While New York State is doing its best to protect our students with legislation on Cyberbullying, bullying continues on every level in our schools starting as early as kindergarten.
The problem of bullying is systemic, and the complexities of how to respond are often misunderstood. As a society, we need to ask ourselves, who are the bullies? What is bullying? Do children comprehend the dangers?
According to Webster’s dictionary, a bully is defined as someone who habitually badgers or intimidates someone weaker or smaller than them. Unfortunately, for most children, the idea or concept of “bullying” has been put before them as something they shouldn’t do, but they don’t know what it means.
Which behaviors are evident to children as bullying? Can a child determine if someone is weaker than them, psychologically speaking? In the legislation on the floor of the New York State Senate, "Egregious incidents of bullying, both in person and through the use of technology, continue to plague all of our students," the Senate's version of the bill states. "The Legislature recognizes that bullying manifests in many forms and for innumerable reasons ... While the physical wounds may heal, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime."
Here are some examples of bullying experienced firsthand by a child in your local elementary school.
At the beginning of the year, on the bus, one boy taunted her every day saying, “Your mom is so fat.” The girl came off the bus crying daily. Her parents were surprised by the change in her behavior. They told her to ignore the boy. In an effort to ignore the boy, she began to read a book each morning and afternoon. A few days later, a boy from her class spit in the girl’s face. He is the biggest bully at the school. Every teacher knows it. The teacher responded appropriately, but the girl began lowering her eyes, standing back and away from the class group during line ups. Her parents noticed she sat apart from the other children during the “Morning Program.” They coached her to sit with the group. Later in the school year, the two boys conspired and physically pushed the girl off the line up. That same day, one of the girls in the class thought it would be a good idea to ask the other girls not to play with the bullied girl. So, every single child on the playground moved away or walked away from the bullied girl. If they were sitting next to her, they moved away. Then word got around that nobody “should” play with her because she “is a lesbian.”
In these instances, locally, the bullied child was stoic. She didn’t want to stand out or complain. Instead, she asked her mother daily, “Is there something wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?” The parents did their best to assure the child that she is a perfectly normal, healthy and wonderful person. However, how much damage had already been done to her sense of safety? How will this affect her self-worth and self-esteem in the future and for years to come? As the legislation points out, bullied children bear the scars for years to come.
After years of being bullied, a girl in Staten Island became so despondent that she eventually threw herself in front of a bus. Bullied children don’t often know what to do, and the pack of children doing the bullying may not recognize how high the stakes are.
Parents and educators have a responsibility to teach our children the value of human life, that everyone is entitled to a safe environment. Adults have a social obligation to also teach our children exactly what bullying is. To speak of bullying as an abstraction will not help our children to be more empathetic because they don’t know what the word actually means. The idea of bullying becomes a vague notion, something they know they “shouldn’t do,” but without the specifics, kids have no idea what all the fuss is. Who is teaching our children how to behave and how to treat one another?
In the local school, those two boys are still bullying children. How likely is it that they will stop bullying weaker children? Eventually, in the case of the local family, the victim’s parents made the difficult decision to remove her from the district entirely. This girl is going to a private school next year, but her parents felt they had no other recourse. Her mother says, “Because I can’t see how the bullying would improve in this district. Every year, one or two families just leave.” Since this year’s victim is leaving the public school, who will be the new target? Will it be your child?