We need to talk about bullying.
My news feed this morning contained not one, but two, disturbing stories of boys who were bullied. Boy #1, a 10-year-old, has been charged with a crime after taking a BB gun to school to intimidate his bullies. Boy #2, age 9, has been suspended from school after allegedly punching his bully in the face — after the bully kicked and punched him.
These stories are not isolated. Close to home, I know a teenage boy who was suspended from school for physically standing up to the bully who’d harassed him for the better part of a year. I’m willing to bet that you’ve head similar stories in your hometown.
What’s the answer?
I don’t know. But I do know this: What we’re doing isn’t working. Telling our boys to ignore bullying, to walk away, to use their words and to tell a teacher isn’t working. Our anti-bullying programs aren’t working; if they were, there wouldn’t be anymore bullying.
Bully is also concerned with how bullied kids are penalized for fighting back. Most powerfully, Ja’Meya faces more than 40 felony charges; obviously no one sane would argue that pulling a gun is the way to handle teen bullies, or that her action should go unpunished, but it’s striking how the routine harassment and abuse bullied kids face is tolerated in contrast. Ty, the 11 year old boy who killed himself did so, his father says, after he was suspended from school for fighting—fighting back. Alex never fights back himself, but when his parents complained, backed up by the filmmakers’ footage of Alex being assaulted, it was Alex, not the bullies, who is made to ride another bus.
I agree that we absolutely need to teach bullying prevention. And I agree that all children need to be taught multiple ways of handling conflict. But I do not agree that bullied children should not be allowed to stand up for themselves.
I am anti-violence in almost every way, shape and form. But I am also the mother of four boys, and as the mother of boys, I’ve learned a little bit about boy culture. For better or for worse, boy culture includes competition and dominance. Walking away from a fight almost never engenders respect among other boys; instead, it marks the walker as an easy target.
When my boys’ father was in high school, one boy picked on him frequently. Finally, their Dad stood up for himself physically. The bully never bothered him again. How many of you know grown men who have similar stories?
I’m not saying we should encourage our boys to fight. I’m saying that we need to stop imposing the same penalties on both bullies and the bullied. Hitting someone (or physically intimidating them) once is not the same thing as consistently harassing, belittling and assaulting someone.
What do you think? How do you help your sons deal with bullies? What would you have done if you’d been the school administrators in the cases above?