Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rant: Bullying

I plan on seeing the movie Bully when it comes to Birmingham theaters this Friday and will edit this after I see it. I am a survivor of some pretty nasty bullying myself, especially between about 5th-8th grade. I was regularly pushed around and punched in the halls, got books knocked out going up stairs and was often threatened by people twice my size who were going to "beat the f*** out of me." On many days, I feared for my physical safety so I am certainly qualified to post about this. I asked one person what I did that was so annoying and the response was: "You exist! Just die and go to hell." Some people say it's just kids being kids. It's happened in the past and will happen in the future and it's not that big of a deal. I strongly disagree. What it does is wreck a person's self-confidence and can cause problems into adulthood. Children who are bullied are more likely to have problems at work, abuse drugs and alcohol and have relationship issues. I also believe that this problem is getting worse with each succeeding generation.

I've got to be careful how I word this section:
Bullying is bullying period. The motive is not important. If a teenager is tragically driven to suicide because he or she is targeted because of his or her race or sexual preference, the media is a lot more likely to jump on the story. I do not intend to minimize that tragedy and my heart goes out to those families. My point is however that it is just as offensive to target a white, straight, middle class kid for any other reason. I was an easy target for 3 reasons:
1. skinny and weak, defenseless in a fight.
2. a bit awkward socially.
3. talked slower and softer than other kids.
Consider how many overweight teenage girls are brutally bullied or driven to harm themselves yet those stories almost never make the news. Are their lives any less valuable?

Like I said, anyone who is different from other kids in any way can be a target especially if they are not physically strong. I've observed that all it takes is if one kid who is an influential leader of a "cool" clique grows to dislike someone for any reason, you can bet that 5-10 others will jump on the bandwagon. Other kids do not want to be friends with the one who is being bullied because he or she "does not have any friends."

Advice for those being bullied:
Do not try to buy friendships or allow yourself to be used by doing special favors. If people don't like you for who you are, screw 'em. It's their loss, not yours. I know that's easier to say to live out but I believe it wholeheartedly.

Do your best in school. That's an obvious one but especially crucial for you. Working hard toward achieving good grades will go a long way toward boosting your fragile self-esteem.

Find a productive extra-curricular activity. For me, joining the cross-country team was a major turning point and my high school experience was a bit better. I do believe that you have some type of talent to offer but it may not always be immediately apparent. I showed little promise as a runner in my first few races.

Get to know the Lord. I know some people don't want to hear that one but if you know the depth of His divine love, I guarantee your perspective will change. It also provides opportunities to meet more positive and accepting people in a youth group and probably an adult mentor with whom you can confide.

Advice for school teachers and administrators:
I found middle school teachers to be especially uncaring. Elementary and high school teachers were usually better. It really hurt me when some teachers who heard some of the disgusting comments directed at me as well as others yet did nothing to stop it unless it became violent. Even that sometimes was not enough. I had a gym teacher who watched as groups of kids put me in a head lock and threw me down head first. My mother called the school and even that didn't stop it completely. Even if you feel powerless to stop it, at least pull the bullied kid aside and let them know you are on their side. The straight-A students and star athletes as well as the ones always in trouble get the bulk of the attention. Try reaching out to the "B and C" students who are quiet and need a friend or simply someone who knows they exist.

Corporal punishment was being phased out when I was growing up in the early '90s. Call me medieval but I'm all for use of the good old paddle. If you want to inflict pain and fear on a defenseless person, you deserve the same fate. Discipline should be aimed at deterrence. Many students view a suspension as merely a vacation from classes and if the parents are at work, who will stop them from playing video games all day long? Detention is a better punishment because it forces students to remain in school against their will. Another idea that I have is to put a kid in a corner and not allow him/her to speak all day unless they have a question about the lesson being taught. I would also allow teachers more authority to lower grades for any negative behaviors.

This may not be my place to comment and I'm not going to tell you how to discipline your child. Keep in mind that if your child is being bullied, he or she is unlikely to tell you very much about it. I did tell my parents about some of it but they had no idea of the full extent. Why? I wanted to be strong enough to handle it myself and I especially did not want my mother to worry about me. If your child is being bullied, remember that their self-esteem is shot. If I ever have kids faced with that situation, I would reward them for their strengths, discipline when necessary but not hammer them too hard for weaknesses. On the other hand, if I ever have a son or daughter who is a bully, I would take a VERY hard line and make darn sure that it never happens again. I'd even call the other kid myself just to say I'm sorry it happened and I guarantee it will stop. I would rather have a "C" student who is well-mannered and respectful to others than an "A-B" student who is a bully and troublemaker.

The most important factor in stopping bullying is the students themselves. If you have a friend who is picking on another kid, PLEASE do not jump on the bandwagon. Also, simply not participating in it is not enough. Pathetically, surveys show that two of the most important factors in self-esteem are not school and sports performance but their popularity (esp. with the opposite sex) and their ability to beat up other students. Especially if you are an attractive girl or an athletic guy, you have a lot of potential to do good. Simply pulling aside a bullied kid and saying "I'm sorry this is going on. You are a nice guy and I'm here if you want a friend." You have no idea how much that means. The kids who are being bullied may not open up to you because they are too shy but I guarantee that they appreciate you. Last but not least, make it clear to the bullies that you don't like how they treat others and until it stops, don't have anything to do with them even if they are nice to your face and tell them why.
Whoa. This is some heavy stuff. I welcome any comments.


L.A. Runner said...

Bullying is indeed a huge problem in schools. I'm embarassed to admit how bad it is at my school. I will have to point out a couple of things, though.

I think it's a stereotype to say that middle school teachers are less caring and aware. That just happened to be your experience.

Most schools have implemented policies against bullying. The problem is that State and local agencies have put limits on the types of punishments allowed in schools. Meaning, teacher and administration often don't even have a WAY to disciple the kids. Many In-School-Suspension programs have been cut b/c of money, and Out-of-School suspension leads to drop out and sometimes reinforces behavior b/c the kids don't WANT to be at school.

In my current class (5th grade), we do have a few bully problems. I've tried nearly EVERYTHING to cure it. I even point-blank gave the few children being bullied permission to fight back. I personally don't agree with that, but I am desperate here! Without administration backing, the State backing, and local authorities backing, my hands are tied to a certain point. What's sad is that our school even has video camers that caught a child beating up another child. That child got ONE DAY suspension. Too me, there SHOULD be more we can do than that! It doesn't stop with students, either. I've had a child throw a sharp pencil at me, throw a lunchbox at me. I've had a child call me a "b****", and many various other disrespectful actions. And what's done? Nothing. Thanks to lawmakers and administrators with no backbone, we have lost control.

Your advice is great. I especially like the advice about finding an outlet. I was also bullied as a child, for many of the same reasons- soft spoken, tall and lanky, not too cute (crooked teeth and glasses), etc. High school was much better, though, fortunately. It was a bigger school and I found my niche. I also had super great parents that taught me to always be confident.

And like I tell a few of my girls, when they are 30 and these "cool kids" are working at the McDonald's drive-through, who gets the last laugh then?

Ps. I'm sorry you had to go through that as a child. I also have some pretty cruel stories of things done to me in elementary and middle school. I wouldn't go back there for one minute. Ya know what, though? I've grown up to be a good, successful person, and you have, too!

Crazy J said...

Thanks Rebecca. Those kids are lucky to have a teacher as caring as you are.

Yo Momma Runs said...

We moved a lot as kids so I think that helped me dodge the bullet with bullying, but my daughter had a horrible classroom experience a couple of years ago. I don't know if she was bullied exactly, but she was definitely left out. Now I'm wondering what she maybe wasn't telling me. She cried after school every day. This year she had a completely different experience and made some new friends and was much happier. So along the same lines of finding a good extracurricular activity, as a parent, I felt like it was important to really encourage her positive friendships. Like giving her opportunities to hang out with them after school.