Monday, March 19, 2012

Some Thoughts on Bullying

It seems like the latest crusade (if I can use that very non-PC word) is the one against bullying. There was an extensive discussion of it on NPR's Diane Rehm Show the other day, the high school where my granddaughter's dance competition took place was plastered with anti-bullying posters, a Google search on the term bullying gets you about 71,600,000 hits, and there's even a National Bullying Prevention Center and a Bullying Information Center available online. There have been high-profile stories of young people driven to suicide by incessant bullying. The only thing it doesn't have is it's own colored ribbon, but I may have missed it.

So, when and why did bullying get to be such a huge issue?

You will no doubt be profoundly shocked, Dear Readers, to know that I was not always the handsome, buff, witty man of the world you have come to know over the last six years. No ... during my elementary and most of my high school days I was a skinny, bookish, bespectacled fellow who seemed to have a permanent kick me sign taped to his back. I wasn't especially athletic (although I was on the high school cross country team, where I typically finished near the end of the pack) and didn't move in the upper crust of my high school (which, as at most high schools, was populated by football players, wrestlers, and cheerleaders). Things got better in my junior and senior years, but it seemed to take forever to get there.

Bullying back then seemed to be more physical. I got used to getting snickered at, tripped or shoulder-slammed in the hallways by passing thugs, and having small things stolen. Bullying today seems to be more "full-spectrum" (to use a military term) - the physical element is still there, but is augmented by the ability to bully remotely via anonymous online Facebook posts or Twitter tweets.

Bullying has always been with us, and it will not go away because of radio shows or posters on high school walls. I think it starts with poor parenting - parents who don't properly educate and supervise their children, and is exacerbated by a culture of failure to accept responsibility for one's actions. It may also be made worse by a modern behavioral culture that seeks peaceful resolution of conflict, rather than fighting back.

In any case, it's tough to fight back against a bully nowadays. Back in the day, my father always counseled me to fight back ... which was good advice that I took when I could, except that fighting back against someone significantly larger than you are isn't always a viable option. Nowadays, if you fight back against a bully, the bully's parents are likely to sue you for damaging their precious little boy (or girl). My mother often told me to ignore the bullies ... which was also good advice, except when I was smarting from another hallway body block or from the embarrassment of being picked on.

I've sometimes wondered over the years what happened to the worst of the bullies I encountered in elementary and high school. There were four of them, and I suspect that they either met sad ends at the hands of bullies larger than they were, or ended up in professions in which the skills of a bully can be channeled into profitability - used car sales, law enforcement, or politics, for example.

Yes, bullying is a problem that's tough to address, because it has so many causes and because the parents of bullies tend to not believe that dear little Johnny could ever do anything bad. On an individual level, it can be difficult to stand up for yourself when you're considered an outsider who isn't part of the in-crowd. Parents need to educate and properly supervise their children, and bullied children need to know that they can fight back without being themselves accused of something.

I survived it all. Today's children can, too. We need to teach them how.

Have a good day. Diss a bully.

More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

I'm sorry you had that experience when young, Bilbo. The fact is, bullying willalways be around us because of the way that some people just are, and sometimes adults tacitly tolerate that behavior. Parental supervision is a key. The problem of bullying may have actually increased because some children are larger or more vocal, and no one is around to inject any order. For some, they are in a state of nature,

Girls bully too. A small number do so physically, but social or relational aggression is more of the pattern. Remember that movie, Mean Girls"?

Leslie David said...

Well i was taught not to fight back but in the Army I learned about payback. The guy who bullied Lisa and me? He's spending life in jail, and apparently wrote her a letter asking for forgiveness(so something good came out of it) but if I knew then what I know now? I would have ambushed him with a baseball bat and taken him out at the knees. I never said I was a nice person.

Mike said...

In grade school I got picked on by a group of three guys. I know one is dead now for sure. Maybe the other two got there's too.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

A large part of the bullying problem in school and on playgrounds is due to the lack of adults caring what happens: out of sight, out of mind. Also, there's the pie in the sky notion about the innocense of children.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I was never bullied. My hubby tells me stories of how he was. He meet a guy who really gave him grief for years and beat him up etc. Like your father his father taught him to fight. He was skinny little kid. Then he met this man at of all places a public restroom and they were at the round communal sink. Rick is now 6'2" and built like a NFL linebacker. He was about 230lbs and buff. He asked the man if he remembered him and when he said no Rick told him who he was. The guy thought Rick was going to hit him and he backed up and said he was sorry. Rick laughed and told him that he gave him years of grief and put his hand out to shake it. The guy said and I quote, "Man I was an asshole and if I knew you would end up looking like this my 11yr old self wouldn't have done that!" They laughed about it.
But today kids kill themselves. It's so sad.

I'm old, the worse things in school was bring brass knuckles to school for an unfair fight.

I am thankful I missed it all.

Anonymous said...

My younger self was sometimes bullied to tears and there were times I felt like such a misfit I even thought of suicide.

As an adult I am fortunately not vulnerable to physical bullying.

As a parent and a volunteer in the school system I had allies and I was able to nip bullying in the bud and spare my kids from the worst of it I think.

Parents and administrators set the tone and they have to care. Bullying is not OK.

Big Sky Heidi said...

While girls were pretty well spared the physical bullying, the psychological kind was the form most often of girl-girl bullying. And woman-woman for that matter.

Banana Oil said...

Some girls do get physical. Why do guys like to see cast fights so much?

Anonymous said...

There's always the wish that scratching will take place, or clothing will be torn.