Bullying

Bullying is bad.

Well, there’s a way to start a post with an obvious statement.  But I think you know what I mean.

Today, my kid confessed that back when a kid was teasing him at school, this kid told him he should “just go kill yourself.”  Nice, huh?  I wonder where a seven-year-old learned that particular phrase.  Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, at least for now.  J is now friends with this boy.  I’ve met him; he’s not a bad kid.  He was polite, his mom is a sweetheart, and J has a great time playing with him.  It seems strange to think this is the kid who spent a month teasing J.  We were also fortunate that J’s teacher is good enough to spot bullying and didn’t tolerate it in his classroom.

Not all kids are so lucky.

This is the kind of thing that goes on every day, in classrooms all across the country.  And it’s not limited to classrooms or schools.  It happens on playgrounds and in other recreational settings.  I’ve had to tell my kids on more than one occasion that they should stay away from certain kids on the playground because they are teasing other kids.  My nephew has a couple of boys that live in his neighborhood and have picked on him in his own house.  It took months before the whole situation came to light because they were just sneaky enough to do it where the adults couldn’t hear.

Which is, of course, what most kids do.  They carry out their bullying in much more subtle ways than beating up another kid, and they do it where and when parents or teachers are not listening: Hallways, bathrooms, playgrounds; sly notes, whispers during lessons, even in a kid’s own bedroom, apparently.  I can remember being called names for years, and even when I told my teachers, they either didn’t believe me or brushed it aside as “kids will be kids.”  I was often told to toughen up or ignore the bullies.

These days, it’s also popular to sympathize with the bully.  It’s true, we need to love our enemies.  But often the victim is pushed aside in favor of offering “psychological help” to the perpetrators.  This may come partly from the mistaken idea that bullies all come from broken homes or have abusive parents.  While that is certainly true some of the time, it doesn’t explain everything.  Some kids are just mean to others regardless.  The kids who picked on me came from stable homes, for the most part.  Which only made it harder, actually, because it meant that I took it to heart that there must be something wrong with me if the “normal” kids said so.  In fact, I once had an adult suggest as much–that the other kids should be kinder to me even though I was “different.”  (I was never exactly clear on how I was different.)

And what about when the adults are the problem?  I’ve worked in schools and my husband is a teacher, so we’ve seen it happen.  A teacher develops a dislike for a certain student and creates tension for that child.  We’ve seen teachers discipline students over make-believe incidents.  I recall one student who had stomach aches for an entire year because he was convinced his teacher didn’t like him.  I tried to remain non-committal, but it was difficult, given that I knew for a fact that his teacher had expressed dislike for him.  I recall another student who was mocked by several teachers who all claimed it was “in good fun.”  I know some teachers who say rude things about the (lack of) intelligence of their students and who seem to have very little clue about developmental stages.

Sadly, it doesn’t go away as adults.  It concerns me when I see this kind of thing happening.  I have seen people publicly speak about how we need to be more patient and kind in out interactions with the world, such as showing patience with a slow clerk in the grocery store.  Five minutes later, the same person is refusing to associate with certain types of people during social time after worship.  Not everyone outgrows the stage where they see themselves as better than others.

There is no clear answer for this problem.  Sure, I could pull my kid out of school and go back to teaching him at home.  I will do that, if he’s ever bullied or harassed to the point of being miserable or not wanting to go to school.  But I’d rather that he have a good public education without being victimized.  Is that too much to ask?

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