December 2010

December 2010: HE SAYS, SHE SAYS: Bullying

Author: Keith Kelson & Jean Wharton | Photographer: Photography by Anne

HE SAYS

I got bullied my very first day at Shell Point Elementary. The kid’s name was Roger; he was a third grader, but probably should have either been in middle school or working the docks as a longshoreman. He tried to take my Captain America notebook and my Spider-Man pencil set. I ran him down, tackled him, pushed his face into the dirt and punched him in the back of the head several times before a teacher broke it up. She told us to cut it out, that no one fights on the first day of school—but she didn’t take us to the office.

Roger seemed surprised that I didn’t let him take my stuff. I didn’t know what the word “flabbergasted” meant at the time, but his reaction was definitely an example. He promised that he was going to get even and beat me up.

Except for a couple of run-ins at recess and one very spirited pinecone war, he never got the chance. His family moved during the middle of the school year, and I wasn’t sorry to see him go. That was my first encounter with a bully.

Bullying is a hot topic. You can’t turn on the news without seeing some story about a kid being bullied. I know that times have changed and that there are more shades of gray in the modern world, but the solution to bullying hasn’t changed. Kids, if someone is bullying you and you can’t handle the problem on the playground or in the hallways cafeteria, let an adult know what’s going on. Don’t fall for that baloney about the “unwritten rules” of the school yard.

Letting the inmates run the asylum has never worked and it really doesn’t work when you try to apply that logic to kids. Yes, I know that kids will have their spats and rivalries and that for the most part, they will work things out among themselves. That said, adults have a role to play in the lives of children, and that means being willing to help. The problem with the rules of the playground is that the bullies are given free rein to terrorize others, and their victims are expected to not get the bully in trouble.

The average bully is a coward. Bullies terrorize kids who are smaller or pick on kids who are viewed as being different, mostly because they can get away unscathed. I don’t buy all that psychobabble about the bully’s behavior being a cry for help. It’s proof positive of poor parenting is what it is. You don’t teach your kids to pick on people.

Anyone who’s getting bullied and follows the “unwritten rules” ensures a win-win situation for the bully, especially if the victim allows himself to be easy prey. Keeping with the times, bullies are now even using the Internet to victimize others. Social networking sites such as Facebook are being used by some to ridicule and pick on their peers. Kids are using their cameras to record and upload embarrassing videos of other kids to their YouTube accounts.

It’s a good thing I’m not a kid today. Cyber-bullying? You might be able to bully me in person, but there’s no way you’re going to bully me via your “tweets” or some drivel posted on a social networking site.

My mother taught me from an early age that when people make fun of you or try to belittle you, ignoring them solves the problem. Now, I didn’t always follow her advice, as I did exchange verbal jabs and barbs with quite a few kids who were foolish enough to challenge me. (Never attempt to verbally spar with a kid who has access to Redd Foxx and Don Rickles comedy albums.)

My experiences with bullies are tame by today’s standards, but I realized early on that there was no shame in getting help from an adult. Don’t worry about your “rep” or street cred when you’re a kid. Until you start paying property taxes, you don’t need to worry about that stuff anyway. If you can’t tell your parents or don’t feel comfortable doing so, let a trusted authority figure know what’s going on.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Roger. I hope he managed to become a productive member of society. He clearly couldn’t cut the mustard during our pinecone war, and I hope he didn’t try to turn pro.

SHE SAYS

When waves of disturbing information flood the public, the first place we look to place blame is “the media.” I’ll admit that the beast, that is the American television, newspaper and online media, needs to be fed with a hearty dose of alarming issues that it can dish out to the people, who seem to have an insatiable appetite for the macabre, depressing and sad.

Not all media is created equal, and it is very difficult to find true journalism, especially on television. Political pundits, fast talking hosts and soap-box-standing-celebrities seem to be delivering most of our news, and if you find yourself agreeing with the opinions of the person delivering the news, than you are clearly watching a biased outlet. There is more readily available, uncensored and unedited media than at any point in our civilization’s history, so it goes without saying that it is the source of a lot of hype.

In so many cases, the media (when I say “media” I like to picture a massive monster built out of old TV parts, typewriter ribbon, speakers and other odds and ends) blows simple events WAY out of proportion and then repeatedly delivers the information until the public is no longer listening. For example, shark attacks. Each year at the start of summer some dufus gets bitten or nicked by a shark; this is followed by catchy headlines announcing the rise of shark attacks and how to stay safe this summer. Truth be told, you’re more likely to receive a fatal dog bite than shark bite, but once the beast has dished it out, the feeding frenzy begins.

Nevertheless, I don’t think that the media is in any way creating a frenzy about the bullying epidemic in this country. When the issue comes to children, BLOW it out of proportion. It seems that in the absence of good parenting, strong families and close-knit communities, we have to hit people over the head with the problems that children face each day of their lives. Bullying is just part of a deep ravine of issues that the media should be talking about regarding children.

According to the National Education Association, 160,000 school-aged children miss school each day because of bullying. Any person who attended school will tell you that the problem of bullies is nothing new. We all have a memory of that student or group of students that seemed to enjoy making your daily life at school, in the neighborhood or on the playing field awful. You can certainly conjure up the image of Scott Farkus, the rough housing bully in A Christmas Story who gets his comeuppance from Ralphie in a snow splattered fist fight.

Simple teasing, rough housing and poking fun are child’s play by today’s bullying standards. Just as the media has more outlets, so do those ignorant, unsupervised children who bully others. They take to the Internet, even as young as elementary school, to vindictively post comments and pictures to generate evil gossip. This is not hyped by the media. This is happening. Harassment and bullying have been linked to nearly all past school shootings. The most disturbing realities are the recent suicides of several gay teens who were bullied online and in school.

It is my non-radical opinion that education, both in the classroom and in the home, is the only answer to bullying. At its core, bullying is about ignorance. Parents, teachers, coaches, community leaders and others must teach children respect and compassion. We can’t all get along, but we can teach our children that our differences are what make us amazing.

For more information on bullying and how you can help your children or grandchildren, visit www.bullying.org. Also worth visiting is itgetsbetterproject.com. It is a source for the gay and lesbian community, but it is also a great place for anyone feeling different, singled out or on the fringes of their community.

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