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Sticks And Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Call me this and call me that and call yourself a dirty rat.”

This little ditty pretty much sums up the advice we were given about thirty years ago if we were picked on in school by other kids. Along with this advice, we were told to: “Just ignore them.” Seemed like good advice at the time. Times have changed, though, and bullying can no longer be attributed to the old slogan that “boys will be boys.” Violence among girls has increased substantially in the last few years and we have all heard
about the latest trend of cyber bullying where bullying can continue 24 hours a day via Facebook, texting and emailing. There is no escaping it now and if you are the one being tormented, this type of abuse can very rapidly affect all areas of your life. Although I know that bullying occurs in the adult population (those bullies do eventually grow into adults!), I wish to focus on our children.

When it comes to bullying, we certainly hope our child will not be the victim of this hurtful behaviour. If and when we learn that they are being bullied, we go against our most primal instincts in order to trust that those in positions of power will deal with the situation appropriately. This usually involves a letter sent home to the parents of the bully. Then, another letter should the behaviour continue and then perhaps a meeting with parents and so on. Principals and teachers have protocol that must be followed in these situations.

A key phrase in the fight against bullying is “Zero Tolerance.” But is there really zero tolerance? I asked a handful of teachers of their experiences and they will tell you straight away that that is not the case. The practice of “Zero Tolerance” is NOT being enforced and the kids who are being bullied know that. This is why many children have made a choice to keep silent about it because they likely know that they will not be heard by the adults who are supposed to be protecting them. The bullying will continue although this time, it will be worse. Many kids are being bullied on a regular basis and no one is getting tough with the bullies. Everyone, including the adults, seems to be afraid or they are unable to do anything effective, as they must follow the aforementioned protocol set forth by their superiors. Perhaps, they are afraid to confront the parents of the bully, as we all know what happens when you confront a mother bear? And in some cases, they
are afraid of the bully him/herself? Enough is enough. Young people are committing suicide at an astonishing rate and in many cases this is because of depression and self-loathing that is directly linked to the bullying they have had to endure for months or even years.

So far the solutions seem to revolve around changing the behaviour of the one being bullied. If the bullying is taking place on the bus, the victim is encouraged to move to the front of the bus and sit near the bus driver. A teacher told me that she advises those children who are being harassed at recess to come and stand by her. Many parents have gone so far as to pull their children from the school system and home school in order to protect them from further trauma. Other parents choose to drive their children to school so as to avoid being in the bus environment day in and day out. These are all valid attempts but temporary solutions. And the bully just moves on to another victim. Nothing has been resolved.

Why are we focusing on the victim? Perhaps it is the bully that needs to have the attention? Let’s start removing the bully from the bus and the classroom. Zero tolerance doesn’t mean several warnings, then a letter, then a meeting with the parents because while all of this policy paperwork is being executed, there is a child who is still being victimized and tormented. I wonder what would happen if we showed the bully how
to feel powerful and confident in ways that are far more positive and acceptable than bullying.

We are all responsible. Children have a right to feel safe not only within their home but within the school system and within their community. We, as adults, need to enforce the “Zero Tolerance” rule. And this begins within our own homes by teaching our children to treat others with kindness and respect. It is our responsibility after all.

And if we learn that our child is doing the bullying, we do not defend and condone the behaviour. That is not our job as parents. Our job is to raise healthy, responsible, contributing members of society. My mother and father taught us about empathy at an early age and made it very clear while we were young children that they did not tolerate bullying in any shape or form. We weren’t about to find out what the consequences would be if we bullied another child. Don’t contribute to the problem; use it as an opportunity to teach.

I was bullied in grade nine. And I can remember very clearly the knot that would form in my stomach as the school bus approached the school. I hated having to walk by this one particular girl in anticipation of the threats that would spew out of her mouth. I made contact with my bully through Facebook a couple of years ago and asked her where her life ended up going. I wondered as I felt she must have been very unhappy as she sure enjoyed tormenting me. She didn’t remember it and even confessed that she recalled being jealous of me. Although, bullies often display hurtful behaviour because they themselves have been hurt, bullies are not always made up of kids with low self-esteem. A schoolteacher shared with me that a recent study shows that many bullies have extremely high self-esteem making them feel superior and better than their peers.

I know this is a complex issue and yet the solutions can seem so obvious at times. Imagine a movement that educates everyone. Imagine a school assembly where the entire school population goes through a program that really instills zero tolerance. Imagine that in a school of 500 children there might be 5 bullies and 25 victims. Imagine the 470 students plus teachers enforcing the zero tolerance policy. The bullies wouldn’t stand a chance.