Monday, May 12, 2014

BULLY FOR YOU

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

"Bully for you" is defined on multiple sites as meaning the following:

1. Good for you; you've been especially courageous.

2. Well, aren't you just the big effin' deal (and I don't mean that in a nice way at all).


I've decided to call this weekly series BULLY FOR YOU because so many people are forced into bad situations by bullies and they try to be courageous, and because bullies so often take on the attitude of the second definition.

We'll talk about bullies every Monday until we're done with the topic. No end date specified. One week from today I'll review a memoir in which bullying plays a large part. It's Cleft Heart: Chasing Normal by Karl Schonborn. If you want to go ahead and order a copy, you can get it on Amazon at http://goo.gl/MQfZ4C or on Barnes&Noble at http://goo.gl/ZY84Sb.



Following the book review, we'll have guest posts on Mondays until we've said everything we want to say about bullies. I hope we'll explore times that we've been bullied, how we've handled bullies, how we wish we'd conducted ourselves with bullies, and in particular, the effects of bullying. What does bullying do to us, and what does it say about us as a society? The final guest post will be by Karl Schonborn himself. I've asked him to write "Dr. Schonborn's Prescription For Dealing With Bullies".

I've already received a few guest posts, and some other folks have promised to write posts (don't worry: I'll remind you about your promise).

I wonder if bullying is worse now than it was in my salad days?

I don't know. New opportunities for bullying present themselves. I was bullied on Facebook recently.

But bullies have always walked among us. In The Little House Books, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about numerous bullies, and her stories––most of which are based on reality––occurred during the 1870s and 1880s. When I was in the fifth grade, a boy in kindergarten brought a knife to school and stabbed another kindergartner while they were on the playground for recess. We all saw the blood, but in 1970 or thereabouts, the story wasn't on the news. If I had gone home and told my parents about it, my mother would have said, Don't be ridiculous; that didn't happen.

I guess we talk about bullies more these days, and we should, especially in light of the young people who have committed suicide because of merciless bullying. I imagine some older folks have killed themselves because of bullies, too. It's not a problem that's limited to any particular age group.

Today, I'd like to tell you a story about The Hurricane. When she was born, she wasn't even drizzle yet. By the time she was in elementary school, drizzle began to form, but it formed because she was sad. She was not yet The Great and Powerful Hurricane that she is today, whirling and twirling and saving herself when she must.

Many of the children in her elementary school––and their parents––disdained The Hurricane because of her unusual intelligence. On a Brownie camp out, one of her tent mates told her, My mom says you just think you're smart. You're not really smart.

Kids said X and I did The Hurricane's homework for her. Did I also squeeze myself into a child's school desk to take the tests on which she received perfect scores? When she was in prep school, some kids called her The Curve Breaker.

It wasn't The Hurricane who told the other children she was intelligent. She didn't know she was different until she was in the second grade and the other kids started to talk about how smart she was. She asked me if what they said was true. I said, God has given you a gift, and you must use it wisely. Always do the best you can, but don't tell the other kids your test scores. Grades are a private thing, and you shouldn't brag.

When The Hurricane was in the third grade, the children didn't limit themselves to saying, Oh, wow, The Hurricane is smarter than everybody else. Instead, a girl started an I Hate The Hurricane Club.

When she was in the fifth grade, her teachers did not practice effective disciplinary techniques, and many of their students were out of control. The chaos was very hard on The Hurricane, though she remained focused on her studies. Verbal attacks on her intensified.

One day while her class was supposed to be standing in a line, a boy suddenly turned around and used a kick boxing move on The Hurricane. She told me about it after school. She said the other kids laughed. She had told her teacher. She had a bruise on her arm.

I called the school and spoke to her teacher. She told me she gave the boy two days of after-school detention. X called the principal, who was an ass hat, and said the disciplinary action wasn't sufficient. The principal declined to intervene.

I had been keeping a journal throughout the school year about verbal attacks on The Hurricane by students and teachers. After the physical attack, we made an appointment at the central office for the schools, where we spoke with the supervisor for elementary education. I gave her a copy of an 11-page letter in which I recounted the attacks. I also presented her with copies of letters I had sent to her teacher, all of which had gone unanswered.

The supervisor promised me that she would handle the matter. For the last few months of the school year, although gossip persisted, it lessened. More important, The Hurricane's teacher ceased her verbal attacks.

Sometimes I think about the incidents of that year, and I wonder if I did enough. I sympathized with The Hurricane, and I stood up for her against bad teachers and a worse principal.

But should I have called the police? When I finally had the chance to tell a friend of mine about the attack, my friend, who is and has been a teacher for many years, said, Doesn't the school have an officer to talk to that boy? Don't they even have a DARE officer? Detention is not enough for assault.

No, they didn't have any kind of officer. If I had called the police and showed them pictures of the bruise, if I had insisted that the boy be charged with assault, would it have helped? Would the kids have backed off, or would they have treated her even worse? I have no idea what happened to that boy. Would getting into serious trouble then have prevented him from getting involved in worse activities? His misbehavior in school was already a constant problem. What if someone had told this boy and his parents, This crap has to stop, and it has to stop now. Have you heard about juvenile detention?

The period of attacks against The Hurricane haunt me, but she seems to have put them behind her. She told me a few days ago that it's been many years since someone told her she's too smart for her own good. She's happy with her life, and she enjoys the many opportunities provided by her intelligence and education. Some "good" came out of her experiences: she's empathetic, and she's very tough.

But I'll always wonder if I did enough.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug



50 comments:

  1. I'm aware that bullying is a big concern these days. I wasn't bullied as a kid but I was ignored for being nerdy. In high school I realized there were more of us nerdy kids than popular ones so I ran for class president and won in a landslide. Even so, I was never popular.

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    1. I think being ignored is better than being bullied. At my school, you had to be popular to be in student government. I bet you were more popular than you think you were.

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  2. That should be an interesting series of posts. I'm sorry your daughter went through all that, but it sounds like you did a good job looking out for her. It's horrifying how mean some kids can be to other kids... and how many parents seem to be oblivious to it. Ya done good, kid.

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    1. In some instances, parents encourage their children to be bullies.

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  3. I am sorry for what your daughter went through. That is awful. Sounds like you were on top of it and tried to manage it, but still couldn't make it stop. That must have been a terrible time for you, as well as for her. I am so glad to know that she has recovered and moved on.

    I do believe there is plenty of bullying going on today, but I also think the term is over used. Every occurrence of bad behavior by a child against another is not bullying, and shouldn't be labeled as such.

    I am very thankful that my daughter has not been confronted with bullying or had any bad behaviors directed at her. I am looking forward to your Monday posts on the topic.

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    1. I agree with you that bad behavior isn't always bullying, and a seven-year-old boy who tries to steal a kiss from a little girl isn't sexually harassing her.

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  4. It's a good thing that The Hurricane had the support structure in place to actually learn from the experience and become a better person because of it. Others aren't so lucky. Trauma like that at such a young age is horrible. It has been a while since I've been in school, but I'm wondering if there's an educational model out there to tell kids why they shouldn't bully.
    Also, I can't believe you, an adult, were bullied on Facebook.

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    1. I know other adults who have been bullied on Facebook, Twitter, whatever. It's tiresome at best, and frightening at worst.

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  5. I had my fill of bullying in the 29 years I taught. My last year, there was a teacher who was a bully, to adults and kids. Although admin knew of her ways, they did nothing to stop her. I'm so glad your Hurricane is living out the best revenge on those nasty bullies- having a wonderful, successful life that far surpasses anything they have.

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    1. I figured you had seen a lot of bullying. It's especially sad when teachers are bullies.

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  6. I am sorry for what happened to your daughter. I am glad she has rebounded well and moved on to become the Hurricane that she is! Sounds like you did all the right things and still couldn't stop it. That is sad and scary! I am glad that my daughter hasn't been faced with anything like this so far. I do believe that bullying definitely goes on, but I also think that the term is often misused. Every act of bad behavior by a child against another does not constitute bullying, and shouldn't be labeled as such.

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    1. It's so good you just wanted to say it again, right?

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  7. Janie,

    A most important topic to post.... I think what you're doing is amazing! So many of us have been bullied for one reason or another. Sadly it's a part of growing up and life. But it seems it's being taken to an extreme these days...

    Kids are dying. It HAS TO STOP! Awareness is the key. Keeping it in front of the media and PARENTS MUST get involved.... Sadly... may parents of bullies were bullies themselves.

    Looking forward to your continual posts...

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    1. Thank you. Parental involvement is great unless the parents are bullies who encourage their children to bully.

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  8. I think you did enough under the circumstances. You were perfectly justified in thinking that school officials would take the baton and run with it.

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    1. I knew the teacher and the principal wouldn't do anything. They joined the bully brigade. I know they were "disciplined" in some way by their supervisor, but what happened to them is confidential. It was probably a slap on the wrist.

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  9. Oh man, the bullying can be just as hard on the parents, I think. It sounds to me like you handled the situation the best way you could. Going to the police could've likely led to more ostracizing and maybe more secretive attacks. Like you said, she's grown into a strong woman, and she's become who she is because all of her experiences, including the bad ones.

    I've been putting some thought to my bullying post...and will appreciate reminders because I'm a scatter-brain these days..

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    1. How about if I give you a date? I WANT THAT POST BY JUNE 15th. Going to the police might have put the fear of God in some of those kids, though. That's what I wonder about.

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  10. Dear Janie, like you, I regret things I've done or haven't done in the past. I especially regret something I said to my brother when he was 7 or 8 and I was 10 or 11. I suspect he doesn't remember the incident but I do. And I wonder how much damage I did to hi self-esteem. How much did I undermine him then and how did that undermining affect the way he continues to think about himself.

    I think that regretting is part of life. But I also know that it can drive us to despair if we let it. And so I have to think about the good things that I've done in my life and concentrate on that. I hope you can do the same. We've all done good things, but it's so much easier to remember the things we regret. Peace.

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    1. The Hurricane's happiness and success ease my regrets. Older siblings can be very hard on the younger kids in the family. At least you recognize it. Many don't.

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  11. Yes, lots of ink was spilled over parents who humiliate their children last September. Debate was triggered when a mom punished her pre-teen with a two-hour stint at a busy intersection wearing a sign that read ‘I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at a school dance.’ Studies show humiliation leads to poor self-control which is a quality bullies often exhibit. Google "Are You Raising a Bully?"

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    1. James Roosevelt (Franklin and Eleanor's oldest son) had a nanny who punished him by making him stand outside, wearing a dress and a sign that advertised his "horrible" wrong, which I think was staring at her as she slathered a huge about of mustard on her sandwich. James said Eleanor cried with him when he told her about it, but the nanny wasn't fired until she was found to be a secret drinker.

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    2. That should be "huge AMOUNT of mustard". Janie Junebug hangs her head in shame.

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  12. A Christian Sci Monitor piece March 20, '14 suggests adult responses, esp by school authorities, often inspire kids to tease. It examines the case of Grayson Bruce who was bullied for his 'My Little Pony' backpack, only to be told by his school to leave it at home to avoid triggering bully attacks.

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    1. What do you think of that, Karl? Perhaps you'll address parental involvement in your post. Thank you for joining us.

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    2. When adult responses are added to the responses of the bullied v bullier, the whole episode becomes an +/-conditioning nightmare. (Pavlov had it easy. Your Maxwell and my Monte know that.)
      On the one hand, overworked, harried school officials these days, different in times past) have to choose their battles. So, it's common sense to say "leave the My Little Pony ' backpack at home." Problem is, the bully wins (is + reinforced), and perhaps more n more things get left home (like T-shirts w certain mssgs). Crisis!
      My post re bullied teens getting plastic surgery (http://karlschonborn.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1035&action=edit) shows how bullies can win big...tho it's still complicated.

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  13. Dagan was picked on in grade school quite a bit. With his heart problems he was thin, pale and weak. He had decent teachers most of the time who kept an eye out, but waiting for the bus could be a challenge. Dagan never admitted any of it to me for a long time. But he had a male teacher once and he was the worst. This guy was very into sports and even he made fun of Dagan. We had a lot of discussions about bullies and how if you don't react to them they often get bored. That worked most of the time--because it wasn't physical. But he did have a kid who pushed and poked and bugged him one year. Dagan finally blew up and fought back. Dagan got the better of him--partially from shock on the bully's part, I'm sure, and because Dagan was fearlessly furious. People respect righteous crazy--LOL! They left him alone after that.

    Looking forward to this series and I will try to do my part and write Bully Boys. ;)

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    1. Righteous crazy can be excellent. A friend of mine in Illinois had an eight-year-old daughter who had to change schools. Two girls at the new school picked on the daughter mercilessly. She hit one of the girls in the mouth. That was the end of it, but I think that's a fortunate outcome. The two could have worked together to beat up my friend's daughter.

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    2. A frail kid with heart problems or mobility issues is at a double disadvantage. He/she is an easy, frequent target ofentimes, AND has the added frustration of know he/she can't fight react in conventional ways (like buffing up, learning to run fast). I know, I've been there.

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  14. Oh my. I had no idea about the Hurricane. Makes me want to beat the absolute crap out of each and every kid and teacher who attacked her.

    -andi

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    1. Thank you. Been there. Wanted to do that.

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  15. I can certainly empathize with the Hurricane. I was taunted for my intelligence, too. Fortunately, it never resulted in a physical battery. It does make you tough, though. I'm glad Hurricane came through okay. I wouldn't beat yourself up worrying if you should've done more. I can tell you, you did a whole lot more than my parents ever did!

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    1. I'm sorry you got picked on, too. Favorite Young Man never stopped hearing about his red hair and freckles. Why do so many people hate red hair?

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  16. Now days at schools here in Aus if a child had been kicked the student who did it would get 20 days suspension which is the most a child can get at school. what really pisses me off is when a child is bullied and they tell a teacher and the teacher says sorry can't help you, this happened to my grandson Blain his parents were trying to teach him not to hit back but tell a teacher and when he did the teacher did bugga all. Blain said to his mum I should had just punched the kid back. I feel sorry the hurricane went through all that

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    1. I'm sorry for Blain. Here, teachers who enforce rules are harassed mercilessly by the students, who complain to their parents, who complain to the principal, who gets rid of the teacher. The bullies score again.

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  17. My son has never been bullied. He blends. The schools here seem to nip it in the bud. Facebook is the worst place for kids and bullying. I would just love for it to disappear. My son has no interest in Facebook thankfully.

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    1. I'm glad for Joe, and for you. It's good that he doesn't much around with Facebook.

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    2. I meant "muck around with Facebook". I am so bad.

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  18. Bullies have been around forever. I think it's somehow a chink in the DNA of some.
    When I was in the 5th grade, this kid picked on me incessantly. I put up with it for most of the school year, but one day out on the playground, he came up behind me and grabbed me around the neck and started choking me. I snapped. I reached back over my head and grabbed his head and flung him over my shoulders and he hit hard on his back. It knocked the wind out of him. He never bothered me again.

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  19. People can be so mean. It has to be extreme arrogance to think a person is so great that they can make fun of other people.

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    1. Supposedly, bullies are insecure, but when their actions are successful, I suspect that they become more secure and enjoy their power.

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  20. This one really hit home.

    I was often the target of bullies throughout my elementary, middle school and, occasionally, my high school years. I was mocked, taunted, and teased by my classmates because A) I was fat, B) I had good grades and was a respectful, studious individual and C) I didn't like my classmates' music and clothing styles (I much preferred listening to Phil Collins over Eminem, anyway).

    I was even mocked for liking French! When it comes to other people's stupidity, you'll discover that the descending cavern housing it is infinite and bottomless.

    I remember that my father (who always wanted a boy) began to teach me how to fight back, to which I was a bit wary because I try to avoid physical confrontations at all costs. Still, it seems that some people only speak a language of violence to understand another person's viewpoint.

    I have never forgotten my bullies, but I'm certain that they have forgotten about me. That being said, I paid no heed to their brutish words and persevered with following my interests (mainly, writing, learning French, living in France and travelling).

    I like to imagine that my former bullies peaked in high school and continue to relive the glory years of their adolescence instead of making a better name of themselves in adulthood.

    -Barb

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    1. I suspect a lot of those bullies end up as alcoholic trailer trash.

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    2. Living well (and in France no less) is the best revenge!

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  21. And I'm sure the Hurricane is a much better person having survived withstanding such horrid people.

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    1. Yes, our experiences make us who we are. Her career is in a field dominated by men. She's very good at standing up for herself.

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  22. My junior high years were the worst. Picked on all the time. I'm totally hypersensitive to anything Peanut tells about kids at her school. 4th grade and the mean girls are already establishing themselves! Crazy!!!

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    1. If Peanut and her peers are "Tweens," then watch out for RA, relational aggression. Mean girls--aka Poison Pals, Frenemies—are renowned for RA, and they gossip, tease, and control in order to increase their social standing in a group.
      Preschoolers and even adults engage in RA. Sounds sexist, but female excel at RA. Males not so much. Guys use their fists rather n their words.

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    2. I'm sure that's true about female v. male. The girls attacked The Hurricane with words. The boys were physically aggressive.

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