Last year I read a story about a man who lives in Florida. His young daughter had some physical and mental problems, but she attended the local elementary school. Over a period of time some of the kids in her school found it amusing to pick on this little girl.
Then one day, the kids on the bus were particularly cruel to this girl and her father got on the bus and yelled at these kids after the girl pointed them out. The man was arrested and charged with a host of violations.
I was struck by this story from two sides. As a police officer, I understand that we cannot allow adults to board a school bus and yell, scream and threaten any child. Based on that understanding, it was clear that his arrest appears to be appropriate. He lost his cool and reacted very badly.
The other side of me, the father side, felt some type of empathy with this man. His daughter was being picked on, or “bullied” continuously and the school system did nothing about it. He was wrong to get on the bus and verbally attack the kids who attacked his daughter, no question about that. But I get the sense he was trying to protect his child.
This story highlights a larger problem, the problem of the bully.
Many school systems now actively train their teachers and teachers' aides to identify any type of bullying and put a stop to it. I know in our area, most of the school districts have some type of training on this topic. Unfortunately bullying still goes on.
It would be easy to simply write this off. We all knew a bully in school, the guy or girl that taunted the skinny kid, or the poor kid, or the kids who were different in whatever way, or the girl that didn’t have the nicest clothes.
For many of us, as long as the bully wasn’t targeting us, we let it go, grateful we were not on the receiving end of the bully’s rage. We lived through it. It’s a part of life, it’ll make you tougher, right? I know some people believe that. I don’t agree.
I remember watching a girl in the sixth grade that was tormented by quite a few of the kids in the school. Her name was Kelly. At first it was just mean names they called her, then she was shunned, then it was a shove here and there.
I didn’t see any difference between her and any of the other girls in the school. She seemed normal enough. When they started in on her she would try her best to defend herself from the horrible things they said to her. But the more she defended her self, the worse it got.
She told the teachers about it, then it got vicious. The taunting was constant, the comments about her parents, her clothes, her hair. The poor thing spent at least a part of every day in tears, alone.
To my eternal shame I saw this happen and did nothing for a long time. Over that year, the way she was treated made me sick. Finally one day, I could not remain silent. I had to pull together every bit of courage my 11-year-old soul could muster. As the group was ripping into her again, I said meekly, “Why don’t you leave her alone?"
My attempt at stopping the attack was met with taunts to me about how much l must love her, how I must be a freak lover. This experience was painful and frightening and it didn’t help very much. The kids still picked on her and she ran away crying everyday.
I wished I was stronger, but I was a kid. The bullies had strength in numbers and they were relentless. That year ended and we went off for summer vacation. In September, Kelly didn’t come back to school and we never saw her again. I guess she moved away or went to a private school. I can’t imagine that the scars left by the bullies went away any time soon. I know her torment still haunts me to this day.
The reality of the bully and bullying is that it does leave scars that last a lifetime. As an adult I know there must have been more kids who were just as upset by the way Kelly was treated as I was. It is not part of our human nature to see an innocent person attacked and think it's OK.
I hope Kelly managed to move on with her life and the bullying became just a painful memory that she was able to live with. I also try to forgive myself for not doing more to help her. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to police work, to protect the innocent and weak.
Many parents have no idea how their kids behave outside of their direct supervision. Bullying and being a bully is something that happens over time. Parents have to instill in their kids that being a bully is not the thing to do. As adults we have to change our view of bullying as “part of life.”
Children are different, they are trying to find out who they are as people. Some kids do act strange and dress weird and have goofy habits, but making sport out of these innocent children is a tragedy and it is up to all the adults to identify this corrosive behavior and help put a stop to it. After all, who among us has not been the “weird one” at some point in our lives as we tried to find our place in the world.
Let me know what you think. Email me at email@example.com