The school day can seem interminable at times. Ditto the school year. How far away can graduation look?
And if you’re being bullied in any way at school, doesn’t an escape seem even more light years away? When you’re being bullied and there seems no end in sight, the hopelessness can be suffocating.
The truth, as we adults know, is that time actually passes very quickly. We also know that at their core, bullies are cowards. And we know that, like Biff in the Back to the Future movies, the school bully will probably end up waxing our cars someday.
But how do you convince a middle-schooler or high-schooler of that? All they really know is their world, and it’s closing in on them.
A recent suicide of a middle schooler in Columbia County was blamed by some on bullying. Others say there’s not enough evidence. But even if there’s a chance that it was a contributing factor, how horrifying and sad. And how maddening that a young person with a life full of unknowable promise might resort to what is tragically a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.
Old notions of “horse play” and “boys will be boys” don’t wash anymore. They never should have. Assault is assault, battery is battery, and threats are still crimes. School grounds don’t grant thugs amnesty.
Even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a crime, no child should have to endure chronic intimidation in school or elsewhere.
Nor is bullying healthy for even the perpetrator. That kind of approach to others won’t serve him well in adult life, and could very well get him into deep trouble. And young men need to learn how to treat young ladies.
Bullying also can be a learned behavior – and the bully might actually be a victim at home.
The website stopbullying.gov – a joint project of the federal departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice – notes that bullies themselves are at elevated risk of future substance abuse, getting into criminal trouble and becoming abusers.
The damage to victims is much more extensive and worrisome. Stopbullying.gov lists the effects as:
• Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
• Health complaints
• Decreased academic achievement – GPA and standardized test scores – and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
And, of course, there’s the risk that a youth who has been terrorized might someday lash out: Stopbullying.gov says that, “In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.”
As for any old claims that bullying is only human nature, we utterly disagree. Plenty of humans never give bullying the first thought. Besides, the pecking order, herd-culling, alpha-male assertion of dominance that seems to underlie much of bullying is also present in the animal world. By definition, that can’t explain the human being or human nature.
Our job is to rise above those instincts and
gravitate toward the higher aspects of what it is to be human.
While archaic excuses for bullying are happily falling by the wayside, the Internet and social media have only made our job of protecting kids that much more difficult. “Cyberbullying” is an entirely new frontier – and we’ve seen tragic cases in which victims have, indeed, taken their own lives as a result.
The challenge for today’s parents is therefore heightened: Your children may not be coming home with black eyes and bruises; if they’re being bullied online, the injuries don’t show. Experts recommend open and honest discussion with kids, and monitoring of their online and social media activities.
Despite a stubborn stigma, bullying can happen to anyone. Augusta-area Congressman John Barrow acknowledged at a CSRA Save Our Students one-year celebration last August that he was bullied as a youth.
Just look at him now. He’s one of the leaders of the strongest nation on Earth.
The woman behind the nonprofit CSRA Save Our Students, Annettea Mills – a kindergarten teacher at Gracewood Elementary in Augusta – says she’s $800 short of incorporating the area’s first bullying academy. Plans are for an eight-week course that the bullier, bullied and even bystander are sent to. The curriculum’s been picked out; the building is being looked for.
Mills lost her 19-year-old nephew, James Sterling “Jamie” Gillette Jr., in March 2011 in a shooting during a fight-filled party at the Belair Conference Center in Columbia County where he worked.
While the death appears accidental, and not directly related to bullying, the victim’s and shooter’s families have come together under CSRA SOS to work to reduce violence – starting with bullying. They’ll have a public rally at Cross Creek High School at 6 p.m. Feb. 28.
If two families separated
by a fatal shooting can come
together to stop bullying, so can we.