March 30, 1981 – for most people this day brings back memories of an attempt on a President’s life. Ronald Reagan, only 69 days into office, was shot at by a crazed lunatic. 30 years later this day stands out in most people’s mind as a sorrowful day that could have been worse if the lunatic had been successful.
For me, the day brings back memories of a different kind. Just a little over 11 years old, I was walking home from school when one boy grabbed me and held my hands behind my back while another boy, a much larger boy, slapped me hard in the face. I no longer remember if I had done something to warrant this behavior. However, I do remember thinking of the biblical phrase, “Turn the other cheek”. So I did just that, I looked up at this bully and turned the other cheek. The bully promptly slapped that cheek just as hard as he could.
Bullying is a problem that has gone on for years in our school system and is in my mind a very serious problem that causes so much harm to young people. Kids who are bullied tend to feel very insecure and unsure of themselves and at odds with the world.
What makes things worse is that adults give them mixed messages on what to do. If a child reports a bully, will the bully be dealt with? If not, the bullying will simply get worse. Is it ok to stand up for yourself and defend yourself against the bully? If a kid is punished for taking a stand against a bully, will he or she have the wherewithal to stand up for themselves ever again? If you tell your parents, will you just be considered a baby who can’t take care of your own problems? Every option comes across as a no-win situation to a kid who is confused and tormented.
In today’s world, bullying has taken even worse forms. With the advent of the internet and sites such as YouTube, bullying can be done for the whole world to see. And while there appears to be an increase in the amount of people being bullied for such reasons as being gay that has not been the only reason that kids have been bullied.
Let me tell you about a young boy I knew named Billy Easter. We had just moved to Minot AFB, North Dakota in the late 1970’s and young Billy was one of the first friends I had made. To most people Billy was just odd…I’m not even sure why people thought he was that way. We were young and I liked him. I was one of two friends he had and what I do remember about our friendship is he had given us each a “nail” to represent the “club” we were in. Today, this seems silly but it was important to him. After all, we were probably 8 or 9 years old.
I lost touch with Billy over the years and didn’t think of him too much until I was a teen-ager and I read a newspaper article indicating the fact that Billy had committed suicide. This young man went down into his basement and hung himself. I don’t know why but I’m sure it had a large part to do with the fact that kids ostracized and bullied him for years.
While my problems with bullying never reached the level that poor Billy went through, I struggled with it for periods of my life as well. Generally speaking, I didn’t have a lot of problems with it beyond what I shared already until we moved to Rapid City, South Dakota and I started going to West Junior High School.
West Junior High was the prelude to Stevens High School and I thank God I never had to go to Stevens. West was bad enough. It was a “rich kids” school and if you’re family wasn’t rich, you weren’t liked. My Dad was in the military so we weren’t a rich family. The kids in that school responded to this by deciding that I was ripe for the picking in regards to being teased and bullied.
I have had issues with rosacea (red cheeks) my whole life and they picked up on it there and started calling me “Rosy”. I then one day decided that it would be cool to wear an outfit of my Dad’s that I thought was really sharp looking and it was, albeit for a different generation. J (no offense to Dad) I got teased for months at that one – which you could argue that I brought on myself, but keep in mind that most kids who are bullied are usually bullied because they are a little different than the norm. Why is this necessarily a bad thing?
These are not the only events but they are the ones that stand out. However, the worst happened one afternoon in gym class. We were playing softball and the gym teacher and forewarned us to not throw our glove in the air to try to catch a ball. He had said if we did so, we’d have to run a lap around the field. Well, being the dumb kid I was, I threw my glove in the air to catch a ball and had to run a lap. Here’s the thing…I run a little funny. I walk slightly slanted on one foot and it becomes obvious when I run and looks a little weird. Not a lot weird, but enough to kids who are looking for anything to pick on someone about.
They started calling me “Flash” after the Flash Gordon show and singing that song. I tried to ignore it but it kept going on and on until we were in the locker room. And while I lacked confidence in myself and all, one thing I did have then (and still do now) is a temper. And it had reached its boiling point and I confronted one of the tormentors. Before you knew it, we were snapping our towels at each other.
You’d think that was the end of it. A couple boys do a little push/shove thing and they move on. Nope. As my sister and I walked home, that boy and several others followed us home. As we were walking down the street – in full view of parents picking up their kids – these kids put their shirts over their heads and started ramming me in the back. To this day, I will never understand why a parent didn’t stop and put an end to that.
My sister and I kept walking until we got to a bridge we needed to cross. At that point the kids surrounded us on the bridge. I asked them what they wanted from me and they said they wanted me to apologize. I told them if they let my sister go home I would do so. They agreed and my sister left, but I knew she was headed to get Mom. Which, in my mind at the time, would not have helped. If my parents had gotten involved, the bullying would only get worse, I thought.
So after my sister left, I apologized to the kids who had been tormenting me. Ironic huh? Not so much.
The bullying did not end there, but fortunately the next year we moved to Ellsworth AFB and I started going to Douglas High School. It took me most of the time I was there to get a decent level of confidence and self-esteem. But the way I felt around those kids at West Junior High really never left me, even to this day.
Because of my own experiences with bullying I became somewhat sensitive to any possibility of my kids being bullied as well. My oldest went to school several years in Marshall, MN and had all sorts of friends and was doing very well there. When we moved to Sioux Falls, she started getting bullied by some kids at the school she went to here. What surprised me was that the bullies were boys and one went to our church.
One day her and a friend were being chased by these two kids with blocks of ice and throwing them at the girls. My daughter decided to fight back and took ice and started chasing these boys back. She scared them off. However, she got caught by a teacher. All of the kids were then forced to stay in for recess.
I did NOT punish her. In my mind, she was acting in self-defense. I have always told my kids that they have every right to defend themselves from someone who thinks that they have some right to do them harm. I tell them that once the person is no longer attacking them or is unable to hurt them anymore that they need to stop but they do not need to stand there and take what the bully is dishing out.
I am not condoning violence. But I am also not condoning just putting up with the nonsense that bullies like to do to others. If you have a way to stop someone from bullying you without resorting to getting physical with them, fantastic. But that doesn’t always work.
Recently a boy was being bullied and decided to fight back (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxBAy3901kc). If you watch this video you’ll see he was punched FOUR TIMES. Yet, did you realize that the boy being bullied got suspended too? That makes no sense to me.
As adults, the first thing we need to do is stop pretending that bullying isn’t a serious epidemic. We need to get past the idea that simply talking with the bullies will teach them the error of their ways and realize that until we start seriously punishing kids for being bullies, things are never going to change.
But the other thing we need to stop right now is the idea that a kid should not be able to defend themselves when and if it is necessary. To punish a kid for standing up for themselves will teach the kid that they have to just “take it”. And that is such a dangerous position to put a child into.
Bullying is a hard problem to solve. Each situation is unique. But first and foremost we need to make sure that we understand that the kid being bullied is a victim. No matter how different or odd they might be, they don’t deserve what is happening to them. To treat them any other way makes us as adults just as bad as the bullies that torment them.