Friday, April 22, 2011

School Bullies

Last week two thirteen year olds in my state killed themselves. Details are still sketchy, but it is known that one of the girls was expelled recently for fighting. It appears that she was fighting someone that was bullying her friend. The tragic part? These two young girls are not remotely the first to commit suicide over bullying.

It's hard to really get a handle on this issue. What is teasing to one person is bullying to another. When I was in school they were referred to as "the mean girls", but they were also the "popular" or "in" crowd. We tell our kids over and over to remember that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." Frankly, I think that's a load of, well. you know. I'm betting that any parent that's told that to their kids know's it too. Words hurt. They hurt a lot. If they didn't, we wouldn't have words that aren't acceptable to use. I'm not going to list them, you know what they are. If we can acknowledge that those words hurt, then why in the world would we say that others don't? Sometimes it's not even the words themself, but the fact that other people feel that they have the right to say something. The very act of mocking someone sets them apart as less than others.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. We are social creatures. Bullying someone sets them outside of the social circle, if they are already there, even better because it's easier excused in the minds of the bully. They aren't one of us, so they don't really matter. The victim knows it as well, and so does everyone around. It's a violent act that separates us. Ostracism from the group opens the victim up to more bullying. It's rarely the person surrounded by friends that's a victim of bullying.

One common excuse? justification? is that the person who is being mean is doing so to make themself feel better. Is that supposed to make the victim feel better? Oh, well, they just humiliated me in front of the class, but it's ok because they are hurting too.

I'm not that generous. I feel bad that anyone may hurt that bad, but I don't excuse their behavior. I do sometimes grant a bit of grace if it's a one time thing, and I can understand when the circle of friends doesn't step up. That is really hard to do in school. After all, it takes you out of the safety of the group, and possibly puts a target on you as the next victim. But when it's habitual, I have no patience for it. It's hard to say how much of my opinion is based on my own experiences. I think it's suprising if someone gets through school and isn't either a victim of it, or one who does it. I'd like to think that I never did it to someone else, but I know that once or twice the mean words hurt bad enough that I lashed out. I regret that a lot, because I know that it didn't really accomplish anything. I didn't really feel better after, and I managed to hurt someone else.

Now it was never bad enough that I seriously considered killing myself, but I did consider dropping out of school. My mom was willing to let me take a year off or go finish school with relatives. In the end I decided it wasn't worth leaving the friends I did have. I really made a choice to ignore the ones that seemed to enjoy being mean. I had a great senior high experience and I'm still friends with those girls.

It's been 26 years since high school. That's a long time, but I can still remember how it felt to open my locker, or come back to my desk and find a nasty note left there, knowing people were watching and waiting to see what my reaction would be. It's a feeling that will probably never completely go away. What I wonder now is do those girls remember it as well? Do they regret it? What will they teach their children about bullying? Do they even have a clue how badly they hurt others? Frankly, I hope that they didn't. Because I think it would be worse if they knew what they were doing and kept doing it.

Parents of the victims are outraged that it happens, parents of the bullies are indignant and insist that their child did nothing wrong, school administration is caught in multiple cases of "he said, she said" and what happens is a child snaps and either phsyically lashes out and attacks their bully, or they decide that it's simply not worth getting up in the morning to go face it again. Society wonders how this happens. The mom's on message boards discuss it every time it's in the news. Discussion threads like "how many kids have to die before we do something" "Has your child been bullied" "Is your child a bully" crop up and long discussions about how to handle it from either side occur. Which is great, but the next week those same moms are LOL'ing and ROFL'ing and OMG'ing over a picture from a site like peopleofwalmart.

If you aren't familiar with this site, the entire purpose is to take pictures of people in Walmart and then post them online so that millions of people may make fun of them. Someone today told me that if you go out in public dressed like that, you deserve to be made fun of. Really? So because someone may not have a lot of choices in clothing, but yet they need to get groceries, it's perfectly acceptable to mock them. It may not be bullying in that the person may never know that they've been photographed and put online, but what are you teaching your kids? I'll put this out there, you're teaching them that it's perfectly reasonable to make fun of others. There are all kinds of sites that are similar, sites that do nothing but look for people and trash them. As long as we go to these sites, contribute to them, or laugh at them, we teach our kids that there is nothing wrong with bullying.

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