Bully For You!

In the classroom, I see and hear too many first hand accounts of bullying. The unseen instances are scarier to me, due in part to the unknown magnitude: how big is this issue, really? Is one of these kids teetering on the edge of “too much to handle”?

CNN just ran a piece on bullying by peers; here are a few highlights:
Adolescents who are bullied by their peers actually suffer from worse long-term mental health effects than children who are maltreated by adults…because children tend to spend more time with their peers, it stands to reason that if they have negative relationships with one another, the effects could be severe and long-lasting… children who were bullied are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and consider self-harm and suicide later in life.
(Bullying by peers has effects later in life)

What wrong with kids? They should know better, right? We can blame it on the way they were brought up and the lack of enforcement of anti-bullying policy by the schools. Our culture tolerates bullying and abuse. Still, kids should flat-out know better.

“Bullying” comes in different shapes and forms. There’s spousal abuse–bullying in a relationship. Not just obvious physical abuse but verbal and mental abuse. Which begs a question: why is it “bullying” for kids but we call it abuse for (alleged) grown-up cases?

Then there’s bullying at work, but what we call the behavior morphs again. In the workplace it’s called harassment and discrimination. We even have federal laws dealing with it, and most companies tout a “zero tolerance” policy. But how wide is the “say-do gap”? My opinion: Grand Canyon-wide. Those who do shout out when they are bullied > abused > harassed only stand to catch even more grief. Sure, in the workplace there’s the “whistle-blower” clause that addresses retaliation. But except for an occasional exception it’s basically worthless.

In schools, staff is for the most part woefully under-educated about bullying. Honestly, they have their hands far too full with other stuff anyway. Dare I get radical: parents must play a much larger role in addressing bullying with their kids, both for the bullies and the bullied. Oh but wait…their hands are far too full with other stuff too. A pattern!

Schools are workplaces too. As such, they are governed by harassment and discrimination laws. But awareness of individual rights and protections, and of responsibility to abide by the laws, are both big-time issues. Again, the gap is Grand Canyon-wide.

Abuse in relationships has grabbed the spotlight due to high-profile cases involving professional athletes. Teams and leagues have come down hard on the accused, but is this due to a new awakening, a real moral outrage? Or is it more a reaction to public opinion, a necessary PR move to keep butts in the seats and minimize protests?

From the CNN piece: while government has justifiably focused on addressing maltreatment and abuse in the home, they should also consider bullying as a serious problem that requires schools, health services and communities to prevent, respond to or stop this abusive culture from forming.
“It’s a community problem,” Wolke said. “Physicians don’t ask about bullying. Health professionals, educators and legislation could provide parents with medical and social resources. We all need to be trained to ask about peer relationships.”

We need resources…we all need to be trained…we need to stop this abusive culture from forming…all three of those statements have always shouted out to me “you might as well raise the white flag now and continue with the same old same old. It ain’t gonna happen.”
As that great country troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker lamented so eloquently decades ago, we’re just pissin’ in the wind.

Here’s what it boils down to: no one should be subjected to treatment that makes them cry tears of relief at the end of the day and makes them feel waves of dark dread over starting the next day for fear of what may go down. And yes, some do drown in those dark waves.

There’s huge variation in what it takes to make someone’s life miserable. Some have ‘thick skins’ and nothing gets to them (maybe we’ll visit about the “reasonable suspicion” clause in drug policies later). Others can take a whole lot of grief from others, apparently…until one more remark or incident sets them off and all their pent-up frustration lashes out, sometimes with violence directed at themselves or others. Still others are what the callous among us call crybabies, getting all weepy and irrational if you even look their way and they catch you.

A serious question…what can we do? Why does bullying exist, what are the real impacts, how can we fight it?

The CNN article concludes with this: “We tend to admire power, but we also tend to abuse power, because we don’t talk about achieving power in an appropriate way. Bullying is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t make it right. We should be taking care of each other.”

Bullying is abuse, and abuse is bullying. Period. Why should there be less than zero tolerance for bullies? Why should bullying be “part of the human condition” as that passage states? Wouldn’t “taking care of each other” be much more…human?



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