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.


Craig Hollins said…
I'm always amazed when law makers want to make a new law that is already covered by an existing law. What they really want is to highlight the problem and make the penalties harsher - but making a new law is a very bad way of doing it.
In Australia we have just had new laws passed that if you assault emergency personnel doing their duty (police, ambulance, firemen, emergency ward medics etc) then that's illegal with penalties commensurate. However assault is already illegal - why not just increase the penalties if it's against a public officer?
Similarly with the terror laws. Blowing something up is illegal - your motive doesn't make it any more destructive.
But back to bullying.
I must confess I don't understand where the line is between bullying and kids establishing a pecking order. I don't think anyone can clearly define where that line is. Rather than trying to stop bullying (because you never will even make a dent in it) why not empower the victims by teaching them coping mechanisms? Aren't kids going to become stronger citizens if they are taught coping techniques rather than run away and tell someone?
The Asterisk said…
I think a lot of the "New Law Syndrome" is caused by folks (both advocates and their willing politicians) who just want to DO SOMETHING. Many of the new laws, which are layered upon old laws restricting the same activity, are triggered by intent. Who gets to decide intent? Who gets to decide when to stop someone harboring bad thoughts?
If every person who wanted to cause harm to another person or persons were thrown in jail, the free population would be severely reduced. 99.99% of us in that position will never act upon those feelings, but when one perp pulls the trigger, or when one victim takes their own life to escape the torture, everyone from the President, to all news outlets, to all talking heads, to the average citizen writing his/her legislator wants to know WHY WASN'T SOMETHING DONE ABOUT THIS? Weren't there signs? Who didn't stop them? What government program can be initiated to mitigate the problem?

I am afraid that coping is not as satisfying as revenge...
Bill Craig said…
Being a retired educator from public schools, I can tell you that the single largest contributing factor to the "apparent" increase in bullying in schools is helicopter parents. They hover over their children's' lives like a pack of wolves, ready to rip to shreds anybody or anything that might cause little Johnny to experience even the slightest trace of negativism. Why do you think every single kid on youth sports teams these days get a trophy, even if little Johnny can't catch, can't throw, can't hit? Because, God forbid, we might damage his self esteem if other kids get trophies and he doesn't. Little Johnny has no business on the field, but his helicopter parents insist the coach play him, else they complain all the way up the chain of command about him damaging little Johnny. Here's an example of helicopter parenting at its best: I had a very good friend, Jay, who was probably the best math teacher in the city. One day a young lady came into his classroom in obvious violation of the dress code, i.e., her sweater was unbuttoned almost to her waist, she wore no bra, and her boobs were, literally, spilling out onto her desk. While the remainder of the class was engrossed in an assignment, Jay went over to her and asked her, quietly, to please button her sweater up, and she did. End of problem, right? Wrong! She went home and told Mommy and Daddy what happened, and the next day, Jay found himself in the principal's office defending himself against accusations of looking down little Sally's blouse and trying to see her boobs and embarrassing her in front of her classmates. While everyone lives in fear of losing their jobs as the helicopter parents blow things out of proportion, the reports of bullying are, naturally, going to rise exponentially. When I was growing up, if someone bullied me and I told Dad, he told me to punch the hell out of the kid or completely avoid him and stop being a crybaby; he didn't march over to the school and escalate the problem into the third world war. Parents need to back the hell off and let little Johnny and little Sally experience childhood. Damn, that rant felt good!

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