In the Day of the Bully

Over the weekend, I mentioned to someone that I hate the tv ad for the Chrysler Town and Country–the one where a little boy is being chased by bullies; he dives into the open hatchback of a waiting minivan, and his mother–who apparently knows her son is the target of bullies, but parks some distance away from school–then smiles as he makes his escape and the hatchback slowly closes behind him. Still smiling, and oblivious to the fact that thwarted bullies do not surrender, but only slink away to regroup and plan vengeance, the mother drives away while her victim son taunts the bullies by smugly sticking out his tongue.

Every time I see that commercial, my skin crawls. Having once been the bullied kid in the schoolyard, I understand all too well what that smug kid is going to face the next time the bullies see their chance, and it drives me insane that someone at Chrysler (or at the ad agency they employ) thinks any part of that commercial, from the parked, seemingly oblivious mother, to the s-l-o-w autoclose of the van’s hatchback, to the tongue-taunting of the poor victorious-but-doomed kid is cute, or reassuring, or should make one want to buy their product.

Nothing so well demonstrates the relentless mindset of bullies, and the harm they do, as the recent and tragic rash of suicides by their victims, from Pheobe Prince to Tyler Clementi to 13 year-old Hope Witsell. Once a bully (or bullies; such cowards almost always run in packs) has identified a target–a potential prize–there is no such thing as surrendering the chase or walking away until they have had their day. And bullies have unrelenting energy; they will lie about their victims, try to trip them up, physically intimidate them. Some–if they are particularly adept at bullying or have a peculiar inclination toward the vicious, will invest a little time and energy into pretending to be the hapless victim’s friend, awaiting the chance to betray and humiliate the victim before the largest possible audience of mindless, guffawing creeps, who will applaud and validate the dubious wit of the bully, and perhaps even join in the abuse.

Chrysler’s ad worries me; I dread the thought of some kid seeing it and assuming that if he can outrun a pack of bullies he can then turn around and provoke them without eventual retribution.

Bullies do not need motives; all they need is a sense that the target is unpopular, or the scent of vulnerability, coupled with the assurance that no one is watching who will do anything about their aggression.

When we see bullying, therefore, we have to be willing to identify it, and call it out; we have to teach our kids to do so, too – to recognize the characteristics of the bully–lies, intimidation, slander, jeering, distortion, corrosive scorn and a willingness to abuse before an audience–and to name it, reject it and alert others when they find it.

In the day of the bully, running does not help and hiding does not save; the bully only stops when the target is destroyed or its vulnerability has subsided. Unfortunately, in the advent of the cyber-bully, everyone is just a tad more vulnerable than before, and self-defense classes, or the ability to deliver a swift punch to the solar plexus or a kick to the gonads, is no longer enough. The only thing that will stop those inclined toward bullying–whether in games, photos or other media– is society’s own outright rejection of the bully’s tactics, wherever they are encountered, and a corrective to the bully’s lies.

Related: Speaking of bullies and tactics, if we identify the bully as one who willfully distorts and slanders for the benefit of an audience, Deacon Greg Kandra seems to have found one.

Well, there is no denying that the church is certainly vulnerable in the eyes of many, so the “no one likes it” stench will attract some.

But let us keep the characteristics of bullying foremost in our mind; bullying foments hate and humiliation through distortion, and likes an audience when it can get one. Bullying is not mere disagreement, or even passionate disagreement.

Bullying is not saying, “no, I cannot give you what you want, because it is not mine to give, and here are the reasons…”

A reasoned application of the word “no” is not bullying, no matter how strongly you may disagree with that reasoning, no matter how much you may prefer to hear the “yes.” The reasoning may be unintentionally hurtful, but it is not bullying.

That distinction matters, hugely. So does intention.

I’ll be writing more about this in my column, tomorrow.

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Steve Colby

    Gee, I thought the Town and Country had one of those red “No Pressure” buttons that would cause bullies to explode.

  • Dave G

    These recent stories in the news remind me of a made-for-TV movie that I remember from when I was a teen: “The Girl Most Likely To…” It starred Stockard Channing as a homely, overweight college co-ed who endures relentless taunting and bullying. After an auto accident, she is “reconstructed,” and reborn as a knock-out. She then proceeds to systematically get revenge on everyone who bullied her.

    Bullies must be stopped. Is it revenge to strike back? Is that Christian?

  • Gail F

    I was picked on for an entire year in elementary school, and the bullying crap people talk today makes me furious. What happened to me was that everyone in my class decided to pick on me (call me names, make fun of me, refuse to sit with me, etc.), and no teacher did anything about it even though they saw and heard it. The next school year, no one picked on me but no one talked to me either. Really. For a year. The next year we all switched schools and everything was normal. The rest of my school experience was as normal as could be.

    My parents talked to the school but no one would do anything. They said they were afraid that intervening would make it worse. I was not a weird kid, a poor or overweight or smelly kid, or anything. They just picked me and ganged up on me. Yeah, it made me stronger as a person, blah blah blah. But it should never have happened, and the reason it happened was that adults wouldn’t do anything. Kids can be incredibly mean, and adults have to teach them not to. Because kids can also be incredibly wonderful and kind. But it’s stupid for adults to rely on the latter happening all by itself. Some kids are naturally kind, some kids are naturally cruel, and most kids are in between. When the cruel ones get their way, it makes the whole group tilt toward the cruel end. I don’t think of what happened to me as bullying, because no one hurt me or threatened to hurt me. But they made me miserable for two years because it was fun for them, and because they could.

    These days, it’s anti-bullying classes and seminars and assemblies right and left, and EVERYTHING mean is called bullying, from saying the slightest mean thing to committing crimes. It’s so vague that the kids don’t pay any attention, and the adults still don’t do anything. Kids have to be taught that if they pick on other kids they are being BAD, not that they have a mental or emotional problem. Even if they do have a mental or emotional problem, they have to be taught right from wrong. But people aren’t willing to do that.

  • Doc

    Yet another reason to homeschool…a few years ago a kid was actually beaten to death in my town while either waiting for a schoolbus or on the bus. There has always been bullying among kids, but I think it’s now more brutal than it used to be.

  • Dave Pawlak

    As someone who had to endure bullying himself, I’m going to teach my boys the old-fashioned solution: Never start a fight. But If you have to, make sure you finish it. And I will also teach them, and have them taught, the ability to do so. They will also be made to understand that if they ever bully, their lives will be extremely boring, restricted, and Spartan.

    Sometimes violence is the answer. Not a pretty or politically correct answer, but one which can put an end to bullying.

  • dymphna

    I guess I’ll have to watch the commercial again cause I saw little Parker and the other kids racing and Parker cheats by finding his mom’s car.

  • Jean

    Dymphna – I think the commercial has been recently changed. I believed that they were bullies at first too, but now they have the voice-over that says “let’s race!”.

    [The "race" idea doesn't make sense to me. Where are they "racing" to? To the car? Then woudn't all of the kids continue running there? Instead, the kids chasing him stop when he reaches the car. They don't cry "no fair" and they don't keep running to wherever the goal was, trying to beat it out. They just sit and watch him, and he sticks out his tongue...I don't see kids having a fun race in that...-admin]

  • Mary

    Hmm, if you want to find modern day bullies just go to the topix website for the city of your choice. Punxsutawney Topix is a good one for examples.

  • Mutnodjmet

    Anchoress: I have spent the better portion of a week defending good, honest people I work with on Tea Party activities from vile lies and villainous distortions on the Internet. The anonymity seems to empower damaged people to project their toxin onto others. Supposed adults can be just as nasty as any teen on the net.

    I make it a point never to write anything on in a comment or post I wouldn’t say to a person face-to-face.

    Dave P: I noticed your comments above, and couldn’t agree more. My son was 7 when he was targeted by 2 older boys. When he fought back, with my full blessing and with the very understanding you outline above, they were shocked and he hasn’t been picked on since. Neither have my sons’ friends, as my son has been given to defend friends with equal vigor.

  • Fred

    I’ve only seen the “race” version of this ad and it never made much sense to me. If the kids are only racing home, what’s the point of one of them hiding in a car before the end? And what’s the point of smirking at the other kids who are continuing to run, if you aren’t even in the race?

    That this ad was an emergency re-working of a bullying story makes a lot of sense. At least the story is now logical. But again, what were they thinking?

  • Andrew B

    I am very fortunate to have grown up with a father who taught what Dave counsels above: Don’t start a fight, but end it.

    I was a short, quiet, studious, pudgy little 5th grader, and some of the boys decided to pick on me (many of them were former friends, but I guess I was an easy target). Over the summer I grew 5 inches, and came back as the biggest kid in school. I got each and every one of those bullies, one by one, and gave them a thrashing.

    Today, no doubt, I would be expelled from school. I was otherwise a good kid, and never picked a fight in my life, but I fought back hard and I won. That would probably brand me as some sort of monster today.

  • Joe Odegaard

    The comments by Andrew B, above, apply equally in the international arena as they do in the schoolyard, and peace is gained by strength and vigilance, not by appeasement.

  • invernessie

    I know this sounds odd – but when I look at the kid, he reminds me of a small version of Obama. I really hate when he sticks out his tongue at the end of the commercial.

    I was bullied when I was younger, not only at school, but within my family. I guess that’s what makes me so “hard-hearted” and independent today, not that my family understands their own role in my distancing myself.

  • Sandra

    The only thing that will curtail a bully (male or female) is basically a “nuclear option.” Let the bully throw the first punch, but be the one to finish it, meaning knock the bully on their back and have the crowd that was going to laugh at you, laugh at the bully.

    Do this once or twice in your life, the bullies WILL LEAVE YOU ALONE.

    Sorry, all that “talk crap” is “crap.”

    Although, most bullies are usually very vulnerable themselves, and scratch that “bully” paint away, there is a kid that has also been bullied.

    There are simply MORE ways to bully someone, and less interference by adults (all that political correctness and pacification that has been taught, over the last 20 years.

  • Sandra

    I forgot to add that in the 5th grade my mom was called by a teacher that her little girl was caught fighting on the playground at recess.

    It was a final tuating and bullying episode, that I could not take any more, then a kid either pushed or was shoved into me, didn’t matter, I fought using everything my uncles (both served in the military) taught me about fighting someone bigger.

    My mom told the teacher, “Good for her! Her father and I have been telling her to stick up for herself.”

    My husband I had our kids learn Hapkido (deflection) instead, same result, a couple skirmishes and then left alone.

    [Yes, but cyberbullying is a different kettle of fish!-admin]

  • laura Peter

    In third grade I was bullied continuously by a boy and his sidekick who rode the bus with me to school. One day i called him on it and a fight was arranged. We met in a vacant lot down the street, and true to the bullies are cowards stereotype he brought his second who threw rocks and sticks at me as we maneuvered in circles with some ineffectual pushing and shoving. There was no clear winner, but i knew then my bully had nothing on me and was a cheat to boot.
    Incensed by the outrage of an unfair fight I finally decided it was time to tell my father. He marched down the boy’s home and had a talk with his parents.

    To this day I know that the fight we had was a big event in my growing up. I don’t think I was ever bullied again.

  • the cottage child

    I agree, entirely, with the folks who teach their kids to end fights decisively.

    My concern is the ether-bully…my kids are little (oldest is nine) and are young for their ages – the extent of their computer exposure is limited to e-books and the occasional hs lesson. We have tv (3 channels) and a wii (fit) and I know if any are on and am aware of what they’re doing. I guess I’m wondering how children are spending enough unsupervised time participating in electronic media that their parents don’t notice? Does it happen organically as they get older, or because of the traditional school setting? How can someone be cyber-bullied, if they’re not cyber-communicating? Not criticizing, only wondering how that element might be avoidable, all together?

  • Al Hallett

    I can identify! I was bullied right up until the second half of my sophmore year in high school. I started “Manning Up” and soon the bullies wanted to be friends because now I could kick their butts!

  • dianemadeline

    re. cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is done thru social networks, blogs, websites, and email. Also, text messaging is another tool for the bully. Words, photographs, photos & images doctored thru photoshop, and video are some of the things shared thru these networks.

    These methods of bullying, the rumors and meanness, can be widely and instantly shared, never go away, and invade the recipient’s home. There isn’t a “free space” and persistent bullies can torment day and night.

    It is an added concern if the person bullied is prone to self-reflection/flagellation. The mountains of so-called evidence of his/her lack of worth just pile up and the sense of “everyone” knowing must be horrible, and we know there can be dire consequences.

    As a librarian in an elementary school, the books that I’ve purchased about bullying mostly seem to lean toward the idea that the bully is misunderstood, has his own problems and doesn’t know how to make friends. Often the character being bullied becomes friends w/ the bully after the bully is somehow confronted. (I wish there were a greater variety of resolutions than this.)

    Bullying is supposed to be a major focus of my school system this year. Still not sure what that means.

  • Barbara

    Every time I see that ad I say, “That kid is gonna get the snot beat out of him the next day.”

    No, bullying is not something to poke at, and it has a new face on it these days.

    It all begins at home, and as long as children have vast quantities of unsupervised time — mom is doing her thing, dad is doing his, and as long as the kids stay out of their face, no one is checking on them — it’s going to consume school administrators’ time. It all boils down to a loss of values — many parents don’t even recognize what they are not teaching. They don’t have it themselves.

  • Becca Balmes

    “How can someone be cyber-bullied, if they’re not cyber-communicating? Not criticizing, only wondering how that element might be avoidable, all together?”

    I don’t think it’s avoidable, as long as the bullies have access and an audience online. It seems to me that cyber-bullying works whether the target is aware of all of the attacks or not, since a good bit of the point is destroying the target’s reputation. At that point, the attacks can take place online or in person, and can be initiated by the original bully or any of their many willing lackeys (those kids who believed the original slander).

  • Feeney

    The police should handle school bullying. Drag the bully out of school and down to the police station, then call the parents in. If it happens again, same response. Eventually the little bastards, and their parents, will get the message.

  • ricki

    1. It makes me sad that some people are trying to paint honest disagreement as a form of bullying. Goodness, don’t they understand ANYTHING?

    2. I was a bullied kid. It was awful. My mom wanted my dad to teach me how to fist-fight but my dad thought that would cause more problems. I spent 8 years in the public school system essentially being “taught” by my peers that I was strange and worthless and that I deserved the bad treatment I received.

    As an adult, I still admit sometimes I catch myself feeling I “deserve” whatever bad treatment I get.

    3. Some people grow up to be bullies. I deal with one off and on. It’s hard to deal with someone in a position of power who is a bully because you can’t do any of the old schoolyard things (fist-fighting is REALLY out of bounds!). You just have to do your best to avoid the bully and to remind yourself that they are the one in the wrong.

  • ricki

    It occurs to me: disagreement is to bullying as someone asking a person out on a date is to sexual harassment.

    In the sense that, if it’s a one- or two-time thing, and when the person is rebuffed, they stop pushing, it’s fine, but if the person persists – if they keep pushing, keep being disagreeable, keep invading the other person’s space, that’s when it becomes a problem.

    It’s the sense of not being able to get away that makes bullying – or genuine sexual harassment – so pernicious and miserable.

  • Amy

    Funny that you saw that commercial as bullying – I saw that commercial as kids having a race. I honestly don’t see how that commercial can be construed as bullying, but in this age of over-parenting it doesn’t surprise me.

    [It has nothing to do with overparenting. If you watch, that boy does not look happy when the other kids are calling him over, and he quickly runs the other way and HIDES behind a tree, then dashes into the car and watches from the floor of it while the kids chase him and the door closes. I don't care what line they overlaid afterwards...that was the story of outrunning bullies, and it's terribly done -admin]

  • Dave Pawlak

    One caution: you will sometimes get the bully who doesn’t know when to quit. He’ll escalate after losing a fight, either by responding in a more violent fashion by himself, or coming back with his friends (bullies hate fair odds). In this instance, it’s best to go to the police, or else settling matters privately but memorably (not that I’m advocating anything illegal here, or immoral anyway)…

  • Kris, in New England

    Like many here, I too was bullied from 6th grade right thru to high school graduation. I was assaulted, I got a concussion once from kids throwing things down the hallways at me, my hand was severely sprained being pushed into a locker and the worst horror – 2 boys tried to rape me in the hallway when we were in 8th grade; while my classmates kept watch for any teachers who might have been coming by.

    I know what bullying looks like. Phoebe Prince was bullied to her death. While Tyler Clementi’s suicide is a tragedy, I don’t see that as bullying. What happened to him was a serious invasion of his privacy and a betrayal of trust. Doesn’t make his suicide any less horrific however.

    Bullying should be a crime, period. The town of South Hadley, MA sees the wisdom of that in charging all of Phoebe’s tormenters with crimes varying from civil disobedience to stalking to statutory rape. When the victim of bullying opts to end their life to end their pain – someone should be responsible.

    And I think it should include the school administrators, any involved or aware teachers and the parents of the bullies. This is the kind of thing that should follow these people for the rest of their lives – as a reminder of what they did to an innocent soul who wanted nothing more than to belong, to have friends, to make a connection with peers.

    I have spent years in therapy dealing with the aftermath of the bullying I endured at a time when the words “zero tolerance policy” were never uttered in the same breath. I’m 47 years old now and I still bear the scars of the torment. I don’t trust easily, I keep my friends close and my enemies closer, and I am intolerant of B.S. in any form.

    Bullying changes the lives of those who survive it. And in cases where someone doesn’t survive, it should change the lives of the people responsible.

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  • Anne

    Thank you, Anchoress. You have explained this ad very well. I just am puzzled as to why this is something that would make me want to buy that car? So my kid can hide from bullies? (And that is exactly the idea I get from it — not “Let’s race” because that doesn’t make any sense.) It’s uncomfortable.

  • Karl Lembke

    Dennis Prager adopts and advocates that people simply not humiliate others, by whatever means. Among other things, he cites a word for humiliation with a Hebrew meaning of “whiten” — referring to the pallor when blood is drained from a person. In Jewish law, to destroy a person’s reputation can be a more serious offense than to merely kill him.

    Also: “The Talmud, the set of books of Jewish law and philosophy that rank in Judaism second in importance only to the Torah, says, ‘Whoever humiliates his friend in public is considered as if he has shed his blood.’ That is why some rabbis call undeserved public shaming ‘emotional murder.’ “

  • Karl Lembke

    OK, putting the URL in angle brackets didn’t cut it.


    [Learn How To Make A Link Here - admin]

  • WChase

    Why do some kids get targeted by bullies, and others don’t? Why do some fat kids get teased, while others don’t? I think we need to teach victims how not to be victims. Bullying and teasing are fun. That’s why bulllies do it – not because they are EVIL. Take the fun out of it, and bullies stop. We all bully and tease , so lets get off our soapboxes. The stories i read here about ‘finishing the fight’ are nice, but only if the victim is the victor. When the victim gets beat up, the bullying continues. There are other ways to defeat a bully, and make no mistake, you must defeat them. We must teach these victims those ways. If you don’t know what those ways are having never had to defeat a bully non-violently, than you have no business trying to help them. And punishing the bully is just a temporary reprieve to worse bullying for the victim.

  • Hantchu

    We humans, in our natural state, have a tendency to bully, or at the very least not to want to get involved to stop the bullying.

    Internalization of a spiritually-based morality is the only thing that solves the problem–eventually, and sometimes.

    As my teenaged son has remarked, “Brainwashing can be a good thing. I’m very glad about a lot of the brainwahsing you guys did.”

  • Kris, in New England

    Bullying and teasing are fun. That’s why bulllies do it – not because they are EVIL.

    WChase – with due respect I disagree. As a victim of bullying for many years, I believe there was an evil-ness to what they did. Sure it was sport to them – and that doesn’t automatically preclude it from being evil.

    Bullies are predators – going after the weak among them for sport and to exorcise their own lack of self-worth by tormenting someone else.

    What else do you call what the students at South Hadley High School did to Phoebe Prince? Those kids are evil.

    Or the classmates who tried to rape me in the hallway in 8th grade – they may have thought it was funny and yet, it was done with the intent to harm me emotionally and physically.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Just as an aside—when those bullies physically assaulted Kris, and attempted to rape her, they were committing serious crimes.

    At that point, one calls the police, and one’s lawyers, and talks about suing the parents, and/or the school itself. This is getting into the criminal area.

  • Pat in Texas

    WChase – I’ve been teased by friends and family who love me and I’ve been the one teasing – with love and familiarity and good laughs, NEVER intended to slight or embarrass or humiliate.

    Bullies intend to do harm for their own gratification, emotional, physical or both. The fact you don’t see the difference is pretty telling. I think you should examine your ideas about what is bullying and what isn’t.

  • Kris, in New England

    …when those bullies physically assaulted Kris, and attempted to rape her, they were committing serious crimes.

    Rhinestone – thank you; you are right of course. And back in 1977 you didn’t report these as crimes. It was seen as kids being kids – seriously. One of the boys who tried to rape me was suspended from school for a week, at the end of the school year. The other had to write an apology to me and my parents.

    And quite honestly, at the age of 13/14 the last thing I wanted to do was even think about filing charges against them; it is the classic situation where doing that to protect myself would have, ultimately, made my life even worse than it was at the time.

    I suspect that hasn’t changed much among kids who are bullied either. There are things that happened to me that I never told my parents and I suspect that still happens as well. For the victim of bullying, it’s as much about the bullying and surviving it as the feeling that somehow you will disappoint people in your life by confessing how bad it really is.

    My parents had to find out about the attempted rape ONLY because my clothing was ripped and the boys broke a radio I was carrying. Trust me, if those 2 things hadn’t happened I’d have never said a word about it to anyone.

    [I understand what you are saying. I was sexually assaulted in junior high school by two boys. Circumstances prevented them from harming me much physically, but it was one more event in a long line of bullying events and torments that I never reported or talked about because once you've been the victim of true bullying, it starts to seem like that's what life is...and you deserve it. I know whereof you speak -admin]

  • WChase

    Rape and assault are not bullying.

    They are crimes.

    Bullying for gratification – sport – fun. All semantics. You defeat a bully by taking away the “sport – gratification – fun” from their interaction with you.

    I think that calling bullies ‘evil’ gives them a status and power they do not deserve and that keeps us feeling weak and choiceless. If we say they are motivated by some metaphysical concept like ‘evil’, rather than the desire for gratification or fun , than aren’t we now the bullies hiding behind the guise of spirituality. Bullies are human beings.

    In no way am I implying that handling bullies is simple or easy. it is very important to teach people how to deal with them.

    Not sure I am the enemy here Pat. Not sure that by saying they do it for fun that the suffering victims like you endured is dmiminished. Victims suffer. I get that. Now how do we end that?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Kirs, Anchoress, I’m so sorry for what you had to go through!

    Again—when bullying moves to the level of physical assault, it’s no longer “bullying”, it’s a crime, and needs to be treated as such.

    Also, the kids who perpetrate this are no longer “bullies” they are criminals. It says volumes about our school system that this kind of thing happens, and no one stops it, or even seems aware it’s going on.

    Wannabe rapists and muggers do not belong in school. They belong 1.) In a correctional institution, or 2.) Out on the streets, where they now have to take their chances along with everyone else, and no sympathetic principal, tender-hearted teacher or adoring pals to cover for them; and Mom and Poppa can’t do much for you either (unless, they can pull some strings, or have the local D.A. in their pocket, and even then. . . )

    Just a thought; given the damage it does, is it time to re-think our school system altogether? (Sorry to go off-topic here.) Our grandparents, and many of our parents, survived on an eighth grade education—which was more comprehensive than High school is today.

    Given that many schools these days resemble Juvenile Hall, rather than places of learning, and kids are stuck in them for years—-and some of them growing into adult bodies, with violent tendencies which they have no fear of acting on, and no one seems able to check—school might not be the place for them. (And those kids who do want to learn have to be protected. This is just a thought I’m throwing out here, I honestly don’t have an answer, myself.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, Kris, I’m with you; these acts are not sport, they are evil.

    (I also wonder if it isn’t time to re-think the whole concept of “Teenagerhood”, “Tweens”, “Adolescents”, “Kids will be kids!” etc.—rank heresy, I know, in today’s society! I can’t imagine a worse way to raise a kid than to give them the impression that beating people up, or attempted rape, are mere childish pranks. Some of these bullies are going to get a very big surprise when they try pulling that in the real world!)

  • Kris, in New England

    Anchoress – I am so sorry that you too understand what I went thru. Perhaps today it wouldn’t be seen as bullying; for us that’s all it ever was going to be.

    And Rhinestone – schools do need revamping. Just not sure what that would look like or even where to start.

  • cminor

    Possibly somebody above has brought this up and I missed it, but the climate produced by the school seems to me to be a huge factor in the extent of bullying. I’ve noticed (partly from personal experience) that targets of bullying are often the odd, socially awkward kids who aren’t always able to figure out on their own what an appropriate response to the treatment is. Such kids often unwittingly elicit negativity from the adults who should be able to keep their feelings under control enough to protect them; when the kids or their parents approach faculty for help they may be greeted with a blame-the-victim attitude.

    Another internal problem of some schools is the inability (or perceived inability) to do anything effective about bullying, usually for fear of legal repercussions. In the county adjoining mine, an elementary school teacher of my acquaintance was disciplined for physically intervening in a playground fistfight (she took the kid doing most of the damage by the shoulders and pulled him off the other one, harming no one in the process.) A well-mannered young lady of 13 from the same county once explained her suspension from school to me: she had done a fair amount of damage to a classmate who, with a buddy or two, had decided her much-smaller younger brother looked like a good target for a beating. This happened in plain sight of several teachers who had done nothing to protect the obviously outmatched victim. I’m even aware of a case in this county in which a teacher actively colluded with students in verbally belittling a child. This was in a lower elementary classroom so the kids could at least plead the ignorance of youth; the teacher had no such excuse. When teachers and administrators in this county are called out by the victims’ parents for their lack of leadership, the tendency is to either hide behind policy or law (“Teachers aren’t supposed to do that; it’s for legal/safety/insurance reasons; that’s why we hire security staff,”) or circle the wagons around incompetent and insensitive colleagues who are unlikely to be fired for anything short of a felony conviction.

    I’ve read a number of recent cases of bullying-related tragedies in which do-nothing school officials appear to be a factor (one school district had four bullying-related suicides within a relatively short span of time and is currently being sued by the parents of two of the victims.)
    We may not be able to prevent every single teenage suicide or every instance of harassment. But school teachers and administrators who make it clear that bullying and harassment will be met with disciplinary action and that physical violence will be treated like the crime it is reduce the likelihood of those things happening on their watches. Their efforts need to be supported by officials and the community, however. I think there’s a noticeable difference between school districts where that is happening and those where it’s not.

  • Bradamante

    I dealt with bullying in grade school as my family moved often and vulnerability comes with the territory of being the new kid. My father gave me the advice of physically standing my ground. In some places, where things were settled with fists, it worked. In others where kids were armed, or would come back for revenge armed, it could have gotten me severely injured or perhaps even killed. I’m just letting people know that things have become much more “Lord of the Flies” since you were kids and your advice strikes me as very cavalier and unrealistic. Few victims of bullies have the power to face them down, because they are not just dealing with the bullies, but a whole array of enablers. Victims need help. As for the “someday they’ll get theirs”, the world is startlingly tolerant of bullies, and many go through their whole lives creating Hell for people without any consequnces in this life. One of my sons is well liked at his school. I am proudest of him for the gentle way he handles kids who would pick on vulnerable students so that no one, even the would-be persecutors are humiliated in the process. That he is large and strong for his age allows him some leeway here!

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