Bullying is a Crime, Not a Rite of Passage
Sticks and stones will break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.
Remember that nursery rhyme from when you were a kid?
The thing it, words do hurt. They cut deeply. They wound the soul in ways from which it is never able to recover.
I have one son who is bullied at school. It isn’t the overt, punch you in the face, stuff you in a locker sort of bullying (though he has also experienced that) It isn’t the sort of bullying that can be caught on tape, replayed later to astonished gasps. It is the quiet, taunting sort of bullying. It is the name calling, the whispering, the faces. I call it the Chinese water torture method of bullying. Each individual incident is seemingly inconsequential. Why don’t you just brush it off? Ignore it. It’s just words. She’s just a girl, what is she going to do to you? But added together, the weight of each individual drop, it becomes too much to bear.
I suppose my son is an easy target for bullies, if I were to try to be objective. I believe he most likely has a mild form of Aspergers, a condition on the Autism spectrum. He is very, very smart and what some would call nerdy. He doesn’t understand why other people don’t immediately understand what he is talking about. He feels compelled to point out to everyone and anyone when they are wrong. This does not endear him to his peers or teachers, who are the ones bearing the brunt of his corrections.
He is not into the popular mainstream teenage things. He shuns what most kids his age think of as cool. He prefers to wear collared polo shirts and khaki shorts. He reads science textbooks for fun. He is slightly overweight and uncoordinated. Some days I feel like all he needs is a sign on his back saying “Kick Me.”
But what they don’t see, can’t see, is the kid I know. The one with a heart of gold who would never intentionally hurt anyone. The one who will play with his younger siblings. The one who when bullied says, “Why are you so mean?” because he just doesn’t understand it. The one who views the world in black and white, with unwavering rules. My heart breaks when I think about what life must be like for him at school every day, the subtle torments.
The bullying has been going on for the entire school year, though my son did not tell me anything about it for many months. His behavior at school has also deteriorated. He changed from being quiet and laid back to being angry and argumentative with his teachers. I chalked most of it up to puberty. Puberty turns previously rational beings into stark raving lunatics. Now I think it is just him lashing out, getting out his frustrations in the only way he knows how.
Over and over again we hear on the news about children who are being bullied to death. Children who are robbed of their self-esteem and ultimately their will to live. We hear of tough zero-tolerance bullying policies that schools have in place. And yet things don’t seem to change.
“With bullying reaching a crisis level in U.S. schools, University of Texas at Austin sociologist Robert Crosnoe has completed one of the most comprehensive studies of the long-term effects on teenagers who say they don’t fit in.”
While so much content on television and the Web is about outrageous acts of bullying and physical aggression, much more is hidden in the social warfare of school. Things like backhanded compliments, snubbing, looks of disapproval and disgust in the hallways.
“It sounds so silly especially compared to those classic forms of bullying,” Crosnoe says. “But these are the things that really matter in the long term because they are subtle. They can get under a teenager’s skin and become a preoccupation causing them to doubt themselves and distracting them from what school is supposed to be about.”
My son has reported this girl who picks on him every day, and her friends who stand by and laugh, on more than one occasion. He has filled out incident reports. The girl has been brought in to the office and when questioned filed counter incident reports against him. The principal has pretty much thrown her arms up at this point in defeat. She brought them both together into her office and told them to stay away from each other. How exactly that is supposed to work when they must walk down the same hallways, I am not sure.
Yesterday afternoon my son came home from school visibly upset. He had gone outside to where he gets picked up and realized that he had forgotten something. All of the doors to the school lock from the outside except for the main door. He knocked on the glass door from which he had just exited and the girl was in the hallway with her friends and some other kids. She told everyone not to open the door for him. She laughed at him through the door. He had to walk all the way around the school to get back in and when he did she was there to taunt him some more.
I told him to report it to the principal. And he told me that the principal has said he is not allowed to write up any more reports. That she is tired of the he said/she said. If he writes up another report he will be suspended. She doesn’t want to deal with it anymore.
I want to tell the principal that I know he isn’t the easiest kid to deal with. My son isn’t instantly likable. My son has issues. His issues make issues for his teachers. I know that she is counting the days until the school year ends and he moves on and she doesn’t have to deal with him. I understand that. But the bigger picture is that my child has the right to go to school and not be bullied. He has the right to walk the hallways with someone shouting “retard” “faggot” “loser” at him, without people “accidentally” bumping into him. He has the right to sit in a classroom without someone rolling their eyes at him every time he speaks.
As adults we don’t put up with this sort of abuse from other people. We would not tolerate it in our workplace.
I am waiting for my call to be returned from the principal of the middle school. I wish I could be like her and just not deal with it, but I can’t, won’t, allow my son to be made to feel like he is inferior.