In contrast to popular belief, bullying was man's first invention, even before fire and the wheel. Come on, do you really believe that every cave person liked each other? I'm certain that poor Ooga Ooga was taunted by his cavemates. I can see it now: the other cavekids edge him closer and closer to the mouth of the cave just as TRex is happening by. Ooga Ooga is consumed by fear and cries out just as the bullies pull him back into the cave in time to escape the jaws of the dinosaur. Outrageous? Maybe, maybe not.
As teachers, we want our students to feel safe; it's one of our goals to create a comfortable environment for our students. Sometimes with bullying we don't know what to do. Why? We are led to believe that by drawing attention to it, we are creating more angst for the victim. In addition, we don't recognize it.
Have you ever been bullied? Or were you the bully? I spent a year of my teens being a target. Each day was torture. Let me add that it's difficult enough being a teenage girl without having to worry about bullying. I could not walk down the hallway (that's right, singular, small school) of my school without having someone yell the name that had been circulated as my "nickname." I can remember when it started, or when it came to my attention. It was during our basketball season of my sophomore year. I was standing on the court during the fourth quarter when I began to hear this chant of initials. I didn't quite understand; I didn't get what "PBT" stood for. It took me several minutes to realize it was being yelled at me. And so it began...
No other student could even address me without saying, "Hey, PBT." What is this new nickname? Pit bull terrier. That's right. I was compared to a dog, and not a cute, fluffy canine. When I would address another student, he would bark as I spoke. Boys would roll down their car windows and bark at me. During class, when the teacher would read the answers to the multiple choice test, and say, "'D' as in dog," all eyes were upon me, and my nickname was shouted. I tried to ignore it, but it didn't go away. Where was all this coming from?
The bullying and teasing went on and on. Once an upper classman and I happened to be wearing the same t-shirt from a rock concert. Too bad for him; he was a quiet guy himself who minded his own business, but, alas, from somewhere in the hallway, a classmate of mine yelled at the top of his lungs, "Hey, you and PBT are wearing the same t-shirt today!" Another day of humiliation began. The bullying surrounded me like the air. I was tough though; why couldn't I shake this? I was the youngest child of four; my three big brothers made sure to instill toughness in me. At some point, even the toughest person collapses. With constant chipping, a rock will give way.
My friends were spineless; they would say nothing. One of the boys even dated my best friend, yet she said nothing. Finally, I asked her, begged her, to at least say something. She replied, "Well, I can't stop it." True that, but I begged her to make her feelings known to him; that I was her friend, and he shouldn't treat me that way. It took her a great deal of courage, but she eventually did say something. He at least stopped teasing me when she was around. Any reprieve was a welcome one.
I prayed to go unnoticed and for the school day to end, knowing that I would be safe once at home, where I was loved. Home was my solitude. I was free from torture for 12 hours before I had to go back to school and face it all over again. We didn't have a computer; even if we would have, this was before the days of the information superhighway: no email, no instant messaging (IM), no text messages. However, in the present day, this is not the case. Our bullied students are going home to their computers only to find hateful emails and IMs. Their sanctity has been violated; they have no reprieve. Constant torture 24/7.
It's embarrassing to be a target. It's hard to admit that I didn't measure up. Honestly, would you want to be a teenager and say to one of your teachers that you are the target of bullying? Please. It was hard enough to tell my mom. I couldn't even tell my dad. I certainly wasn't going to tell my brothers; I kept it a secret. I was embarrassed. I needed someone at school with whom I felt comfortable enough to say, "hey, this is going on, and I just can't deal with it any longer" and then I needed to feel reasonably secure that person was going to do something about it. I didn't have this. My mom talked to the principal (only after several months of me begging her not to), yet he denied ever hearing anything. As quickly as it started, the bullying started to taper off. Why? I don't know. There were no new targets. I do know that I began to stand up for myself. I came up with a name for one of the boys, and singled him out. I even got some of those spineless girls to help me chant it once or twice. That seemed to be enough to get him to quit. Though it's never been confirmed or denied, I believe one of my brothers had a word or two with another of the bullies, which caused him to stop. A couple of the guys graduated high school. Soon, it was gone, but not forgotten. It was a roller coaster of emotion.
In college, I ran into one of the offending gentlemen. We had a conversation in which I asked him, "Why?" His response: "Did you ever think it was because we thought you were tough and could handle it?" No, that never occurred to me, and it only angered me. They felt it was their right, or their duty, to break me, to remind me of my place. To this day, I do not understand. I saw another one of the bullies several years ago. We hadn't seen each other since high school. He introduced me to his wife and asked how I was and what I was doing. At the end of our brief conversation, he said I looked great and it was great to see me. These two instances taught me that their bullying certain didn't leave a mark in their memories as it had in mine. They didn't harass me because I was ugly; they did it because I was there. That in no way lessens the impact it had on my life, but it puts a different perspective on it. Many times I thought to myself, "if only I could get hit by a bus while crossing the street..." Of course, it would have had to have been a yellow school bus in front of the school because we didn't have a mass transit system in my hometown. It's only been in the past few years, that I've been able to freely discuss it, let alone use the word "pitbull," or "bulldog."
Well, what can we do? First of all, teaching our children to ignore it is a mistake. The torture will not go away. We must teach our kids to stand up for themselves, as scary as that is. It's very difficult to stand out there alone and say to the bullies, "Knock it off," but it has to be done. Secondly, drawing attention to it in the classroom doesn't make it any worse. If one teacher would have said, "Stop it. That is not acceptable, and it is certainly not acceptable in my classroom," it would have been appreciated. Yes, it would have been shining a light on it, but why do we think we need to keep this a dirty, little secret? Those 10 seconds of embarrassment are nothing compared to the entire year that I endured. I did not feel secure anywhere in my school. The problem needs exposure.
You see, I can understand the school shooter when he says, "I just couldn't take it anymore." I don't condone his violence, nor did I ever want to bring harm to my bullies (okay, that's not entirely true -- a little bit of physical and/or emotional pain would have been refreshing); I just wanted it to stop. The people who say (in regards to school shooters), "Why didn't he just tell someone?" don't get IT. We -- adults, teachers, parents -- need to dialog about bullying. Let's make it taboo to be a bully. We don't look upon child abusers favorably; bullies need the same treatment. How many times have you ever been in a conversation and one person says, "Well, you know, he was a bully," and the rest of the group gasps in shock and disbelief. I'm guessing never. We need to change the perception. The target of the bully no longer has to carry shame; it is the bully who should should have to live with the shame of treating another human so horribly. It is not okay to tease. It is not okay to hurt someone; it is not okay to take a person's security.
As for me, I'm okay. I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggonit, people like me.
Many articles, case studies, and books have been written. I would invite you to take a look or do a little research and help enact a change:
The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence by Barbara Coloroso.
Breaking the Culture of Bullying and Disrespect, Grades K-8: Best Practices and Successful Strategies by Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin and Maureen E. Taylor.
Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age by Robin M. Kowalski
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons **A must-read!
What cyberbullying is, how it works and how to understand and deal with cyberbullies.
Stop Cyberbullying: Because we all need to do what we can.
A social network to discuss cyberbullying, identifying resources and solutions to address this epidemic of online cruelty.