Here are some things about bullying schools don't want you to know:
- The anti-bullying programs aren't helping.
- The tactics we're teaching the kids to use aren't helping.
- The bullies are getting smarter, sneakier.
- They threaten when no one is watching.
- They push when they can blame someone else.
- And if they find out someone told on them, they only make it worse for their victim.
Student: "I have to talk to you about something. Can you meet me at lunch?"
Me: "Sure, I'll be here. Just come on in."
Ten minutes into lunch:
"I can't talk to anyone about this. But she's really making it hard for me."
"What's going on?"
"I can't tell you."
"Because then it will be worse."
"Well, can you tell me anything? A hint?"
"No, I'm afraid."
"Ok. But you came to talk to me. Good first step. How can I help you?"
"I don't know."
We're trying, parents. Oh, we're trying so hard. It breaks our hearts to see the tormented kids come to school day after day and deal with other children who berate them, threaten them, and make them feel worthless. We see the effects, but here's the thing; we almost NEVER see the bullying.
Bullying behavior is cowardice behavior. It's done to get attention from other peers, but not in front of other adults. Kids know it's wrong; that's why they're so sneaky about it. When kids are elementary school age, sometimes we can use peer mediation to solve it and it gets better.
But once the kids hit middle school, it's a free for all. The bus is a hot zone, as is the school cafeteria, the bathroom, and the hallway. I've even worked at a school that installed cameras in the hallway to catch physical bullying. It worked, to an extent. But instead of pushing and shoving in the halls, these aggressors waited until they weren't watched as well; the playground, the sidewalks on the way home from school.
We can't watch the kids 24/7. So we come up with programs; anti-bullying tactics, "strength in numbers," "how to deal with conflict." We encourage and hope that the "bystanders" will stand up for their friends. Sometimes it works. Often, it doesn't.
Kids have come to me with sadness and loneliness in their eyes, pleading for help, but terrified to tell me anything. I usually end up talking to the school counselor, who has a talk with the student, and then eventually, we talk to the parents. The victim almost never wants to confront the bully. So, we give her alternatives; places to go where her aggressor won't be, things that will build her confidence and distract her from this person's taunts. Sometimes, the only alternative is to hide. It pains me even to write those words.
I have been in schools for almost 10 years. In that time, I've run across a handful of kids who are spectacular. They are bullied, from time to time, but when it happens, they look at that person, stunned. They immediately confront the person. "Why did you say that? That was rude!" They say. The bully is taken aback, and almost always, STOPS.
But this type of student doesn't just defend herself. When she sees a bully threaten someone else, she calls him out. And you know what? The rest of the class usually agrees with her! And the bully almost always BACKS DOWN.
Now, this child isn't usually the most popular kid. She's also not the usual victim or the quietest. She's a friendly, but unique individual; just a regular kid.
See? Anyone with confidence can do it.
And yet, only a few do.
I want to know why.
Why aren't we giving the majority of the kids the confidence to act? How can we do a better job of this?
Sarahlynne, MEd, is a Parenting Guru and an experienced educator. You can find her at her blog, www.merelymothers.com, where she and two other moms analyze and discuss our generation's paradigm of parenting.