There's been a lot in the news lately about a rash of child suicides over bullying, mostly regarding being gay. I don't want to discount the horror of that kind of hateful harassment, but there's not always a discernable reason for why a child gets bullied. All educators, therapists, parents and survivors can agree on is that the kids being bullied are seen as different somehow, and that the kids doing the bullying also have some insecurities they are trying to hide.
For bullying to have finally become portrayed as wrong, and sometimes even criminal is a step I never thought would happen in my lifetime. The bullies that chose me when I was a child were ignored by teachers and administrators, the problem was always with me, and how I must be taunting them by standing out, by getting their attention. A bully then was just an aggressive kid, and if I could only learn to shrink back into the shadows and not be so weird and glaringly annoying, one teacher actually told me, maybe they wouldn't notice me anymore. Maybe if I just ignored them, instead of getting angry and fighting back, they would find me less entertaining and would move on to someone else.
Not so much.
Because it wasn't about stopping the bullying, according to those teachers and administrators. Bullies will be bullies, just like boys will be boys and play in the mud, according to the system then, there just wasn't much you could do about mean kids. It was not about stopping the hate, or redirecting the behavior of the kids being aggressively mean. It was every kid for herself, just get away from their laserbeam, and someone else can become their victim.
I am hopeful that my children will not know the feeling of inescapable doom* that comes with seeing a particular kid walking toward them in the hall, when no one else is around to bear witness. So far, they've been luckier than I in that way. I am pleased to see their elementary school establish anti-bullying guidelines, internal communication/marketing campaigns, and special small group discussions with the counselor which are positioned as an honor to be invited to participate. I am not so pleased that the kids that I know to be bullies are not necessarily participating in these programs. And I know that the programs are not enough. It is not enough until the parents of the mean kids are called out (if they exist), that attention is focused on the insecurities of those children, and solving their problems. It is not enough for educators and counselors to focus action steps of avoidance and reporting toward victims, rather than bullies themselves.
But it is a start. A step in the right direction. I believe the most important thing I can do as a parent to avoid my children becoming a target is listen to them, without judgment. To know who the problem kids are on the bus, in the classrooms, and in the hallways, and to help them devise realistic solutions to dealing with these kids. I can be present up at the school, volunteering, building rapport with teachers and administrators. It is not every child for themselves anymore.
Department of Education Anti-bullying programs
* My elementary school bully grew up to become a school psychologist. Now that's irony, folks.