Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Phantom Scribbler has posted about bullies at her child's school. Reading it this morning has got me thinking about my own experience with the topic.

I was a bullied child. Bullied unmercilessly I might add. While the worst years were Grade 7-9 the beginnings can be found in Kindergarten. My bullying started mainly as physical intimidation and teasing. In my teens there was a strong element of sexual harassment to it as well.

What do we do about bullying? 20 years ago things like "don't let it bother you" and "stick and stones can break my bones..." were common advice from adults. Option A is, of course, unrealistic. Option B is a pile of manure. SO what response works?

I am of the belief that the so-called "zero tolerance" approach many schols now claim to have is not the answer. First of all, it is almost impossible to define -- what i call normal behaviour another may call bullying and vice versa. Secondly, bullies aren't idiots, well not all the time. Any bully worth his or her salt can bully only when no adults are around/looking. TEachers can not and do not see everything that happens in a school (especially as you deal with older children and teens). Then it quickly becomes a case of my word against yours. Thirdly, what good does it do to kick the offender out of school for a couple of days? WHen I was in counselling in my 20's my counsellor kept encouraging me to get mad at the school "Where the hell were the adults?". But really, there is only so much that could be done--and once you pass a certain age the concept of "telling" is most definitively self-defeating.

ACtually I think that the answer is to start young with a couple of basic concepts: the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment. Make that three, the third being "one for all and all for one" (we know peer pressure is incredibly powerful--lets use it). The answer to bullying is not in enforcement, it is in attitudes.

I have to be honest. I was a good target, an exceptionally good target. Especially by my teens I was a great target, there was nothing left of my self-esteem to give me a defense (one of the most damaging effects of sustained bullying). I have to be honest, my social skills were lacking, thus making me more of a target. Not that this is self-blame (I think I am over that part of it) but it is reality. But again the answer was attitude. The answer would have been intentional, concentrated worlk with me to help me see what/who I was and could be. If you can't stop the bullies (many of whom were, in hindsight, terribly troubled, some of whom were just plain followers) then you work with the bullied.

Bullying is a terrible blight on a child's life. It can and does make people miserable for years. But I am not sure simply stepping up enforcement is the answer. I think it is much more attitudinal than that. Strict enforcement in my case made things worse--there were months when I was sure I would get "jumped" on my way home from school (often after a detention but that is another story dealing with laziness and homework). But I never felt that many people took my pain seriously and dealt with that. If they had done so, then maybe I would have been able to learn new tools to deal with the bullies--but I was too busy trying to hold it all together.

And one of the cruel ironies? Now that we understand how important it is to interrupt this "rite of passage" (as it was once called) it is harder to do. We no longer have this sense tht the neighbourhood kids are our responsibility, that we have the authority to call them on their behaviour. Now it is not "proper" to correct a child other than your own, it is seen as overstepping your bounds. How the heck do we raise healthy children if they think that the only authority they have to listen to is their parent? (This is not to say that we tell our children to do whatever an adult tells them, it is to say that we teach them that others can remind them what is right and wrong)

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