Posts Tagged ‘ bullies ’

Bullying: No, We Can’t Stop Talking About It

Friday, March 21st, 2014

This past week, USA TODAY published an article about a school that banned a 9-year-old’s backpack. My immediate thought was that it had to be because there was profanity on it, or a controversial symbol. Nope. Grayson Bruce of Buncombe County, North Carolina is no longer allowed to wear his fuzzy, blue My Little Pony backpack. (Perhaps, now that this story made headlines, Rainbow Dash pony is a controversial symbol—the jury is still out.)

Grayson was teased by his classmates for wearing the backpack, to the point that he was scared to get out of the car one morning when his mother drove him to school. So, naturally, his mom, Nora, got the school involved. But, shockingly, the school’s solution was to ban the offending backpack.

It is the duty of parents to teach their children to stand up for themselves and try to boost their confidence as they become who they are. Sometimes a child’s attempt to self-advocate will not work, and that’s when parents should step in. But, in turn, schools must respond with the best interest of all of its students in mind. Banning a backpack that was a reason for Grayson’s peers to make fun of him is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The backpack is so clearly not the root of the problem—and I wouldn’t be surprised if once the backpack was eliminated from the equation, these bullies would have taunted Grayson for some other reason.

The school sent powerful messages (and the wrong ones, in my opinion) when they addressed this bullying problem the way that they did:

1. Bullying is not the fault of the bully, but the victim. When the school forced Grayson to give up his backpack, they essentially agreed with the bullies that it was inappropriate or strange. They validated the taunting and made Grayson feel like he was guilty of making trouble. This is not a message we can afford to teach our children, especially at an age when they are forming moral principles. It only perpetuates a cycle of victim-blaming in our adult world.

2. It’s ok to avoid the emotional root of problems if it will reach a resolution more easily and quickly. The root of this bullying situation is a lack of acceptance for who Grayson is and how he expresses his personality. It would have been more useful and appropriate to use this moment to teach tolerance and compassion for people who may not be like you, and to say that bullying is not acceptable.

3. Bullies will get their way. The backpack was forbidden. The bullies got what they wanted. Nora pulled Grayson from school and now teaches him at home. These kids contributed to getting rid of Grayson. This consequence was positive reinforcement of their behavior.

Teaching these messages not only directly harmed Grayson, I say it harmed the development of an entire community of young students. I was bullied (emotionally and physically) in high school and my school essentially chose to ignore it—not helpful to me or to my peers. If we truly want bullying to end in our schools, and I think we do, we need to respond more appropriately and effectively to moments like this.

Grayson—if you’re reading—I think My Little Pony rocks. If you like it, wear it.

Sign up to find parenting tips and more in our Daily Newsletter.

Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying
Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying
Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying

Photograph: Credit Suzanne Tucker via Shutterstock

Add a Comment

The Lasting Effects of Bullying

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

National Bullying Prevention Month wasn’t around when I was a kid. And no one called what happened to me bullying back then—when a “friend” started talking about me behind my back and actively excluding me from our group of friends. The kind of bullying that girls tend to engage in—emotional bullying—was just something you were meant to suffer through in silence, until graduation got you (hopefully) out of harm’s way.

Back then, schools often looked the other way on physical bullying, too. When my brother repeatedly came home with cuts and bruises from being shoved and punched, the school’s vice principal told my mother that my brother needed to just punch back. And when my mother asked, incredulous, if the vice principal was actually encouraging physical violence in his school, he simply shrugged. (That’s when my parents made the decision to move to a different town to keep my brother safe.)

But what no one really talks about is the lasting damage bullying can do, long after the cuts have healed and the remarks have cleared the air. I can feel its shadow in my friendships even now, more than 20 years after I last saw my bully. (Which makes me wonder how kids today manage to keep going, when the insults and nastiness are captured forever on the internet.) I catch myself worrying when a friend turns down an invite and analyzing what was said when we get together—even though I know that the friends I have now are true friends, and that the days of bullying are over for me.

Except that it isn’t entirely, because I have to shepherd my own children through it. I’ve worked with my kids on strategies for fighting bullies, and stressed that our kids should try to befriend the kids who are being picked on, and develop empathy for everyone in their class (even the bullies). And they learn these social skills in a weekly class with their guidance counselor, now mandated by our state.

But that clearly isn’t quite enough. The boys in my daughter’s class recently started making trouble with her, mocking her with racially-tinted taunts. I’m fortunate that the school has taken it very seriously—the principal, the guidance counselor and the teacher are all working together to keep it from happening. But even then, they have to walk a fine line, as calling the kids out on it directly may just lead to more anguish for my daughter. The bullies never like a tattletale.

I know that a lot of bullying comes from the parents themselves. My brother created a documentary about bullying, and went back to our old neighborhood to interview some of his former tormentors. (A few of them, it turns out, were in jail.) One of them said that he bullied my brother because he was envious of what he had: a stable home, loving parents, and a promising future. And in retrospect, I can see how my bully’s mother may have influenced her decision to treat me that way. My only hope is that I can teach my kids to be kind, so that they don’t inflict this pain on other kids—and give enough strength to deal with the kids whose parents won’t.

Add a Comment