Can Bullying Be Stopped?
When I was in school, a long long time ago, there were two schools of thought on how to deal with bullies:
1) Ignore them
2) Run away
I do not think in the history of the world that either of those have ever been effective.
Bullying is everywhere in the news. Over and over again I read stories of children being picked on and driven to suicide, and yet no one seems to have any sort of solution. We hear that bullies have low self-esteem. Wait, no, they have high self-esteem. They are just being kids. No, they are sociopaths.
You know what? I don’t care about the bullies.
I care about all the other kids. The ones who are witnessing it and choosing to do nothing. Why are they making that choice? Why do we allow that to be acceptable, to be an accessory to bullying? Why aren’t we holding them accountable as well?
When I was in sixth grade there was girl in my class who bullied me. Every day she would grab my arm with her left hand and punch me as hard as she could with her right hand. The blow would land on my upper arm, in that spot where there isn’t any muscle, or back then fat, to soften the punch.
For the entire school year I had identical black bruises on my arms.
No one ever asked about them.
I never told any adult. I didn’t want to tattle. I didn’t want to be labeled as the kid that was bullied. I didn’t want to tell my mother because I knew she would be upset. I didn’t want to carry that weight around, to be responsible for her disappointment.
Not one other kid in the class who witnessed it ever said anything. Not even the ones who were supposedly my best friends.
Recently my 10 yr old son came to me.
Mom? Would you be mad if I got in trouble for standing up to a bully?
Of course not. Why?
I continued prepping for dinner. I knew that there would be more to the story. I didn’t pepper him with questions. I was confident that as soon as he sorted it out in his little head he would tell me.
Mom? I kind of got yelled at today at practice.
Oh boy, what happened?
The story came tumbling out. Half the team was on the field going through some drills while the other half was having a water break. One of the bigger kids on the team was shoving one of the smaller kids down. Every time the smaller kid would get back up the bigger kid would shove him down, saying things like “I didn’t tell you to get back up.”
My son intervened. He told the big kid to knock it off. He told the kid that if he wanted to push someone around, to start with him. My son is not big. But what he lacks in size he makes up for with his sheer will and determination. Having four older and much bigger brothers doesn’t hurt either.
When the big kid lunged for him, my son grabbed the front of the kid’s jersey and flipped him onto the ground. The scene repeated itself a few times, or a few hundred times if you are to believe the version that was eventually told to his older brothers. The bigger kid was evidently not used to being on the receiving end of such treatment.
One of the coaches happened to look over and see my son throw the other kid to the ground. He was yelled at and made to run a lap. No, he didn’t tell the coach what was really going on, nor did any of the other boys. In the minds of children that would be tattling. And to them tattling is a sin far greater than any other.
I knew you wouldn’t get mad at me, Mom.
I have emphasized to my children repeatedly, I would much rather have them come home and tell me they got in trouble for standing up for what is right, for taking a stand, for protecting someone, than come home and tell me they stood by and did nothing. Honestly, if they did the latter I would feel hugely disappointed, not just in them but in myself as their mother.
There will always be bullies in this world. You can’t stop that. But what you can control is the way you act. If everyone did that, called out the bullies instead of living in fear of retribution, bullying would come to an end. Stand up when you see someone being picked on, because the next time it could be you.
You know, Mom, what was weird?
Once I pushed [big kid] down the first time, the other kids that were standing there told him to stop being a bully too. But before that they were just watching and doing nothing.
Sometimes, honey, it takes one person to step up first. Then other people feel brave enough too. They are afraid of being picked on.
Well, I’m not afraid.
I know you aren’t. I love that about you.
My next year of school, seventh grade, I transferred to a different school. The bruises faded over the summer. At least the ones that were on the outside.