There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately. Schools, civic groups and parents can buy all kinds of programs designed to stop bullying. That’s all well and good, but it seems pretty clear that most of these kits and the ideas behind them were compiled by people who were never actually bullied themselves.
How can I tell? Because I was bullied virtually every day from third grade through graduation. The physical abuse mostly stopped by junior high, but the verbal certainly didn’t. Twice I felt so hopeless and worthless that I took very concrete steps to take my own life. So, while I don’t claim to be an expert on many things I CAN say that I am an expert in being bullied.
I’m not telling you this so that you feel sorry for me. I survived, and it helped shape the person I am today. I’ve (mostly) forgiven the kids involved because they WERE just kids who truly didn’t know any better. I’ve even had several people approach me and apologize for their actions back in the day which is gratifying for me and gives me hope that they are teaching their own kids better.
So, what do I think these kits/ websites/ programs get wrong? Glad you asked!
#1 The bully is portrayed as a lone wolf, usually one with problems at home and few friends. My experience is that those kids keep to themselves. Virtually all of my bullies- most certainly the two worst- were very popular, good looking kids with large circles of friends and stable home lives. Those are the kids can do the most damage because they have an audience. That audience may or may not actively join in the bullying, but will at bare minimum do nothing to stop it for fear of winding up a target themselves. Kids want to fit in. Standing up to their friend the bully? Ha. One kid accusing you of being a “show off bitch” because you outscored him on a math test is hard to handle when you’re 12. Five kids telling you that if you don’t “throw” the next Civics test they will punch you out? Way, way worse.
#2 Everyone tells kids to “Just walk away”. Granted, the other options – ignoring it, making a joke or retaliating- don’t work any better, but they don’t work any worse either. “Avoid them in the hallways”. Yeah- try that in a school with an average class size of 40 kids. There is only one way to get from my locker to Science class so I’m walking the gauntlet every day to the calls of “If my dog was as ugly as you I’d shave his ass and make him walk backwards”. And you know what else? I don’t care why they are saying it. It doesn’t make it hurt any less if I’m getting called ugly because she is jealous of me than it does if I’m getting called ugly because he feels insecure about his own place in the crowd.
#3 Last but not least- and this is the biggest error in my mind- is the idea that reporting the bully to teachers or parents will make them stop. There are several possible outcomes of bringing authority figures into the mix, but I never saw a pleasant one. Some parents will simply refuse to believe their Precious Angel would do such a thing. Some parents will chalk it up to “kids being kids”. Even if the parents of the bully DO take it seriously the only thing that changes is that now your bully is now mad at you for “ratting them out” and has another weapon in their arsenal- “Are you going to go crying to your Mommy again?!?”. Schools can only punish what they can see happening- which most bullies already know and use to their advantage. It’s way easier to hide the bruise or re-write the English assignment that got turned into confetti again than it is to anger your tormentor and deal with that added misery.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m glad more people are realizing how damaging bullying is to kids and want to stop it. I am hopeful that some day bullying will truly be seen as “uncool”. But it’s going to be a long road to get there, and it’s one that we’ve just begun to travel.