Several years ago I can remember when my editor called me and told me that we really needed to write something about the bullying that kids were involved in online (what since has come to be called cyberbullying). I have to admit, at the time I thought, good grief, here we go again with some drama over the evils of technology. How bad could it be?
It was bad. And it is still bad, bad enough that young people commit suicide over it. And while people's perceptions of what is and isn't bullying may vary, being aggressively bullied is still a very real and excruciating experience for anyone, particularly a child, going through it. Being a parent of child who is being bullied also becomes a living hell because you never know what version of your child is going to return to you at the end of the school day. The one that seems to be able to cope or the one you are going to have to have to shove through the school door the next day because they don't want to be there.
Yes, as you may have guessed I have been there as a parent. Both my children were bullied, but for very different reasons. My daughter was bullied in the 4th grade after we moved to a new school because she supplanted the girl with the highest grades in the class, who also happened to be the head of a most formidable and wickedly clever clique. My son, who is in college, was bullied all through school and is still bullied by teachers because of his dyslexia. He called the other day to report that his accounting teacher tried to bully him out of using his academic accommodations (granted on the basis of his severe dyslexia), to have a bit more time on the test, by discussing the issue in front of the class, hoping my son would be too embarrassed to use the time that that is lawfully his under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And why? All because the teacher didn't want to sit a few extra minutes to wait for my son to finish. So much for working within the system. And people wonder why people who have been bullied sometimes finally snap after years of abuse?
So what is making me snap about this topic yet again? Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled "Stop Panicking About Bullies" with the subhead of "Childhood is safer than ever before, but today's parents need to worry about something. Nick Gillespie on why busybodies and bureaucrats have zeroed in on bullying" The article (and many of the reader comments) imply that bullying is just a rite of passage, that parents are creating wimps if they complain when their children are called a few names at school or taunted a bit when they mess up at a sport (the article's definition of serious bullying) and that, given time, it all works out if we just leave the kids to solve their own problems. Comments left by readers also suggest that all kids need to do is give a bully a good smack of some kind and all the bad vibes will instantly go away.
While I believe that bullying is an overused term, I believe Mr. Gillespie could only write such a naïve article because his children are still young and haven't been faced with life in a real school situation yet. As he admits, he also has never had to cope with a bully himself. Of course, he didn't bother to research or write about what life is like for a special needs kid in a mainstream world, even though the bullying rate for this group is estimated to be close to three times greater than that of the general school population And for those readers who think all you have to do is smack a bully to end the problem, it's obvious you haven't been in a school in a long time because such behavior can get you suspended or expelled even if everyone knows the bully had it coming. Oh yeah, and what happened to that message that retaliation isn't the answer that we have all be told we need to deliver over and over again to our kids starting in preschool?
I guess for those of us who are pleased that serial bullying is finally getting widely exposed for the corrosive, hateful practice it is, we shouldn't be surprised that there is now suddenly a backlash against it. Empathy is a hard thing to grow since it is so much easier to be nasty than nice. As for me, Mr. Gillespie, I can only hope for your sake that you never have to go through the heartbreak of one or more of your children being bullied. Call me a busybody if you like, but in the meantime I will keep helping kids and parents figure out what they can do if they find themselves in that situation. I will also continue to advocate for my dyslexic son, even though he is good at doing for himself, because frankly, with only 6 % of dyslexic students who enter college finally graduating, his odds stink. Bottom line, Nick Gillespie: All I ask is that you put yourself in someone else's shoes before you are so flippant about something you seem to know so little about.