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Friday, April 18, 2008

Bullying has been on my mind lately

I think the universe is telling me to do a post about bullying.

A week ago my sign language teacher signed the Peter, Paul and Mary song, "Don't Laugh At Me" in class. It's about bullying. Also, Peter, Paul and Mary have initiated this campaign across the country to directly address the behavior they sing about. Cool beans, eh?!

Then David writes this AWESOME post about how he taught a group he was speaking to what a bully is. David, that is way good karma! Just a wonderful thing he did not only for his audience but for readers of his blog. Major catharsis.

So here is my experience with a couple of bullies. As it turns out I have first hand experience being bullied. I grew up with a bully in the form of an older sibling. She hit and intimidated me every chance she got starting when she was close to puberty. There was also a bully in our elementary school her name was Terry M. She would intimidate kids on the playground, take their lunch and their place to sit. She shoved and mocked and spread rumors and in general created a negative experience for whomever she was targeting at the time. She had a couple of tougher bigger girls she was friends with making a little terrible threesome. She was scary.

I actually only learned what a bully was when I finally stood up to my sister. She was beating the crap out of me and my parents said, "Take it outside." I refused always to hit her back because I was a pacifist. Not that I knew the word for it. But all I knew is that I didn't want to be someone like her who hit and was mean. I wanted to be the opposite of her. So when she hit me I didn't hit her back. But this time was a little different. She had me pinned down on the grass and was punching me in the chest. It hurt. It was hard to breath. And all of the sudden I had this moment of clarity. A calmness settled over me and it said, "You're going to have to hit her." I sighed inwardly, because I really didn't want to. On the other hand she was hurting me and it was getting even harder to breath. So I balled up my fist and aimed right at her face and connected with her lip and nose somehow all in one punch. She looked really surprised as the blood welled up on her lip and nose. I thought, "OK here it comes, she's going to go whale on me now!"

To my GREAT surprise, she did not go bizerk. Instead she started to cry and yelled, "Mom, Kathy hit me!" In that moment I learned what a bully was.

My parents punished me for that. I was grounded for one week. But I didn't care. I had this huge realization as if a weight had been lifted and my sister never engaged me the same way again. There were still the punches in the arm if I was ever stupid enough to walk to close to her. But she was wary and we never got into a fist fight again and I was grateful.

There is no good outcome for the bully either. Bullying me and others was the way she expressed her pain and fear. And there were fewer friends and happy moments for her, I think, than I experienced. It's not a good way to be for others or for yourself, being a bully.

Terry M., our elementary school bully, fared no better. By the time high school rolled around and she was no longer the biggest kid and I think one of her posse moved away. People were no longer scared of her. Her elevates status and dwindled. In the bigger pond of high school she was a much smaller fish. She couldn't bully anymore. In fact she was quite unpopular. In my town, people didn't move around much so most of the kids you started kindergarten with you also graduated high school with. And people remembered her unkind deeds. I would often see her in the halls alone. She was not in the college prep classes. I heard she ended up working at her parents mini golf for awhile. I don't think the bullying did her any favors in the long run.

If the world is ever going to be a better, safer place, especially for people with disabilities, it is critical for parents to not only talk to their kids about bullying but also not to allow it in the home. I think often bullying behavior is learned from a bullying parent or it can be learned from older kids if the parent is absent. It speaks of anger and rage and causes so much damage, especially these days when kids aren't duking it out with fists but guns. It is a much tougher job to be a parent who intervenes and is close to their kids hearts and minds than one who ignores the subtle hints of trouble. It takes constant effort and work. But in the long run and even in the immediate moment, it's worth it.

Have you ever been bullied?


Katy said...

I read that bullying post too and it's still in my head. REally got me thinking.

I hate bullies and as a teacher it was so frustrating to see that type of behavior. It's also incredibly hard to stop it.

Kathryn said...

I can see it being really frustrating as a teacher especially when students get good at doing things behind your back and the victims too intimidated to speak up. I am sure it can get complicated. I think schools having someone like David come in and talk is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a time and place where small scale bullying (no fists or worse - just words mostly) was considered character building - and unless someone was really hurt physically no adult (parent or school) ever intervened. So to answer your question, yes I have been bullied, but very mildly in the scheme of things I guess. My way of dealing with it was to walk home a different way for the whole 4 years I was in high school, thereby avoiding the girl who for whatever reason had taken a dislike to me. It worked, as she didn't bother me in school at all - just out of and particularly on the way home.
I sincerely hope that my upbringing has not numbed me to the problems of bullying, and please believe me when I say that I am not suggesting for one minute that we revert back to how things were when and where I grew up, but I do wonder sometimes if there is too much intervention in our childrens lives today. Everything they do or say is closely monitored and controlled by adults, who are very quick to step in and resolve it in an adult way rather than allowing the children to do it albeit in a childish and sometimes not correct way.
I worry that our children are not being prepared adequately for the world as it is - cruel and often seemingly heartless - by hiding them away from the reality and protecting them too much.

Unknown said...

Lots of thoughts provoked here, Kathryn. Good post.

I had a sister who was a bully, too. But not physically, just a verbally manipulative and cruel bitch. Sorry to say. And my revelation was when my mom was dying of cancer. I went back home and spent the most time with my sister since highschool. And I saw her as this little immature jr. high girl who never grew up. And I saw that all the crap she said about me was just her way of controlling her fear of the uncontrollable. And sadly, she absolutely could not handle my mother's illness in an appropriate way. Which was very sad for me at the time. But now as I look back, it was a good revelation. It made me see that for whatever reason, she just never grew up past jr. high mentality. And I did. And so instead of fearing her and letting her control me, I just sort of took pity on her. Wish it wouldn't have all happened like that, though. During my mother's dying days.

I was also the disabled kid who was verbally bullied and teased in school. I think if I would have been a boy, it would have been more physical. I saw disabled boys getting it more physically than I did. What I always hated about the teachers (and parents) is when presented with the problem, they always acted like there was something wrong with us, the bullied. They would tell us to not provoke it or just ignore it or try to make friends or be more outgoing and fit in more. The bullies were just sort of excused good naturedly.

Years later, I noticed as a teacher with kids with multiple disabilities in the regular classroom, that the teacher sets the tone for those kids more than anything else. I've seen kids with similar issues as Ellie be seen as a joyful addition to the class because the teacher sees them that way and doesn't tolerate anything different. And then I've seen kids who were bullied because basically, the teacher's disdain for them (even if it was unconscious) rubbed off on the kids and the teacher just expected that the disabled kid is going to be bullied because "kids are cruel." Well, no. Kids aren't cruel. Kids don't understand things sometimes and look to adults for answers. When the answer is hatred and disdain for the weak and different, then they act out on what they think is an appropriate response.

Now I need to go read the other posts you mention. Sounds interesting.

Jacolyn said...

I was just thinking about this last Friday after a meeting with the school. How much will Grace (or even my other children) be bullied. I saw the girl who bullied me at our high school reunion and she is STILL a bully. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Hi this is Che*** from International School Bangkok. In our school portal, your blog is on it. ISB 5th graders will enjoy your blog~!

Anonymous said...

I'm a fifth grader and I think your blog is very good and thank you for sharing about bullies

Anonymous said...

I am kiewon and i am commenting from international school Bankok I think that the parents are strange because the parents must stop their kids fighting! but they are just looking how are they fighting. I wish their parents stop their fightings

Anonymous said...

Why did the parents let your sister keep hitting and bullying you? I fight with my little brother often and my mom always get angry of me. Sometimes at my brother.

Anonymous said...

I read a book called "The Hundred Dresses" and it was similar with your story. In that story the main character moves because of bullies. I hate bullies.

Kathryn said...

Lisa - I totally missed seeing your comment until now. But you are absolutely right - the teacher does set the tone as does the parent. It's a sad thing and a self fullfilling prophesy when someone in an authority position decides that cruelty is a part of life and is ok seeing it enacted on those least able to defend themselves. For me the realization that she was a bully was a great eyeopener. I took my fear of my sister away - that and the fact that when I did finally decide it was fight back or sustain serious injury she turned tail and went crying to mommy. But all the same, awful and unpleasant and then her bullying just got more subversive. She still takes every opportunity to put me down and down grade any and all accomplishments I have ever had. She does this automatically and systematically. It's really quite incredible how complete it is for her - this need to make me somehow less than her this need for competition and showing me up. It's sad. We are not friends and never will be. But as for having power over me - though I still do get somewhat annoyed by her, more so I pity her for her rigidness. I think you are right, the bully sometimes does get stuck in time as far as psychological maturation goes. GREAT comment. I am sorry you had to live with that too.

Kathryn said...

Che*** I am greatly honored that your fifth grade class is reading my blog Ryn Tales and finding it useful! I will respond to their comments individually.

Kathryn said...

Anisa - I am delighted that you like my blog and hope the post about bullies was useful to you. I hope you also read David's story over at Chewing the Fat, which held some key revelations for me.

Kathryn said...

Kiewon - that is a brilliant observation! You are absolutely right, parents should always stop their kids from fighting and to watch them fighting is wrong. My parents were wrong to do that. A better way is to teach children to deal with conflict in healthy ways - such as negotiation, compromise, and most of all respect for others. I wish all parents felt as you do about their kids fighting - the world would be a better place. Thank you for your insightful comment.

Kathryn said...

anisa@isb - I can't know exactly why they let her do that but I think the commenter here Lisa sheds some light on how bullies are viewed. I think my parents thought my sister's aggressive behavior was a positive thing, and my pacifist behavior a sign of weakness. Also, my parents did a great many things that really good parents would never do, like favor one child over the other. And I was at the bottom of the totem pollon that count. Either way, my parents were emotionally immature to have allowed what they did. It's good that your mom gets angry when you and your brother fight. The best thing she can do is help you two work out your differences more diplomatically and fairly than fighting. There is always a better answer than violence.

Kathryn said...

che*** thanks for the book recommendation. I will check it out. Thanks for your comments! Come back and have a read anytime.