Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bullies and Other Evils: What to Do?

     Marlo Thomas (whose Free To Be...You and Me organization has been dealing with bullying for years) wrote an interesting column in the wake of the Ohio student who killed and wounded several students a few days ago. After mentioning several examples of kids who committed suicide over bullying, she then makes a typical comment:
 "Researchers also say that parents and teachers are often so distracted by other problems -- at home, in the classroom -- that they don't recognize the signs of bullying." (Sounds like blaming the adults to me.) 
"Obviously, the system isn't working," says Marlo.

An important first step to untangling this dilemma is changing how we treat the bullies, according Julie Hertzog of Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center.. "We need to take the anger out of our response," she says. "Making villains of kids who bully does not create a positive environment. We need to teach all kids empathy and bring them together, inclusively." (In other words, I guess, pat them kindly on the head, and say there, there...we're all in this together.) Hertzog does point out that the bullied can easily become bullies themselves, so therefore their actions can be excused. Sort of.

I don't quite get this. Coddle the bullies and warm them with understanding? (The Holbrook girls, who regularly beat up anyone they chose on my school bus ride home, would have laughed themselves silly.) How would those who were bullied feel about this?

But then, what can you do when fifth-graders are trying to kill their teacher with rat poison. And writing nasty notes ("How are you doing in Hell? Love, Joey") to their parents. (Ha ha! How funny, say family members. No worries, they say - the kid turned out ok.)
     There is a horrible tendency to dismiss actions like this: "Well, kids will be kids." "They'll grow out of it." "Ignore it, and it will go away." Or even worse: admire them for being such an evil/creative little darling.


"Obviously, the system isn't working," says Thomas. "The kids who are in the thick of today's bullying epidemic -- victims, bullies and bystanders alike -- are lost, and they urgently need adult guidance." And not just in bullying, either --


     Your children are smacking each other around, or indulging in creative insults? ("Cow" was one favorite I often heard.) Make it clear that behavior will not be tolerated -- ever. Sure, they'll do it in private sometimes...but they will stop.
     The insults you overheard, directed at a special needs teenager?
     The casual approach to stealing, as long as it's 'just' a pencil or candy bar?
     The ha-ha jokes about doing pot? (I am soooo tired of these.)
     The teenager who enjoys swiping his neighbor's Christmas light bulbs, every afternoon on the way home from school? Or torturing his pet? 
     The kid that threatens and takes a knife to the back seat of the schoolbus? (They may be dealing with problems at home, all right -- so take that seriously, as well. If you can help, or advise, or put events in motion, do it.)

     Take their actions to heart. Say, "This stops -- now." Deal with it promptly, up-front and in the open. The issue is not whether the person is the spawn of Satan -- because generally, kids aren't. Neither are adults. But they, like adults, need to be held accountable for their actions. If you do it, the bully, child or adult, can be stopped. And you may literally save their life in the process.

For help and advice, visit:

Stop Bullying Now!

Heroes in the Hallway

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