Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Controversial Topic of Bullying

A person very close to me witnessed an event in a school cafeteria.  I am not going to mention the school this happened in or the persons involved to keep them protected. The event really upset the adult that witnessed, it upset me as well.  The event also prompted me to research what schools Missouri schools define as bullying.

The majority of the schools defined bullying in the following matter: Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or a group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. It can be physical, verbal, sexual, or psychological. It can involve direct attacks (hitting, threatening or intimidating, malicious teasing or taunting, name-calling, making sexual remarks, stealing or damaging property) or more subtle, indirect attacks (spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject or exclude someone).

Teasing is defined as to make fun of, irritate, or attempt to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way with persistent petty distractions, trifling raillery, or other annoyance, often in sport.

Most of my research on the school districts also stated that teasing becomes bullying when it is repetitive or when there is a conscious intent to hurt another child. It can be verbal bullying (making threats, name-calling), psychological bullying (excluding children, spreading rumors), or physical bullying (hitting, pushing, taking a child's possessions). 

The scene setting is a middle school cafeteria.  A really anxious child went to sit at their lunch table, but all the seats were taken and it was really loud, so the child went to a different table.  The different table happened to have children who were a year older.  The anxious child sat at the table and started covering their ears while munching on Cheerios for comfort. 

The older children started making fun saying, “Put your hands down! Quit covering your ears! Why do you eat Cheerios all the time?  Why do you talk like that?” all the while laughing as they continued to make fun. 
An adult noticed this interaction and went over asking the children to stop.

The child who was being made fun off told the older children, “I am zipping my lips and not talking to you”. 

The older children shouted back, “Well then how are you going to eat your Cheerios” as they giggled and continued to make fun of him.  The children obviously didn't listen to the adult.  The child who was being made fun continued as though nothing was going on, eating his Cheerios and holding his hands over his ears.

The adult asked them to stop again and then reported this to the school principle and their boss.  The boss said, “You can’t change the world and these kids aren't bullying that child yet”. 

The adult started crying, taken off guard to this response; it was personal to this adult because they have a relative who has special needs similar to the child who was being made fun of.  It appears to this boss that bullying is only when physical abuse is occurring.  The adult and I chatted back and forth over this for a while.   The adult was distraught and felt the child who was being made fun of didn't even realize that was going on which made their heart sink further. 

I thanked the adult on behalf of other special needs parents for speaking up, reporting the incident, and for being a hero, at least in my eyes.  The adult is most likely right in feeling that child didn't understand what was going on around them.  The adult was so upset worried that the parents of this child will never know what happened.  My son is non-verbal; he can’t tell me what happens at school.  Even though he is only 3 and in pre-school I ask him every day, “How was school today, buddy? Did you learn and play with your friends? Did you see Aidan today?”  He always smiles at me and answers, “Yah” with a giggle.  Aidan is his classmate and is one of his friends…so I know he will respond to that.  My hope is when he is older he will understand what I am asking him and will be able to answer. 

I feel there is a huge misconception on what bullying is, in the incident above the boss told the witness that it wasn't bullying because there wasn't anything physical.  Maybe I am wrong and don't understand what bullying is, but I strongly feel this child was bullied, but others might argue that the child was just teased. Personally I think this staff at this school should go through a bullying training to better understand that bullying is not just physical.  I would even attend a bully training to better understand it myself.  I also read in my research that it depends how the child (victim) reports the incident, but what if the child doesn't know how to report the incident or they aren’t capable of reporting the incident? Other kids who witness bullying events can report them and that is awesome, but what if they don’t understand what bullying is either?  I saw a lot of great articles were schools as early as elementary age participate in bully training, but it shouldn't just fall on the schools to teach the children, parents need to step up to.  I know, I am preaching to the choir here..   I know so many parents who read this will either be extremely upset like I was and some that just think kids can be so cruel and just blow it off as it were nothing.  What do you think…was this child being teased or being bullied?

Growing up I was verbally and physically bullied.  During elementary age while walking to the bus stop a neighbor a few doors down would push and shove me, threaten to kill me if I told my mom, and on one occasion slapped me across the face.   My mom saw that happen and had a very long talk with her.  After that the abuse stopped and that girl never spoke to me again.  During middle school age I was teased for being a tom boy and not wearing makeup.  A group of girls would ask me if I knew what a dyke was and the follow up with the question asking me if I was one.  This happened for days until another student stood up and told the girls to stop, from that day forward those girls never asked me again.  The verbal abuse did not bother or scar me, maybe because of the experience I had at a younger age, or the way my mom thought me that sometimes it better to turn the other cheek and stick and stones.  I always felt you can make fun of me all you want, but you can’t make fun of my friends or my family.  The only fist fight I had growing up was with a boy who made fun of my brother and my childhood best friend.  The fight was quick, the boy hit me in the face and I fell to the ground.  When I stood back up, the boy took off running.  My friends said it was because I had a look of rage like I was going to rip his head off and I was screaming like a demon, perhaps I levitated off the ground because the group of boys looked really scared.  All I remember is being so mad that tears were streaming down my face.  That boy never teased my brother or friend again, so that was all that mattered to me.

To all those people who stand up to bullies, thank you so much for being so courageous…  please don’t stop standing up for others because it makes a difference.    

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