Call me insensitive. Call me clueless.
But why has bullying suddenly become a national crisis worthy of nonstop attention? Did kids just now start being mean to each other?
A new documentary called Bullying raises the collective frenzy even more about the centuries-old practice. It follows Alex, a 12-year-old boy from a small Georgia town, who experiences hellish harassment and threats from classmates.
I haven’t seen the film, but I’m sure it’s heart-wrenching. I might cry and wonder how kids anywhere can be so cruel to one another.
But I’d also wonder this: How does bullying go on and on without an adult intervening? Is the bullying victim afraid to speak up?
I wouldn’t say I was ever bullied as a child. But I was mildly teased from time to time like most kids. If the teasing had escalated to abuse, I have little doubt I would have told a teacher or my parents.
And they would have confronted the bully and perhaps even his parents. I believe the bullying would have quickly stopped. Worst case: I or the bully would have been sent to another campus to break the pattern of abuse.
How does bullying spiral out of control?
Bullying victims deserve our sympathy, and I don’t want to blame them for not reporting the abuse. But I still wonder why they don’t. Or maybe the bullying victims do complain to teachers, school administrators or parents – and they don’t take action.
I really don’t understand that.
Bullying, although reprehensible, seems like an easy social problem to solve. Someone speaks up, and someone acts. Other childhood problems – such as school dropouts, teen pregnancy and drug abuse – seem far more serious and far more difficult to solve.
I have a 12-year-old son, and I’ve asked him several times if bullying is a problem at his school.
“No, not really,” Connor replies.
I know many other school parents, and no one has raised the issue of bullying to me.
A few months ago, I expressed similar bafflement about the media blitz over bullying. I said then – and I’ll say again – I know bullying exists.
In some cases, victims have tragically taken their lives. But bullying has become such a trendy issue that we’ve created an oppressed class of bullying victims. Instead, we need to teach kids they can take action against bullying – or any other problem – in a variety of ways.
If the bullying victim reports the abuse to adults and gets no action, he should be told he can take one final action: Round up some tough guys – even grownups – and beat the crap out of the bully. I’m serious. Yes, ideally, we don’t want to teach kids to combat violence with violence.
But I think self-empowerment – even it involves fighting back – is a better message to kids than telling them to silently take the abuse.
I hope the innumerable bullying initiatives involving the federal government, nonprofit organizations and education groups pay off. I’d love to see an end to kids picking on kids.
But we’ll never wipe out bullying – any more than we’ll stop young people from driving recklessly or having sex.
Let’s empower bullying victims to be their own advocate – not heap sympathy upon them for a problem I doubt has gotten worse.
Unfortunately, parents and school officials sometimes focus too many resources on relatively minor problems. Bullying is one of those second- or third-tier problems. Let’s pour more effort into increasing the graduation rate, improving reading scores and encouraging kids to attend college. Then, once those problems are under control, we’ll take a look at bullying.