The Bully

Posted: October 1, 2010 in Latest Rants

Justin Aaberg of Minnesota, Asher Brown of Texas, Billy Lucas of Indiana and Seth Walsh of California. What do these high schoolers have in common? They are all gay and they all committed suicide within days of each other to escape the rampant bullying they encountered at school.

This enrages me. Truly, bullying is a topic that makes my blood boil. It makes me so mad because I, too, had been subjected to bullying while in high school. The story is typical – a teenager appears to be different from the rest of his/her classmates and is automatically subjected to ridicule. I was lucky, however, to have had a strong willpower, a sharper tongue and a generally dismissive nature to counter it. If someone said something hurtful to me – I would counter it with something nasty enough to make them back off. I remember, however, avoiding certain areas of the school in fear of running into a group of bullies, I also remember trying extra hard to fit in by participating in activities I did not particularly enjoy. I count my blessings, however, that it never got to the point of my contemplating harming myself to escape the pain.

Bullying takes several forms – it surpasses our common mental image of playground bullying. In today’s world, it can materialize as verbal bullying (the kind I experienced), social bullying (humiliation, scapegoating, exclusion from a group), physical bullying (hitting etc) and cyber bullying (using the web or cell phones to intimidate or threaten). Bullies today have even more venues to get to their victims. Usually I hate using the word victims or victimization as it symbolizes complete loss of agency on the receivers part – sort of a defeat. But when you are fifteen and have to kill yourself to end the suffering – you most certainly are a victim and rightfully so. You are a victim because we, society, have failed to protect you, to be there for you, and to reprimand the culprits who did this to you.

Bullies are not born with their bullying ways. They have to learn them from somewhere. Bullying is usually an outlet for children from unhappy homes or homes where they get little attention. Bullying also results simply because the bully wants to appear dominant and macho to his peers – a sad outcome of millenia of pushing masculinity and gender-conformation norms on children. This is where the parents responsibility comes in – teach your children to accept diversity. So what if one of the kids in his class is gay? So what if he prefers to read instead of playing soccer? That is good! Some of us end up becoming the Bekhams of the world, while others become the Mandelas and yet others become the Einsteins! Ingrain this message of universal acceptance into your child. Teach them love.

Bullying leaves deep psychological scars in an individual long into their lives. Recent research has proven that it is a primary causative factor for anxiety and depression in adulthood. It makes complete sense – being constantly fearful becomes a survival mechanism. We learn to distrust others and become convinced that there is a bully waiting to jump us around every corner.

How parents and teachers and other members of a school community choose to deal with bullying makes all the difference. There must be ZERO tolerance for bullying. There are several national programs, supported by celebrities in some instances, against bullying. However, the buck stops at home. What if your child is being bullied? I have spoken with parents or siblings who insist that the child must learn to fight back. The child who throws a punch back or knocks a few teeth out receives accolades for being a strong survivor. Why do we choose to reward an act of violent retaliation more than an act of being dismissive? We label the latter as something that sissies do – god forbid that our kid turns out to be one of “those” kids.

Our argument here is: the world is full of bullies – kids must learn to fight them sooner or later. True – but at that given moment – do not forget that your child is turning to you for protection. In case you have forgotten – that is one of the primary duties of a parent – to be there to protect the young ones against harm of any kind: physical or emotional. At that particular moment – there IS something you can do. You CAN protect your children instead of urging them to protect themselves. What would I do? I would visit the school, make it clear to the authorities that if they do not keep a better eye out on the bullies, I will take the matter forward. There is a lot they can do: install cameras on playgrounds, monitor hallways better, talk to parents of bullies – reiterating the consequences of bullying. I would take a  more hands-on approach as well – I would talk to the bully’s parents directly – let them know that I will not tolerate such crap when it comes to my children. If the bully lays as much as one hand on my child – he or she is going away to juvie for a while.

This is what our children want to see us doing. They will be fighting battles and bullies, yes, for the rest of their lives – but for that one moment we can be there for them – we can be the parent they want us to be. I have a strong feeling that this, in the long run, would end up being a strong educational experience for them: they will learn to fight for the protection and rights of others through you. The others whose parents were either absent or chose not to act up.

Parents of boys, especially, the answer is not to enroll your child into the nearest martial arts school. The answer is to be accepting if your child is not as macho as you wanted to be when you were his age. The answer is to reward him if he choses the more  noble way (of dismissiveness) out. The answer is to understand the subtle messages a child gives when he or she is frightened of going to school, does not seem like him/herself at home, appears scared or anxious.

One more thing I must point out is that the gay teenagers that killed themselves did NOT bring this onto themselves. They did not dress, speak, act, interact a certain way to attract attacks. This is along the lines of saying that a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be raped. It is absolutely ridiculous and fundamentally defeatist. Don’t put up your hands and say that injustice happens because the victims encourage it. Injustice happens because the rest of us do not do something about it. The fact that your kid is not getting bullied at school because he is some macho sport jock star with lots of girlfriends does NOT remove you from the equation of responsibility.

Sit your kids down and talk to them about this. Tell them that you are against bullying. Tell them of the support resources available to them. Tell them YOU are available to them

When it comes to bullying – this one is all for the parents.

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