Bruce Column April 4, 2010
“Bullying in schools raises major concerns” was a headline in last Wednesday’s Herald Journal. The story was about a young 15 year old Massachusetts girl who hung herself after months and months of being bullied by her fellow students at school. Bullies for reasons only they understand have an intense desire to humiliate and dominate someone. Their bullying activities often are directed toward someone that might be a bit different and are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves against the demeaning antics bullies employ. The girl in Massachusetts had recently emigrated from Ireland, possibly spoke with an accent, and maybe dressed differently from the rest of the students. She was probably targeted and not accepted because she was different.
There are a variety of ways bullies demean their victims. Sometimes its name calling, sometimes its jeers and whispers. Often it’s not allowing someone to be part of the group, like making them eat lunch by themselves and not inviting them to hang out after school. Extreme cases of bullying can include physical contact, poking, and shoving and other forms of physical abuse. In this modern age of Internet social net working a bully may choose cell phone texting as a way to demean and show their dominance. The consequences of bullying, or what some would consider innocent teasing, can be serious. In some instances those being bullied take drastic steps to relieve themselves of the pain of being ridiculed and not being accepted by kids their own age. In extreme cases of bullying, like the young 15 year old girl in Massachusetts, victims believe suicide is the only answer to relieve their suffering.
As a young boy I remember being the victim of some minor bullying at school. I was always the skinny kid that looked a lot younger than I actually was, so I was an easy target. In grade school I often hated to go outside for recess because I knew that there were a couple of kids roaming the playground looking for someone to bully. When they discovered me, a small and skinny kid, I became their easy target. A typical bullying activity consisted of one of the bullies getting my attention by simply talking to me. His buddy would sneak behind me and kneel down on hands and knees. When everything was in place the bully would shove me backwards and of course I would end up on my backside. The two bullies got a big kick out of putting me down and encouraged others to join in having a good laugh at my expense. The result was that I was humiliated in front of all my classmates and didn’t like recess.
After coming home several times and complaining to my parents about what was happening to me at school my dad sat me down and told me that the only way the bullying was going to stop was if I did something about it. He suggested that the next time it happened I should immediately jump to my feet and attack the bully with all of the energy I could muster. I followed my dad’s advice. The next time I was shoved backward and landed on my backside I came up swinging. I was scared to death because the kid I was attacking, the bully, was much bigger than me. But this time I had the element of surprise on my side. They didn’t think I would ever do what I did because there were two of them. I eventually got one of them in a headlock and hung on for dear life. After several minutes a teacher intervened and got us separated. But guess what, dad was right, I was never bothered again by the two bullies. They left me alone after that but unfortunately went looking for someone else they could pick on.
When I was in junior high school students that were different in some way were tagged with the term “fairy,” meaning that they were accused of being homosexual. In today’s world the word is “gay.” Calling someone a fairy was about the worst name you could use. It was very demeaning and a way for a bully to assert their dominance over someone they didn’t like. Once someone was tagged as a fairy there was no end to the torment the poor student suffered. No one would ever want to befriend a fairy or include them in group activity.
So, how do we deal with the possibility that there is probably bullying going on in Cache Valley? Parents need to be extra sensitive to what’s happening to their children at school, at church, or on the playground. Does your child have friends? Does your child willingly participate in school and church activities? If your child is different in some way and is always depressed when they come home from school you might inquire about why they feel depressed. You might want to talk to other students in the school to find out if your child is being bullied. If he/she is a victim you need to do something about it.
If you are a student you can be aware of the “loner,” the classmate that doesn’t seem to have any friends, and befriend them. When you observe bullying taking place you can be the courageous one and come to the defense of the classmate who is being demeaned and bullied. You can report bullying situations to the school authorities so they can do something about it.
If you are a teacher, an administrator or an adult leader of youth in church be aware that there is probably various degrees of bullying going on. You should address bullying situations firmly and aggressively.
Could bullying in Cache Valley be extreme enough that it would cause a student to take her/his life like what happened to the girl in Massachusetts? Let’s hope not.