Speak Up, Support, and Never Give Up

There are three stories swirling around in my head that I want to blog about.  They might not seem related, but I believe they are.  The first relates to the Penn State story.  By now, everyone knows the details.  Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have abused a number of children and Joe Paterno allegedly knew this was happening but didn’t contact police.  Instead, he contacted University higher-ups who opted to keep things quiet.

Listening to this story, I can’t help but think about my experiences with bullying and how they seem similar.  Bullies will often dictate the terms of the bully-bullied exchanges.  They will tell the bullied that they can’t tell anyone or else.  It’s a way of gaining additional power over your victim.  Besides, if you set the rules, you’re assured that you will always win.

When one is bullied or when one is confronting a respected icon, the social pressure is very similar.  There is constant pressure to keep quiet.  To mind your own business and not get involved or, if you are involved, to not seek outside help.  After all, those are the rules and you must obey the rules!

Even after I escaped my bullying scenario, I felt this pressure.  One time in college, I returned to my dorm room to see a door open and a guy and a girl play-fighting.  The guy got her into a hold she couldn’t escape from and she called to ask for my help.  I started to go in that direction and the guy told me to leave them alone.  I immediately turned around and headed into my room.

While I don’t think anything bad happened, I still, to this day, regret that decision.  Someone asked me for help (even if it was just play-fighting) and I should have helped.  While I can’t correct past mistakes, I can prevent future ones.  I can learn not to give into societal pressures to keep quiet and I can teach my boys the same lesson.

The second story on my mind involves a ten year old girl who committed suicide after being bullied.  I shudder at the thought of this happening to my boys.  When I was bullied, I believed that I had to handle it myself.  I didn’t think that I could talk to my parents or teachers about it.  That isolation got to be almost more than I could bear at times.  I would dread going to school because of the mental torture that that building held for me.  I never got to the point where I considered ending my life, however.  We’ve already spoken to NHL about bullying as, sadly, he’s experienced it first hand.  How do you talk to your eight-year old about suicide, though?

In the final story, a special needs child who was bullied by her teachers.  The teachers, principal, and even superintendent called the girl a liar for the “stories” she told about the teachers’ tormenting behaviors.  The superintendant even had the gall to tell the father that he was bordering on slander and harassment by making these claims.  Their investigations, they asserted, showed that these were made up stories that the girl was telling.  (Never mind that their “investigation” consisted of nothing more than asking the accused teachers what happened.)

Thankfully, the father didn’t back down.  He hid an audio recording device on his daughter and recorded 7 hours of verbal abuse.  Once presented with recordings, the school finally acted.

How do these three stories tie together?  I think they all illustrate how we need to react and teach our kids to respond to bullying.  First, we can’t allow ourselves to be silenced by societal pressure.  If you are being bullied, speak up.  If you know someone who is being bullied speak up.  Break those bully-set rules and get loud about the abuse.

Secondly, we need to support our children when they are bullied.  Not just in our actions to resolve the bullying situations, but also by sitting down with our kids and talking about what was happening.  The more support our kids receive, the better they’ll be able to deal with the situation.

Finally, never give up.  If the teacher won’t act, talk to the principal.  If the principal turns a blind eye, go to the superintendent.  Keep going higher and making more noise.  Threaten to go to the press.  Follow through.  Don’t take “no” for an answer.

Here’s hoping that no more people keep quiet, that no more boys or girls take their own lives, and that no more kids need to grow up knowing the torture that is being bullied.