My boyfriend, Matt, is considering starting his own blog and wanted to test out some of his pieces first, so I offered to publish them on Sometimes I Wear Tiaras and see what the feedback is like. This is the first of many articles to come – his critical take on current world issues. Comment or like to share your opinions – thanks!
A Treatise from the Bullied
by Matthew Kugler
Bullying is widely considered an epidemic here in the United States, specifically in our elementary and middle schools. As a kid who was born in the early 90’s, as the awareness to bullying was starting to grow, I have watched the anti-bullying movement develop around me. The bullying epidemic has gotten so bad that when you type “stats on” into Google, the #1 suggested search is “stats on bullying.” The epidemic is real, but the strategy to fix it has to be changed in order to truly affect our children and subsequent generations. Before I delve into the statistics about the anti-bullying movement, let me give you a background of the “bullying” that I experienced growing up.
At the beginning of elementary school, nearly everyone is around the same size. Everyone is young and developing together, until people starts growing, which is when kids start to diverge. Even in first grade, I was one of the smallest kids in the class, always sitting in the front row for class pictures. Because I was so small, bullying was always present in my life, especially once I became a self-declared “nerd.” In first and second grade, I didn’t have many friends, but by third grade I had fully integrated myself into the nerdy kid group. We played our Gameboys under our desks in class and Yu-Gi-Oh during lunch. Needless to say, this geekiness opened the door to a fair amount of ridicule. At this time, there was one kid, Stephen*, who stood out in my life. He had just transferred to our class from a different school, and he was definitely a bully. He pushed people around and was rude and mean to people in the class. One day Stephen decided I was an easy target, and he slapped my Gameboy to the ground. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do, so I ignored him, picked it up, and walked away.
A few days later, Stephen cornered me and tried to get me in a headlock. I panicked, and in a moment of desperation, I bite his arm as hard as I could (I definitely wasn’t strong enough to push him off in any other way). He screamed and ran to the teacher saying that I bit him out of nowhere, but she knew better. However, instead of having the school administrators intervene, facilitating some program about how to deal with bullies, or telling us to make sure to tell an adult if we were getting bullied, our teacher left us to learn and deal with this situation on our own. Starting the next day, my three close friends and I shut Stephen out entirely. We didn’t look in his direction, wouldn’t speak to him if he addressed us, and started telling everyone to do the same. By the end of the week the rest of the class joined in too, and when everyone in the class was no longer speaking to Stephen, he lost all his power. A bully is only effective if the rest of society lets them be; if the collective won’t accept them as a bully, they’ll stop being one. My class and I learned this lesson at age 10, all because the administration decided to make us deal with the situation on our own. A month later, Stephen was a different person altogether and he eventually stopped acting like a jerk. By the end of the year, my friends and I even let him play Yu-Gi-Oh with us.
In middle school, kids start hitting puberty at different times, creating a diverse mix of body types among the students. Some kids look like adults by age 12, while others lag significantly behind. I was one of the latter; I was only 4’6’’, weighed less than 80 pounds soaking wet, and had the muscle definition of a twig. I was 100% the nerdy kid who was just asking to be bullied, and it didn’t even take a full week for someone to notice. This guy was about a foot taller than me and outweighed me by about 100 pounds; he challenged me to fight him right there in the middle of band class/practice. I stared him straight in the face and told him I would fight him in front of everyone if he beat me at a game of chess. Hearing this challenge, the rest of the class watched to see what his reaction would be. With all eyes on him, he lost all his power over me. After that confrontation, we actually became friends and I played him in chess once a week for the rest of our time in middle school (for the record, he never beat me).
Now, with my stories in mind, here is what www.bullyingstatistics.org says about bullying and what should be done to combat it:
“These numbers are too high, and parents and teachers need to do something to stop it. Teens also need to stand together and put an end to bullying. When teens see their peers being bullied, they need to report the incident or get help.”
Things to do to help your child:
That you go, together, to school authorities to see what can be done in terms of mediation, and in terms of increased attention paid on the school grounds.
Encourage the child to avoid the child bully, and seek help from a teacher or trusted adult when necessary.
Practice being assertive and asking the bully to leave the child alone.
In the 1950s, only 2.1 out of every 100,000 adolescents between the ages of 15-19 were committing suicide. The anti-bullying strategies listed above have been in place since the late 1990s when bullying peaked, and resulted in a rate of 11.1 suicides in every 100,000, more than 5 times the number from 1950. Within a few years, the anti-bullying movement was able to reduce this number to 8.1 per 100,000, but the numbers have remained stagnant ever since.
To continue to make progress on reducing bullying, the strategy needs to be reviewed. We need to stop telling our kids that we will solve their problems for them; rather, they need to learn how to solve their own problems. We need to stop making the bully an outcast, because that makes them even more likely to be even more brutal to their victims in the future. We need to encourage our kids to form their own sense of identity, and help them learn that the bully and the bullied are both the same. Both are just kids, trying to learn how to deal with growing up, and helping them to find their collective identity will provide everyone with equal opportunity to be happy. The bully is an outcast just like that nerdy awkward kid, both trying to find who they want to be, wanting to be liked and to find people to share in fun experiences. Once we learn that lesson, we can make progress towards the ultimate goal of reducing the number of kids we have taking their own lives. Instead of fragmenting kids into the bullies and the bullied, we should take action on both sides separately and help them understand each other and work together.
* Name has been changed