Friday, June 22, 2012

Bullying.

For some reason, this topic is chasing me around the net today, so I thought I'd say a few words.

I was bullied as a child. I was bullied for needing to wear glasses (contacts were not even an option for me until very recently). I was bullied for being shy and socially awkward, for being smart and bookish. On top of that I didn't always follow gender norms.

I even remember being teased for refusing to perm my hair.

I was bullied from nursery school (kindergarten) until I got to college (where I was able to pick and choose who I associated with and finally escape it).

On top of that, I experienced what I call 'coach bullying' from a riding instructor. As so often happens with coach bullying, her behavior was enabled by parents - my father to this DAY believes it's okay to beat horses because their 'skins are so thick they don't really feel it' because she told him that to get him to encourage me to join in with the animal abuse. Coach bullying occurs in all sports and can be very serious - there's a fine line between a tough coach and a bully that is crossed too often.

Right now, we have an epidemic of bullying of GLBT youth, many of whom are driven to suicide. Bullying is serious. It can literally make children sick - bullied kids get migraines, upset stomachs and may even, in extreme cases, develop permanent mental problems.

Adults can also be bullied - by supervisors, by coworkers, and one could argue that domestic violence is only a step away from bullying. (In fact, the school bully when I was in elementary school, who's ass I handed to him one day, was a victim of domestic violence and likely ended up a perpetrator of it).

And sometimes adults are bullied by kids, such as the now high profile case of the bus monitor who was verbally abused by students.

So. What can we do about it?

What made me think about this today is the American Junior Paint Horse Association forcing children to sign an anti-bullying agreement to get their show numbers. This is not likely to be an effective approach, although escorting bullies out of the show ring for 'unsportsmanlike behavior' very publicly might have an impact.

What can we do about it?

We can stop punishing the victims of bullying. We can stop sending the message of 'If you fight back, they walk away and you get suspended'.

We can stop, as parents, enabling the 'tough coach' who is doing nothing but scream at and belittle the young athletes.

We can work towards, as a society, making it not okay to be bigoted against anyone, regardless of the reasons.

None of that will stop bullying altogether, but...

We can help those kids. But passing out meaningless contracts isn't going to do it. Zero tolerance isn't going to do it, because it makes kids afraid to seek help.

And we have to stop thinking of bullying as just a normal thing, or just 'they said some mean things to you'. It's far more painful than that, and both victims and perpetrators are damaged by it.