“Schools’ Inconsistently-Enforced Policies on Bullying Continue it, Supporting Offenders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

School bullying has become more of a major issue these days due to the extent of some of it that has led to serious injuries and/or suicides of student victims.  My own LinkedIn group, ‘People Against Retaliation and Bullying’ focuses on bullying and retaliation, the many ways in which children and adults bully each other, and the many unnecessary, tragic suicides – called ‘bullicides’ – of many young people.  😦

All one has to do is to search for “student suicides” and/or “bullicides” online, and the names, photos, and stories of many young people are provided of those who have killed themselves due to bullying.  Students such as Phoebe Prince, Rachel Ehmke, Jessica Laney, Felicia Garcia, Joshua Pacheco, Kristina Calco, and Jared High took their own lives due to bullying.  A website by Christopher Burgess includes an article titled, “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide,” found at http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/ .  😦

And, there are so many more who are bullied, repeatedly in school, including my own child.  My brother and I were bullied when we were in school, my parents were bullied when they were in school, and my own child has been bullied in school.  Because my child is very good and kind, and is considerate of others’ feelings, I find that he tends to be bullied even more, not only by his peers, but by adults, as well.

Fairly recently, in a meeting with several school employees at a particular school regarding a young student, one teacher informed me that everyone experiences a certain amount of bullying, that we all have experienced it.  My question is why is she so accepting of it?  Why is she so tolerant of it?  What if one of her students committed suicide due to bullying?  Why does she – and others – allow it to continue?  To me, these attitudes about bullying are unacceptable, and I can, therefore, provide an explanation for why bullying occurs and why it continues.

Bullying is nothing less than psychological violence by one or more people toward one or more others.  It appears to me that children – and adults – who are insecure about themselves and/or others have a need to bully, harass, degrade, and/or otherwise put others down.  Why?  Because it raises them up!  Putting others down makes them feel good!  They have absolutely no regard or consideration for the manner in which their words and/or actions hurt their targets and victims.  They have not been taught to have regard or consideration for others’ feelings, values, perspectives, needs.  They are selfish and insecure, and seek to demean and devalue others out of their own flawed egos.

When my own child is bullied by others – including peers and adults – I have repeatedly told him that others act in such a manner because they have a problem.  This is truly what I believe – that they do, in fact, have the problem.  And, sadly, often when kids bully other kids – or when adults bully other adults – it becomes like a gang mentality in which the bully enlists other bullies to bully the victim.  It has happened to me, it has happened to my child.

Even so, the bullies have no idea of the damage and pain they have caused their targets and victims.  They have absolutely no clue, and they truly believe that they have done no wrong, even going so far as to deny or lie about their injurious words and/or actions.  Time and again, I have interacted with school principals and school teachers who have denied the truth – to my face – in order to save their own skin.  Heaven forbid they are not always professional and/or exceptional.  Would it not be better to acknowledge the issues, and deal proactively with the problems, solving them and making improvements?  How can bullies see that there are any problems when they are, in fact, bullies themselves?  This is a big root of the issue.

I am personally aware of a couple of recent issues related to bullying of a youngster who is close to me.  In one situation, a peer bully repeatedly taunted and pestered his target to look at a picture in a book of which the target was afraid.  The target has a phobia of the creature that was pictured in the book.  The target told the bully, repeatedly, that he did not want to see the book or the picture.  The bully forced the target to look at the picture by placing the book in front of him.  The bully then stated to the target that he (the target) could do anything he wanted to the book.  Therefore, the target scribbled, lightly in pencil over the picture of the creature in the book of which he has a phobia. 

The bully not only misled the target, but also betrayed him by informing their teacher that the target had defaced his book.  When the target tried to explain the situation to the teacher, the teacher did not listen.  Instead, the teacher sent the target to the principal’s office, where the target (who has outstanding behavior, I might add) was issued a lengthy detention of 45 minutes (which is also a greater amount of time than school policy!) for the situation.  When the target attempted to explain what occurred to the assistant administrator who issued the consequences, she also did not listen to him.  In addition, the target was required to write an apology letter to the bully. 

This, by the way, was the second instance in which the particular bully instigated a situation that caused a reaction by the target, causing the target to be blamed and receive consequences, including the severe consequences of the lengthy detention.  The target felt so hurt, sad, and betrayed by the actions of everyone involved that he no longer wanted to go to school, and worse, which I will not comment on here. 

However, this is a perfect example of bullying, victim-blaming, and how others’ refusal to consider and account for the entire situation causes repeatedly-targeted children to feel sad, hopeless, betrayed, and unsupported.  Such lacks of consideration, compassion, and understanding are unnecessary; and I find that they are generally lacking to an even greater extent when the teacher’s son is the bully and/or a teacher’s children attend the school in which she teaches.

In another example of bullying experienced by someone close to me, a boy and his friend approached another boy and some girls on the playground at recess.  The two boys simply wanted to play with the others.  The bully repeatedly physically pushed the target on several places on his body, including his back, chest, and arm.  The target yelled at the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target’s friend supported the target in telling the bully to stop, but the bully didn’t stop.  The target, therefore, became so upset that he ran away from the bully.

When the situation was investigated by the teachers of the students involved, based on the report to them by a parent of the target, it was confirmed by the students that what was reported was what occurred.  However, rather than the teacher(s) sending the bully to the principal’s office and/or even documenting any disciplinary consequences toward the bully, they (the teachers) left it up to the children to come up with their own solution!  Does this situation scream of unfairness?  Does it obviously reflect inconsistency in policy?  Does it show a lack of understanding and sensitivity toward the feelings of the victim?  I answer, “Yes” to each of those questions.

What ended up happening is that, indeed, the bully and the target where given the responsibility by their teachers to devise their own solution.  The boys decided to write apology letters to each other – the one boy for repeatedly pushing the other boy, and the second boy for yelling at the other boy to stop pushing him!  Can you believe this?!  So, not only has the target been bullied, but he has been revictimized by having to write his own apology letter to the bully for standing up for himself!  Further, no official disciplinary documentation of any sort was made regarding the bully who did all of the pushing on the other boy!  Therefore, the teachers have reflected that this sort of situation is entirely acceptable and tolerable, and even worse, they supported the victim being revictimized rather than fair, consistent justice occurring in the matter.  This situation was not taken seriously, nor handled effectively, especially in regard to the target.

This is exactly how bullying among school students goes potentially “unnoticed” and unresolved.  This is exactly how bullying among students continues.  This is exactly how students such as those who are bullied become even more reluctant to inform on their peers – and, after awhile, actually do not inform against their peers – for bullying them – when they (the victims, themselves) are blamed and/or revictimized, and/or no effective solution or official documentation is made about the bullying they experienced. 

This type of bullying on a repeated basis by a student’s peers, teachers, and/or administrators is exactly what causes targets to believe that they are not valued, unsupported, hated, and to believe that they are better off dead.  Sadly, the bullies still believe they are doing no wrong.  They have no consideration or regard for the feelings of the victim.  Even after students actually kill themselves, they often still believe that they have done no wrong and no harm. 

I wish we had schools in which everyone was kind to each other.  I wish we had schools in which everyone could just be friends.  I wish that everyone could be more kind, compassionate, understanding, considerate, and sensitive toward each other.  Repeated bullying, including hurtful words by a child’s peers and authority figures in their lives, critically harms the developing egos of many youngsters and youth.  Such repeated bullying and the refusal of others to understand, consider, and/or take seriously it’s negative effects does cause youngsters and youth to kill themselves. 

Increased positive change is needed in order to stop bullying.  Let us not become tolerant and accepting of bullying or bullicide.  Let us take a stand against it, requiring sensitivity training of our school teachers and administrators.  Let us teach children and youth to respect, accept, and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences.  Let us find joy and growth in diversity.  Let us stomp out bullying and bullicide by raising the bar of understanding, compassion, consideration, and sensitivity for everyone.  Let us not revictimize the victims.  Let us not support the offenders and their bullying words and actions.  The time is now to open our eyes to bullying and it’s harmful effects, or more will be lost to this unnecessary social tragedy. 😦

References:

Christopher Burgess.  “Bullying: The 34 we Lost in 2010 to Bullycide.”  http://www.burgessct.com/2011/02/bullying-rip/.  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Helen Pow.  “‘I can’t.  I’m done.  I give up:’  Bullied teen jumps to her death in front of train as schoolmates look on in horror just days after harrowing tweet.”  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223133/Felicia-Garcia-suicide-Bullied-teen-jumps-death-train-schoolmates-look-horror-just-days-harrowing-tweet.html .  Mail Online (October 25, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“In Memory of Jared High.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Jessica Alaney.  “R.I.P. Jessica Laney.”  http://www.bullyville.com/?page=story&id=5735 .  Bullyville.com (December 11, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Michelle Calco.  “Kristina’s Story.”  http://www.jaredstory.com/kristina.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Rachel Emkhe, 13 Year Old Minnesota Student, Commits Suicide.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/rachel-ehmke-13-year-old-_n_1501143.html .  Huffington Post. com (May 8, 2012).  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

Sarah Schuch.  “Parents blame bullying for son’s suicide: Linden High School junior remembered for love of theater.”  http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2012/12/parents_blame_bullying_for_son.html .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince .  Retrieved on February 16, 2013.

“What is a True Friend?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What is a true friend?  What makes a person be a true friend to another?  There are many qualities of a friend that people may categorize as causing someone to be a true friend, and some people’s characteristics of a true friend may differ from others.  There are many qualities of what makes a true friend for me that I would like to share.

Firstly, a true friend likes, respects, and appreciates you for who you are.  A true friend is supportive, understanding, encouraging, and honest, and is not unnecessarily led or influenced by others in their opinions, decisions, and judgments about you.  A true friend sees the whole picture, not just what’s on the surface.  A true friend seeks to know and understand you, to be sensitive to you.  A true friend is there for you, encouraging you to be true to yourself, to help and protect yourself, to be your best, to improve yourself – your inner self.  A true friend knows you, seeks to know you, and appreciates what they know about you.  A true friend is always a friend, regardless of the issue or situation.

Next, true friends are those who can listen to and hear you out on any subject.  Sometimes, in providing others with certain information about ourselves, we are seeking to know whether or not we can fully trust and confide in another person.  Most people are uncomfortable with information with which they cannot cope, whether it is information about a topic that causes discomfort to them, or whether it is just plain a topic that they cannot handle or put up a wall against.  A true friend can take in all information and remain supportive and understanding because such information may lead to something better, a deeper relationship and more trusting relationship, a confidence in the other person that one can share anything with them, any issue, any detail, without them shutting you out or turning you away.

Sometimes, just when you believe you have found a true friend, someone on whom you can count, confide, and trust, you discover completely the opposite about that person.  It is particularly painful in those for whom one cares or loves, such as family members, close friends, or those others with whom one has a close emotional and/or spiritual connection to discover that they are not a true friend.  One may discover that they are led or blinded by their own discomforts, biases, judgments, beliefs, and/or the pressures of others and even the institutions that they may represent.  They are incapable of being a true friend when they have sight, but cannot see; when they have eyes, but no vision; when they are bound to their own discomforts, and are unable and unwilling to see the bigger picture; when they are a puppet to the rules and policies of the institutions that they represent, yet they don’t realize it, and are being led astray.

At other times, however, one may discover that they indeed, have found and maintained a true friend.  There are at least a half-dozen people throughout my life whom I would consider as true friends, those with whom I can share anything, and time and time again, they have responded to me positively, supportively, and encouragingly.  They appreciate and support me for who I am.  They reflect the care about me that I would like to think that I similarly do for them.  They help me to realize and be myself.  They open doors for me rather than shut them.  They break down walls and barriers for me rather than create them.  They are those whose actions have continually and regularly surpassed those of others in wanting, doing, and assisting in the best for others.  They are true friends.

I am so appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends!  It seems that those people, similarly to myself, who are true friends and whom I consider to be true friends, have the same characteristics.  We are warm, kind, understanding, sensitive, honest, supportive, encouraging, intelligent, confident, and assertive.  We want the best for ourselves and others, and to bring out the best in ourselves and others.  We are people who are helpful, rather than harmful or destructive.  

True friends also bring and seek to bring important issues to others’ attention and awareness in order to effect positive change, improvement, and enhancement in our lives and those of others.  We are concerned for the welfare and well-being of ourselves and others, and we always seek and strive to achieve and accomplish that with our honesty, sincerity, and genuineness.  Leaders and public figures such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi are those whom I would consider to be a true friend to others on an even greater level than a close, personal true friend.

Sadly, too often, however, many people feel threatened by those positive qualities and characteristics that I previously described.  They may feel threatened due to their own insecurities and/or discomforts, shut us out, and refuse to listen to or hear us.  There may be something much greater at stake for the good of many others, yet when we are shut out, overlooked, denied, disrespected, discredited, or worse, it is they who have shown themselves of being untrustworthy and perhaps lacking in character. 

In those situations, one cannot count on that person to be a true friend, and must either seek the support and consult of someone else or rely on oneself.  I think this reflects that many people see only what they want to see, and not necessarily what is reality.  Too often, people are content to see only what is on the surface, and not ask questions, not dig deeper, and thus, they miss out on enjoying more meaningful and satisfying relationships with each other.

By being followers, such people are also not being leaders.  Leaders must be open to all information, all sides of an issue, all sides of a situation that they may not have even considered.  They must ask questions and seek to discover, not necessarily believing all that they see on the surface as deeper issues may be discovered that end up being for everyone’s benefit.  It is so sad to me that so many shut themselves out to the deeper issues, close themselves off due to their own discomforts and insecurities, fall short of potentially making situations, policies, and understandings of issues better for others rather than potentially worse. 

It is especially sad and disappointing to me when individuals who represent organizations or institutions shut out others, particularly when it is part of their job to be open to others.  One cannot speak with others who will not listen.  One cannot convince others of a different perspective when they have already made a decision to shut you out.  If you cannot trust a person to be open about hearing or considering one serious issue, there is no sense in presenting other important issues.  They think they are right and you are wrong; they think their way is perfect and your way is flawed.  This situation is potentially damaging and diminishing for everyone, and they may not even realize it. 

For how many years, decades, and lifetimes do people maintain sensitive or personal information all due to the fact that someone shut them out and would not listen to them due to the discomforts and/or insecurities of the other?  This is a perfect example of how individuals such as Jerry Sandusky are able to continue their damage and destruction upon others, when people don’t ask enough questions, when too many people don’t listen, when people shut each other out, when people choose to be blind rather than use their vision, regardless of the consequences. 

There are other situations in which red flags appeared prior to particular tragedies, yet those individuals who may have potentially stopped the situations from occurring either did not act or did not behave in a way that protected and saved others from harm.  Regarding the recent tragedy of senseless killings and injuries at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by James Holmes, here is another situation when potential blindness of others failed to protect and save lives.  And, further, in situations in which child sexual abuse – or similar abuses of power – by Catholic clergy is covered up by male church leaders such as Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, one wonders what male leaders, if any, within the Catholic Church can be trusted?

A true friend, therefore, is also someone in whom one can confide their most sensitive issues (of course, as long as those issues are all legal, moral, and ethical), and will find that the friend keeps their confidence.  One finds that another is not a true friend in confiding their most sensitive and painful issues to another when that person shares those issues with others, especially to those who thereby unnecessarily misunderstand, misconstrue, and misjudge them because of it.

Someone is definitely your enemy if they do not have your best interests at heart.  Someone who incorrectly shares sensitive or confidential information without knowing the whole picture or all the facts, thereby damaging you, is definitely not a friend, but an enemy.  Those who are very direct about it are easy to identify, however there are also those whom I characterize as wolves in sheep’s clothing who take in sensitive information, twist it around, and use it to harm you.  We must all be especially cautious and aware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Throughout my life, there have been many of those, from whom I still feel and experience some of the damaging effects today.

There are few people in one’s life, therefore, whom they may consider to be a true friend.  A true friend, after all, is extremely hard to find.  A true friend is even harder to maintain.  Even more difficult to experience is the friend who turns into an enemy, a friend who by their own discomforts, insecurities, or feelings of being threatened by information that they don’t want to hear – or which information may be biased or incorrect to begin with – puts up a wall against you and shuts you out.  I feel sympathy and pray for those people who are missing out on developing a richer and more full relationship with others, simply by refusing to be more open to and honest with others. 

Importantly therefore, one must be very thankful for those people in their lives who have truly shown themselves to be true friends.  It is also important to remember to show one’s appreciation for their true friends.  Don’t take them for granted as they may be few and far between.  Are you a true friend?  And, how have you behaved as a true friend toward someone lately?