I grew up with two opposing messages—“shower them with kindness” and “stand up and defend yourself”. Both parental mantras were the products of their environment— both Mom and Dad grew up on the South side of Chicago in the 40s in a tough neighborhood.
Needless to say, it took me a very long time to reconcile the dichotomy they raised me with; but in the long run, I came to find both served me well. A victim of bullying myself, I had to pin my hair in an up-do daily in Junior High because girls threatened to cut my long brown mane off. This experience and other circumstances instilled a PTSD in me that I still wrestle with to this day. My years in Erikson’s Trust vs Mistrust stage seemed unending, well beyond the one year- old demarcation.
Consequently, I grew up with a keen sensitivity and deep empathy for bully victims. As a result, a fiercely protective side had been birthed in me. I frequently protected more vulnerable kids. Later, as an adult, when my kids were in elementary school, I embarrassed them by stopping the car many times to break up kids fighting in the neighborhood.
Still later, I had the privilege of teaching anti-bully classes to primary grades as an itinerant school counselor. I interjected lots of humor and theatrics to drive the point home.
How do we define a bully? Of course there is the dictionary definition, but how do you personally define a bully? Our own definitions come through the lens of our personal early experiences with bullying and often pave the way to how we cope with bullies throughout our lifetime—in the workforce and elsewhere.
My personal definition of a bully is: one who derives great pleasure from inflicting pain, mental or physical, on a vulnerable person and watching them suffer. It doesn’t matter the reasons and psychology behind the bullying when it comes to apprehending it. What matters is that it is stopped at the first indication because of the longstanding impact and trauma it has on the individual psyche.
Counseling children for over 15 years in both schools and agencies made me privy to many forms of bullying. Unfortunately, the adults I observed who were supposed to be supervising in classrooms and playgrounds, were ill-informed and ill-equipped to properly intervene. I drew the conclusion that some were even downright apathetic and merciless to allow such trauma to persist. Whether this was due to their own embedded personality disorders was not the issue here. The issue was, and is, mandating greater intervention in the area of bullying, in schools, sports and every facet of children’s lives; especially now, as it permeates campuses in the form of violence and haunts children in cyberspace, resulting in suicide in one-too-many cases.
Seth’s Law, AB-9, is current legislation that requires schools in California to have anti-bullying programs in place and to protect those who are bullied. This law has to be expanded as it appears to have its main focus on sexual orientation bullying. Bullying knows no limits and does not restrict its victims to one class or gender. There’s the pale child with thick glasses, the little Russian child with the strange accent, or the pretty girl who dare not be prettier than the rest or she will have her tires slashed by the homecoming court.
It snakes through every walk of life, every color and every creed; and it needs to be addressed and apprehended on behalf of the timid young female just as much as the gay high schooler.
I do believe that change will not take place until there is legislation that penalizes the adults that are overlooking bully victims and brushing things under the proverbial carpet. Those who turn a blind eye need to be fined/and or subject to sentencing terms. This may seem drastic, but until there is a threat of serous reprimand, many educators and adults won’t bother to intervene. Also, many parents fail to place parental controls and limits on social media, general media, video games and computers.
Parents need to police their child’s social media involvement for those under the age of 17. Keep the lines of communication open. Start your children communicating openly and disclosing uncomfortable experiences early on.
Seems extreme? Not at all. What IS extreme are the needless suicides committed in reaction to extreme bullying, whether it takes place on campus or on social media. Social media creators should also be penalized for not maintaining and upholding stricter standards for minor use– restrictions that can circumvent silent bullying that eventually kills. What are we waiting for— for suicide statistics for victims of bullying to skyrocket even further?
I can’t bear to stomach the apathy of educators and other adults I’ve witnessed over the years, constantly turning a blind eye to this atrocity.
Schools and Educators, get your priorities straight. First, tend to the victims. Second, counsel the bullies. (In that order) Parents: seek out anti-bullying literature, videos and media to educate your children at home, because you can’t depend solely on the schools to do it. Teach them how to effectively cope with bullying. One point I emphasized with children in my anti-bullying classes was to keep reporting to adult after adult until one listens, takes you seriously and takes action. If one adult doesn’t intervene, go to the next, and the next and the next… until one does.
Years ago, a renowned Christian psychologist said, “You can’t teach a child to ‘turn the other cheek’ on the playground because the playground is a brutal place.” Appropriate self-defense and anger management are two vital skills that need to be taught in the schools and in the home if we want to see our children make it out alive and through their teens. We, as a society, can no longer afford to take the topic of bullying lightly.
Resources (These are a few. There are many more on this topic):
A Volcano in My Tummy, Helping Children to Handle Anger, by Elaine Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney. (Teaches children such terms as “Clean anger” and “Dirty anger”. The tenets of this book can be adapted to a school-wide approach.)
Little Girls Can Be Mean, Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades, by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.
The Juice Box Bully, by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy.
Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun, Having the Courage to Be Who You are, by Maria Dismondy.