JUST THINKING: Time for bully culture to change

Just Thinking | Julie Stafford

I know kids can be mean and throw harsh verbal barbs in an attempt to knock their peers down a notch. Actually, it’s almost expected. This kind of behavior has been going on since the beginning of time, in all cultures.

I also know kids on the fringe often join in the “fun,” most likely in hopes they’ll avoid becoming a target for these bullies. Plus, they might garner a few laughs.

Then there are the kids who stand back and watch the cruelty, but don’t have enough confidence or courage to step in and do the right thing. Believe me, I get it. This takes guts.

A lot of adults I’ve talked with since moving to Greenville brush stories about bullying off as typical teenage behavior. They say things like “The term bullying is being overused” and “It’s just part of being a teenager” and “It makes you a stronger person.”

I say bologna.

My coworkers will tell you that my least favorite answer to questions about why we do this or that at the newspaper is “we’ve always done it that way.” As a matter of fact, I actually take that as a challenge to change the pattern.

Same goes for bullying. School officials will tell you it’s a problem in our schools today and it’s gotten more vicious. I’ve seen it first hand. Maybe it’s easy for some parents to ignore — your child seems to be popular, gets good grades, is generally happy and active and involved. If you’re lucky, you don’t hear about it at home because your child just doesn’t let peer criticism bother them. Maybe, if you’re lucky, they’re not the bullied or the bystander. Hopefully they’re not the bully. But it’s kind of like cancer — you don’t really want to think about it … until your child is diagnosed.

I’m suggesting we all should think about it, talk about it, figure out what we as a community can do about it. The other day I heard a story about a mom who confronted the parent of a child who had beaten her daughter up on the way home from school. That bully’s mom was proud of her daughter’s behavior because she raised her to be “scrappy.” Since when did this become OK?

I’m here to tell you that there are kids who struggle to get through every single day because of what other kids say to them, because of the things that are quite literally thrown at them in class and the halls, because of how their “friends’” behavior changes when they get in a crowd.

Some of these kids who are constantly harassed are lucky enough to realize they need to talk about what’s done to them and confide in their families. Doesn’t make it easier to get through the day or to figure out your place in an already difficult time of your life. But at least gives them an outlet and a possibility for brainstorming ways to manage their day.

But what about all those kids who go home to an empty household, who are too embarrassed by what has been said to them and want to manage being bullied on their own, whose parents work long hours and don’t honestly have the energy to listen?

Just because this has forever been a part of our culture or because you don’t hear your child talk about bullying at home, doesn’t mean we, as a community, can’t stand up and say, “It’s not OK and we’re here to change the climate.” Maybe we won’t be able to change the bully’s behavior. But what if we could teach our kids to stand up for the bullied? To step in when they know a situation isn’t right? And what if we could help the bullied build their confidence to stand up for themselves and realize they deserve better?

I say it is possible.

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