I was bullied as a child and no one ever told me that I had a RIGHT to my well-being and I learned to "take it." As a result, I allowed people to push me around and I became a frightened, timid, individual until I reached my mid-30s... What kind of mixed messages are we, the "grown-ups," sending children who bully and are bullied?
-- Lisa Blyth, Blogging 'Bout Boys reader who blogs at Living My Imagination
My previous post about Boys & Bullying generated a lot of interesting and provocative comments, including the one above. What do you think of her perspective?
I think she brings up an important and valid point. When we don't allow children to stand up for themselves -- and I'd argue that certain zero-tolerance policies make it very hard for kids to stand up for themselves -- we are, in effect, telling them to take it. We are slowly and subtly teaching them to tolerate abuse. And if the system (school officials, etc) fail to respond or protect the child, we are also teaching him (perhaps accurately) that the system is unreliable and has little to no interest in protecting people from psychological or emotional abuse.
But teachers and schools have a lot to handle, and even well-intentioned teachers and school administrators struggle with the issue of bullying. Take a look at some of these comments, which were posted on my Facebook page:
the problem is that
bullying behavior is rarely reported, which puts a lot on the teachers
to be able to spot it...but with as many demands as they have already,
tht's one that slips through the cracks. it's also chalked up a lot to
"kids will be kids."
-- A Wisconsin teacher
Pulling a card is a behavior
management plan where a child pulls a card when they misbehave. As the
infractions increase the punishment increase...if the child has a
disability they can only receive 10 days per year. If this child had
10, the school hands are tied.
-- Principal of a Georgia elementary/middle school
Part of the problem, as the Wisconsin teacher points out, is that our schools contain a widely diverse student body:
Very few other countries have the poverty issues the the US has, nor do they have the number of special needs students.
Just imagine trying to deal with bullying in a class or school that contains hungry children, or children who have been abused, or kids who have serious disabilities and mental health concerns. I can see how that would be a challenge! And yet at the same time, I, like most other parents, want my children (and yours) to feel safe in school, at home, and in their community.
What I've learned, though, is that there are no easy answers. Solving bullying is not as simple as instituting an anti-bullying or zero-tolerance policy. It's not as simple as saying "use your words" or "fight back if necessary." To truly combat bullying, we need to address some serious societal problems. We need to address the home environment; I truly believe that a child who feels loved, valued and important is far less likely to bully another child than one who is belittled and abused at home.
Somehow, some way, we -- as a society -- have to learn to treat each other with respect, and we need to teach our children not only how to treat others with respect, but how to insist on respectful treatment as well. Because Lisa is right: sub-consciously encouraging our children to accept abuse, either at home or in school, will only perpetuate the problem.