BULLYING: Why Should I care?

Recently I wrote a short story called Jumping Puddles for a children’s magazine. In it, a third grader named Angie faced an aggressive bully at school. Threatened both emotionally and physically by a girl a year older and much bigger than she was, Angie was forced to take part in a demonstration of skill. In the end, Angie learned that she did not have to prove herself to anyone, and even found something she admired in her bully. Wouldn’t it be nice if all cases of bullying ended the same way? Unfortunately, they do not.

All one has to do is listen to the news, or read a newspaper to find the detrimental effects of bullying. In one of my neighboring towns, several young people—one was only eleven—have taken their own lives in the last two years.

As a mother and grandparent, I am outraged, and in that anger, I have to ask, why? Why would a child—yes, I said child—feel that what a classmate thinks, says, or does is so bad that he or she no longer wants to live?  Wasn’t there anyone who the boy or girl could talk to? Where are the parents—grandparents—teachers?

Webster defines a bully as “a person who tends to browbeat or intimidate others”. When I was a child, it was relatively easy to identify the bullies in school. Most of them didn’t bother with emotional torture, they came right out and shoved you into a garbage can, or made you bob for apples in the toilet, or stole your towel and clothes while you were showering after P.E.  They were always bigger than you were, and had a “reputation” to live up to. I’m not saying that emotional bullying didn’t happen. It did, but forty years ago there was no Facebook, no Instagram, no texting, and no one had their own cell phone.

Today, all the social media—good and bad—are within reach for kids as young as three years old. Young kids develop who they are based on what they read, see, and are told—and they care, really care, what other people think about them.

I am a firm believer in self-fulfilling[sa1]  prophesy. Loosely translated, it means if you tell yourself something repeatedly, you start to believe it.  This is where I see the detrimental effects of bullying. If someone is continually telling a child/pre-teen/teenager that he or she is ugly, worthless, a scab on the face of the earth, that young person will start to believe it. And, when it is a group—or gang—of kids saying the same kind of things, the belief is compounded. If the child has no one to talk to, or is told it’s just “drama” and to let it slide, then where does that kid go for help? Or, worse yet, does that kid ask for help?

These are all things that each and every one of us should think about. My next entry will include comments from kids who are being bullied, and hopefully provide a look into the heart of the victims. Until then, ask yourself, “Why should I care?”

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