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  • Bullying: A View with Many Sides

    2011 - 10.23

    *Published on Yahoo Associated Content

    Several weeks ago, I read a heartbreaking article about an 11-year-old boy who hanged himself from the swing set in his front yard because he could no longer take the anti-gay harassment and cruelty he was enduring at the hands of his peers. Not long before that, I read about the 16-year-old girl who was being harassed by girls at her school for her brief relationship with a boy on the football team. Is it just me or does it seem like there has been a large increase in bullying-related suicides in recent years? Or maybe bullying-related suicide has always happened but was never brought into light until now.

    When I was in 4th grade, I remember a boy by the name of Travis who lived on the next block over. He was in 7th or 8th grade – I can’t remember which — and we both lived very close to the same park. I would come over to the park, and I would often see him sitting on top of a picnic table in the pavilion sketching something on a drawing pad; he was very good. He was also always very nice to me whenever I spoke to him. I did not know Travis well, but I wish I did; he shot himself in his room at home. The suicide note, from what I have heard from rumors around my hometown, read that he couldn’t take the pain anymore. It turns out that he was bullied at school quite mercilessly. One of his classmates told him that ‘maybe he should go home and kill himself,’ and he did.

    Stories like Travis’s and the stories I read on the internet about these young people taking their own lives hits home for me because I know what it’s like to be pushed to the brink of self-destruction because of the cruelty I endured at the hands of my classmates. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by helplessness, to have my self esteem plummet to rock bottom, to be ignored by my school district, and to see my parents distraught over the fact that someone is hurting their child and there is nothing they can legally do.

    Bullying is not simply random name-calling or casual teasing. A bully is defined as, ‘a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.’ In other words, a person who is bullied endures verbal, physical, and in some cases, sexual harassment every day. Having to withstand such treatment eventually wears a person down where they simply can’t take it anymore. Bullies pick on their peers for many reasons. Some bullies do it because they have low self esteem issues and they want someone to feel as badly as they do. Some bullies are being brought up in homes that are abusive or without one or more parent, and some bullies pick on others as a result of peer pressure. In a few instances, some bullies suffer from some sort of behavioral or mental disorder that makes them behave in an aggressive manner.

    Victims of bullying often feel helpless to change their situation. This helplessness has been viewed by some members of the public as weakness when this could not be farther from the truth. Victims of bullying feel helpless because if the incidence of bullying is reported, it is often shrugged off, or the bully gets off with a very minor consequence. A victim of bullying also may not report the incident at all because they are afraid the bully will worsen their behavior toward them. It’s also possible he or she was negatively coerced by the bully to maintain secrecy. The bullying may also be happening off school grounds where the school district has no jurisdiction. Some victims simply choose to suffer in silence. The parents of the target may also be aware of what’s going on, but they, too, may be powerless to do anything about the incidents because the proper authorities have dismissed their complaints.

    What are schools’ policies on bullying? The policy of my district states in a nutshell that it is dedicated to providing an environment in which all students are free from any form of bullying or intimidation. Our policy also defines bullying in its various forms, including cyber bullying, and outlines the necessary actions that will be taken against the bully, which can include up to 180 days out of school suspension or expulsion. It also states, ‘District employees are required to report any instance of bullying of which the employee has first-hand knowledge. Moreover, the district will provide training for employees relative to enforcement of this policy.’ A new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights law went into effect in the state of New Jersey, and it essentially makes New Jersey schools responsible for policing students and investigating every reported instance of bullying. Teachers and administrators now have to go through training at the schools’ expense. My school already implements this by requiring us teachers to do in-services that train us in identifying bullying and how to report it.

    Although New Jersey’s law is a noble thought, bullying is not something that can be legislated away because it is more of a moral issue rather than a social one. From a teacher’s standpoint, I can tell you that most of us teachers don’t have time to address every single instance of name-calling that goes on during recess. Some days that I am on duty, I am continually assuaged by whole groups of children who are tapping me, poking me, tugging my clothes, and screaming my name all at once so they can report some kind of offense. I am only one person in charge of around 100 kids on my half of the playground at a time, so I have to prioritize. I can’t spend my entire duty running down kids who are name-calling but not hitting or otherwise doing anything harmful to the student. It just isn’t feasible, and it takes away from my job of circulating the playground to be sure that the children are playing fairly and not getting hurt.

    So where do the parents fall in all of this? The parents or guardians of the bully may not be aware that the child is engaging in this unwanted behavior. I have also seen instances where the parent knows their child has problems with aggression, but they can do little about it. Studies also seem to suggest that if bullying or abuse is going on within the home, then the child exhibits that behavior toward their peers. The parents of bullying targets, however, are often as helpless as their child to stop it through the proper means. Some parents must resort to taking legal action against the aggressor in order to protect their child, and some may encourage their child to defend themselves if necessary, even if it means they will suffer the consequences at school.

    Bullying is another one of life’s annoyances that will never be completely eradicated. States and schools can write all the policies and laws they want, but the fact is that there are too many factors involved in cases of bullying to eliminate the problem completely. For those who are victims of bullying, my advice from personal experience is never give in to bullies and don’t let them rob your self-worth. Take a stand for yourself and tell as many people as you can, even if you have to take your plight to law enforcement. Suicide is not the answer because death is irrevocable. It will get better.

    Sources on Bullying

    Anti-Bullying Law

    Bullies on Bullying

    Bullying Wikipedia

     

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