30 January 2013

On bullies and bullying.

Beautiful Gate has a post up which gives what is supposed to be an official "Warning Signs of a Bully” Checklist.  For the most part it is straight forward, but there are a few points with which I disagree, and one in particular.

____  4.  Is physically larger and stronger than his or her peers.
When I was young, I was physically much larger and stronger than my peers.  In class photos, I am that kids standing in the center of the back row, head and shoulders taller than the rest of the class, like I'd been held back three or four years.  Because of my height, and because of assumptions that are behind this point number four, I had a reputation as a bully.  But in my memories of those years, what I remember mostly is that I was a bullied child, more than a bully.  My tormentors were not the kids who were bigger than me, for there were none.  It was actually the little guys.

I was big and strong, but I was also slow, uncoordinated and sluggish.  I also had a nuclear temper.  The little guys, who were much faster than me, used to take advantage of that.    They would sneak up from behind, then punch me in the back, usually in the kidneys.  I would roar in pain and rage, and take off after them.  They would tear off to the nearest teacher on yard duty, crying out "Miss! Miss! Bear is after me!"  And the teacher would see me lumbering after the student, fists clenched, and often saying something like "I'm gonna get you..!"

"Bear!" the teacher would say.  "Why are you after him? You leave him alone!"

"But he would hit me!" I would say.

"No, Miss, I didn't! I swear it!"

"Of course you didn't," said Miss.  "Do you expect me to believe that he would hit you?  Look at him.  He's only half your size."

Because of my reputation as a bully, cemented at the sight of me chasing little kids across the playground, the teachers never believed me.  I got a few detentions, trips to the Principal's office, and letters home to the parents over that rap.

Was I an angel?  No.  Sadly, I did do some things that eventually merited my reputation.  But that brings me to my second point.  The whole Checklist presupposes a simple dichotomy:  There are the bullies, and there are the bullied.  From my memories, it is rarely that clear cut.

High school is the prime time for bullies and bullying, judging from today's news.  What I remember from my time is a whole bunch of people who treated each other badly, and got treated badly in their turn. People formed groups and pecking order.  Group A treated Group B poorly.  Group B passed it on to Group C, and so on.  It was very rare for there to be a pure bully, and a pure victim.

What is different nowadays?  Why has bulling become so prominent and so constant in the news?  In part I believe it is a typical overreaction of the media.  It happens from time to time that the media jumps into a kind of cycle, and sees everything as part of it.  A school shooting?  bullying.  A teen suicide? bullying.  We now assume that if anything like this happens, bullying is at the core  But is it?

One of the more prominent cases up here in Canada has me a little confused.  A girl of fifteen committed suicide not long ago after being constantly hounded an harassed by someone she had encountered on line a few years earlier.  This person convinced the girl, then thirteen, to take her top off in front of her on line camera, and then saved the pictures and tormented and blackmailed her to the point she killed herself.  The press calls this bullying, but the person involved was a man in his thirties.  I don't think that's a bully.  I believe the correct terms for him are "pedophile" or "ephebophile", "blackmailer," and "felon".

So on the one hand, I believe we are watching an over reaction from the press.  On the other hand, I believe no such thing, for there is one thing that has made bullying far, far worse than it has ever been before, and that is the social media.

Back in my time, sure, school was hell.  You went in, gutted it out, hung with your friends when you could, and went home.  Once home, you were safe.  They couldn't reach you there.  And they couldn't reach you on weekends.  There was bullying, but you had breaks from it.  There were times and places they could not reach.

Not any more.  Kids are wired in all day, every day, everywhere they go, which means the bullies can get to them at any time.  There is no longer a safe time from the bullies.  There is no longer a safe place.    It makes sense that kids would be choosing suicide.  It's the only way to get away from it.  We have willinly accepted and embraced the instruments of our own torture, and we will not be parted from them.

The bully of today thrives on one trait not found on the list, and that quality is this: They own a computer.  But that's everyone, minus the Amish.

I believe the situation is bad, but, because I don't trust the press reports completely, I don't know how bad it is.  Like I said, back in my time, almost everyone was bullied, and almost everyone was, sooner or later, a bully.  We survived.  Computers have increased our power to be the jerks we are.  They also work, regardless of size and strength.  Like the speed of my young tormentors allowing them to get around my superior strength, computers mean that anyone-anyone at all- can make someone else's life a sheer hell, and anyone else can return the favour.


Patience said...

The problem with all the anti bullying campaigns is that firstly; the school goes all overkill and the kids tune it out; like the anti smoking stuff.(if it really worked; why are there all these kids smoking in front of middle and high schools?) Secondly; the school tends to focus on the most politically loud group complaining (ie the gays) and so the rhetoric would have you believe that gays are the only targets of bullies and the only kids who need support. (forgotten are the kids suffering from depression, bulimia, other mental or physical health issues) And finally; you're right; kids are too wired in but I have no answers for that one as it's insidious and schools just keep going more high tech. Our oldest girls are leaving this area; and I for one am happy mine is going on to fresh pastures.

mary333 said...

I agree that size has little to do with bullying - I'm not sure why they placed that on the list. I do remember a lot of bullying at my schools when I was young too. The bullying today is far worse than the bullying back then I think. My best friend's daughter had to finish out her senior year of high school with a tutor because she was bullied so badly. The onslaught was constant and neither the school nor the police could stop it. My friend almost had to move. It can get that bad. You make a good point kids being too wired in - this is probably part of the problem.

I remember reading about the young teenager in Canada and I see the point you make here about pedophilia but wasn't she also tormented by classmates?

They start tackling this problem at a young age today. My daughter is nine and we have an entire folder of papers on bullying here. I guess they hope to prevent much of the bullying by teaching them about it at a young age. Whether it will help or not, I don't know.

The first couple of years of high school my friend's daughter was bullied by a small group of kids but later others joined in and it became too much for her to cope with. The police were called into the matter when she was threatened with a knife twice. Unfortunately, this didn't stop it. Once she left school the bullying gradually died down.