The Bullying Pulpit
There has been a lot of talk recently about bullying. Because of the 24/7 news cycle and the need to fill air time on so many TV and radio talk shows, one or two incidents suddenly become a national epidemic. Now there is talk in Virginia about making bullying because of one’s sexual preference a crime.
Well, what about bullying because one is short? Or because someone is super smart, but frail? Or because one is mentally challenged, or fat, or the worst possible sin of all… because someone is really ugly. Yes, it happens to ugly people, too, and it is relentless.
Bullying takes many forms. When I was in school in the 60s and early 70s, bullying was mainly verbal harassment, being shoved while walking down the hall, occasional wedgies, but the most painful form was attempted alienation of your friends. At the heart of the problem is that the ones who bully are trying to show their strength and prowess in front of their friends. It is all about being the top dog and setting up defenses so that they are left alone by other bullies and “respected”.
“Innocence of youth” is a colossal myth. Children can be incredibly cruel and growing up is usually a painful process for most kids. Those parents who care about their children want to help when there is a problem. This is natural. Creating another law which puts our primary and secondary schools one step closer to being a courtroom is not the answer.
If a child has every uncomfortable situation mitigated by legal means, every heartbreak bucked up by increased self-esteem and every weakness overcome by another program, how will that child learn to become a functioning adult? Look where we are with zero tolerance for guns, where kids who point their finger and say “bang” get expelled or those who play with Nerf guns in the front yard are pulled from school. Is this the society that we want to leave to our kids?
Rules are already in place to stop bullying and harassment. Perhaps our school officials and teachers are too busy being deputy sheriffs and ad hoc psychologists to actually watch what is going on and stop any obvious abuse.
There was popular rhyme when I was a kid, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” The tongue, like the pen, can be mightier than the sword, but words only mean things when one lets it get to them. But if the harassment finally gets to the point of harm, a more appropriate response would be to sanction the parents of the bully along with the bully. Use modern technology to record harassment or capture inflammatory social media posts to prove to parents that their precious Madison or Joshua really is a colossal asshole who will be out of school soon, if she or he doesn’t back down.
Finding the medium between being totally loose and being so tight on kids that there are no whispers in the hallway should not be that difficult. We managed for decades to somehow make it through adolescence, why not now?
I think using common sense (if it still exists) is a good place to start.