It Is Not Your Fault!
Ok, I was going to write about my weekend. The things I did with my boys and stuff. But then I read this blog post and suddenly those other topics can wait.
The basic gist of the article is that bullying takes two to work. The bully and the bullied. The author says that if the bullied kids would simply fight back, bullies would move on to someone else. He also declares that bullying is a fact of life and parents who come to their children’s aid in cases of bullying are only making the situation worse. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from the article:
Every time you intercede on your child’s behalf or appeal to the school system, every time you negotiate for more impotent rules to attempt to govern the behavior of other people’s kids, every time you whisk your child away from an unpleasant situation without encouraging them to solve it for themselves, every time you give away your child’s power to stand up for themselves to a teacher, monitor, lawyer, principal, you make them that much weaker and more vulnerable to bullying, especially when they’re very young. It’s akin to blasting your immune system with antibiotics every time you get a runny nose. The immune system’s ability to fight back is never tested and strengthened, and when some serious illness comes along, your body completely caves in. The same exact principle is at work every time you swoop in to rescue your child.
The bolding is his, not mine. According to him, if NHL is bullied in school, I should tell him to just be a man and punch the kid in the nose. That’ll stop the big, bad bully real quick. I guess then I should crack open a beer and yell at my wife because dinner is three minutes late. Sorry, for a minute there I was transported back to the 1950’s. Bullying is a complex subject and one response definitely does not fit all. It definitely isn’t as easy as “buck it up and fight like a man.”
I hate to play the “you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it” card, but to properly appreciate how a bullied kid feels you really have to have been bullied in the past. I would recommend reading through my My Bullied History series to get a better picture, but I’ll give a quick rundown of where I was mentally and socially in high school.
By high school, I had already been bullied by my teacher and the person I regarded as my best friend. As such, I had taken a “don’t ask for help, take care of it yourself” attitude. My classmates were by and large friendly to me, but there was a group of kids who decided that it was fun to torment me. They would follow me from class to class shouting insults at me or laughing at me when I tried altering the route I took to avoid them. They would get to my class before me (on the times they didn’t follow me around) and block my entrance. While I tried to push my way through them, they would heckle me. Every day was filled with dread over what torment they would visit upon me.
The rest of my classmates either didn’t notice this or turned a blind eye to it. Nobody stood up and told them to stop. In my mind, at the time, I had no allies. It was me versus 6 guys. Physically fighting them wasn’t an option. They would beat me up and then make fun of me more. Plus, I would likely get in more trouble for “starting” the fight since the bullying would be my word against theirs.
So I took it. I absorbed every verbal blow and tried not to show the tiniest reaction. But the reactions were there. On trips to and from school, I would cringe as I heard kids laughing on the bus. I was sure they were laughing at me, even when I knew they weren’t. I don’t think I ever contemplated suicide, but I did think about violence from time to time. But for a few changes in circumstances, I could have been one of those kids that snaps and goes violent in his school.
So, where did I go wrong according to the blog author? My parents didn’t intervene (partly because I don’t think I told them the full extent of what was going on) and I didn’t rely on anyone other than myself. My “do it yourself” attitude should have made me stronger. So why did I leave high school so emotionally and socially weak? Why do I feel the repercussions to this day when those bullies stopped being a threat to me over 15 years ago?
I suppose he would say it is because I never fought back. Well, I did fight back against one bully. Before the group of bullies incidents, there was a kid who began taunting me before class. I pulled him by the hand, executed a perfect clothesline maneuver (I was a fan of wrestling back then) and he landed in a row of desks. Guess what happened? I got in trouble for violence and another group of bullies took his place.
Had I fought against those bullies, I’d have gotten beaten up. Why would they stop bullying me if they knew I couldn’t physically hurt them when they were together? They could rely on one another for support. (When I passed just one of them in the hall by themselves, they didn’t say anything to me.) If I landed a punch on Bully #1, Bully #’s 2 – 6 would have landed punches on me. Who could I rely on for support? My classmates who didn’t seem to care if I was bullied? My parents who didn’t intervene? My teachers who would only get involved if I got violent? It was just isolated, socially awkward me versus the bullies. There was no support network backing me up.
I should correct that. There was one person. My best friend, G, who listened to me talk of the emotional damage I had from the bullying. He wasn’t bullied himself and so initially wrote it off as me being dramatic. But as time went on, he began to see that I wasn’t pretending but was really hurting. He happened to be on speaking terms with my bullies and talked with them. Risking being targeted himself, he told them what was happening. They (apparently) were just “having fun” and didn’t think of the consequences. When confronted with the truth of what was really happening, they backed down.
So, in the end, my bullying problem was solved not by a big showdown in the schoolyard, not by fists flying, not by some misguided “immune system” comparison, but by a support network. My friend was my sounding board, keeping me from going off the deep end. He took action to stop the bullying. If it wasn’t for him, things would have turned out a lot differently.
The real solution to bullying isn’t simple, but one big component is support. Kids, talk to your parents. Talk to your teachers. I know it seems like they won’t know anything about what you’re going through, but they might surprise you. Even if they haven’t personally experienced bullying, though, a sympathetic ear can do a world of good. Parents/Teachers, be there for your kids/students. Talk with them about how you can work together to solve the problem. And to all of the kids who aren’t being bullied, keep your eyes and ears open. If you see bullying, report it. Anonymously, if you must, but report it. Even better, talk to the bullied kid. Let them know that what is happening to them is wrong and you’re there for them if they need help. The bigger and stronger a support network that a bullied kid has, the less damage that a bully can do.