sometimes the lesson stops there.
Ironically enough, many Middle Grade and Young Adult books feature characters who wrestle with the way they feel different from the crowd. There is a strong desire to read about characters who struggle to fit in, remain who they are, or strike a balance between the two. No matter how much or how little we might feel the pressure to "fit in," there must be something within each of us that wants to be validated for the unique people we are. Poor Harry Potter struggled through being told he was nothing for so long that it took him even longer to believe he could ever really be "the one" to change the tide of Wizard history. I mean seriously...who wants the world to know they share traits with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Bella Swan of Twilight felt like a complete nobody until Edward saw the beauty in her simple qualities. Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games could never see how anyone like Gale or Peeta could desire her. And lets face it: Her social skills weren't the greatest. Chloe in Treehugger hits adolescence and suddenly loses all faith in herself, falling apart without the backing of loved ones who accepted her every little quirk. Orphan Mandy in Mandy (by Julie Andrews Edwards) needed to literally create a separate home in the woods away from the orphanage in order to find herself within it. Truthfully, few of us lay our unique qualities out on the table like Pippi Longstocking. Although, I imagine that if we could do so freely, many of us would be much happier! Few of us are ever that bold all the time. I know I'm not. Everyone grows up feeling like something within them is different. The question is whether we can embrace those differences and make them a special part of who we are. For those who can't, the question becomes this: Do we tackle those issues by stomping on someone else to make ourselves look better or do we have courage or a support system in our lives that can help us meet our issues head on without making them another kid's problems?
My school district is hosting a parent evening with John Halligan, who lost his 13-year-old son to bullycide in 2003. The man is an amazing speaker. He really makes an impact, talking to parents about how to look for evidence that your child is being bulllied and how to deal with school administrators. He speaks to middlegrade and highschool kids, too. If you feel bullying is an issue in your school district (and I wonder if there really is one district out there that is truly bully free), perhaps you want to ask your district to sponsor such a night. For more information, visit
Also, you might want to check out the documentary Bully, due out in theaters on March 30.
Anyway, I hope you'll excuse the overbearing nature of this post. I just can't stand when people become judgmental about something that doesn't currently affect their lives...and as someone who loves to write ... well, I just needed to write about it. I've known too many families who struggle with bullying on a daily basis, and I've seen it ruin childrens' and teenagers lives. Thank you for reading through my rant.