In the Globe and Mail yesterday there was an article “The Best Defence Against Bullying”, just one of many lately in the papers. It was a bit different, with the focus on the bystanders rather than the victim or the bully.
When I was in middle school, there was a little girl who lived in a rough neighbourhood who had me terrified to leave school for fear of my life.
The only person I told was my eldest sister (7 years older and most wise), who quite matter-of-factly, stated that the only thing I could do to fix the problem was to “punch her out” and be done with it. She said that no one else could fight my battles for me. Easy to say when it’s not you, but as it turned out, it was enough to call the girl’s bluff for her to back down.
Fast forward a few years when my son Ian was in grade 5 and something similar was happening to him. I offered up all sorts of solutions—tell the school, tell the parents, stay close to friends, use the buddy system etc.—but none of these helped. The bully just kept at it because no one stopped him.
As my sister’s words rang loudly in my ears, even knowing that advocating violence wasn’t the right thing to do, I heard myself giving him the same advice. Ian reluctantly, and as a last resort, agreed, and once again the bully failed to show and never bothered Ian again.
I suspect that our friends knew our fears but did nothing, undoubtedly because they were afraid of becoming the target of the bully and conveniently disappeared when they were most needed.
Remembering this, I taught Stefanie to always stand by her friends and to never let anyone smaller than her be the victim of cruelty. The problem with teenagers is that they don’t tell adults, especially their parents, much of anything. Certainly, I didn’t.
With technology today, it’s even harder for parents to know what is happening because most communication is electronic and silent.
When Stefanie stood up for Melissa Todorovic’s honour and tried to warn her that David Bagshaw was bad news, she thought she was doing the right thing. She thought that by standing by this girl she didn’t even know, she was protecting her “girl power” as she called it.
Of course, this case was not the “typical bullying scenario” but Melissa was definitely a bully. She bullied David so much he capitulated to her demands and killed Stefanie. She belittled him, shamed him, sexually blackmailed him and threatened to make his life miserable. This bullying certainly is not justification to murder someone, but nonetheless an example of how powerful bullies can be.
Their mode of communication—50,000 MSN messages and thousands of text messages, all unknown until it was too late.
We can’t tell our children to stand up for themselves and fight their own battles because kids don’t just fight with their fists anymore. We aren’t aware of the bullying because we can’t see or hear it and teaching them to stand up for themselves or the underdog can have fatal results.
After 18 years of parenting, I can see some very positive work being done in schools starting in kindergarten and hopefully with education and awareness, things will improve.
Even if just one child is helped with each initiative then it’s worth it. Unfortunately until we get help for the bully it’s never going to go away completely.
I often think of that little girl who threatened me. I’m sure she had to become very tough just to survive in her surroundings and because she felt victimized needed to regain her power by belittling others.
When we ridicule others, we feel temporarily superior, but it only further damages our sense of self-worth. Punishing bullies is important so they understand that their behaviour is unacceptable, but it needs to go further.
Those who bully need help to improve their sense of worth. If we, as a society can provide that gift to them at a young age, perhaps by the time they can cause real harm, they will no longer feel the need.