Bullies: Dealing With It.

No really, this is.

Some time ago I went on a tangent on this topic on my Twitter account. I know, I know, I go on many, many tangents, rants, and waves of spam on there constantly. Still, the topic of bullying deserves to be brought back and talked about a bit deeper because… Well… I simply feel it deserves it. That’s all.

One of the bigger and more recurring problems that I had to face as a kid were the anti-bullying campaigns. No, not the bullying itself. The bullying itself got me depressed early on. Made me dream of escaping and disappearing forever and always for as long as I can remember. I used to run away from school. I skipped classes. Faked illnesses. Anything so I wouldn’t have to go back to that.

The campaigns against bullying that were going on at the time only served to amplify this. I still remember the one going on when I was a kid to this day. It had a slogan along the lines of “Bullying isn’t a game”, although it was in Dutch, making it “Pesten is geen spelletje.” It featured a kid running away from video game characters trying to kill him. It almost made it look cool, but that wasn’t the main problem. The bullies weren’t the ones playing video games. I was the one who really loved gaming. I was the one being bullied. So in that aspect, the campaign already failed. But there’s a much worse way it failed. And this is a much more common pitfall that bring all these anti-bullying campaigns together.

You’re giving bullies, as well as bullying in general, more attention. Which is gratifying for them. Not only that, the children being bullied don’t like this either. Because when bullying gets more attention, bullying seems more awesome. And when it seems more awesome, and there’s enough reminders in plain view about it, the more they’re going to bully. As if the anti-bullying campaigns simply serve to remind bullies of what their job is.

So wait, we can’t do anything about bullying? Oh, sure we can. The thing is that the right course of action isn’t all that plain to people because it’s not the kind of solution they like to see.

Nine out of ten times kids are being bullied for a reason.

No Vegeta, I don't want to know what the scouter says about the reaction to that one...

If you’re the parent of a bullied child and this offended you, I’m sorry. But my apology doesn’t make this any less true. Now please put those pitchforks and torches down. Besides, do you really need THAT much tar? I like how you brought a bunch of chickens instead of feathers though. Nice touch.

Okay, I got carried away there, so let me reiterate that:

Nine out of ten times kids are being bullied for a reason.

Don’t believe me? Think about it.

Kids are being bullied about things that stand out. Things that are perceived as wrong with them. And the more they get bullied, the more it starts being noticeable that the same chants, lines, teases, and nicknames keep recurring. Now it could be anything. Smell, appearance, hobbies, type or brand of clothing, speech style, habits, it seems almost anything can trigger it.

That’s almost true, but it really isn’t. The real source of bullying is often a lack of self-confidence. An inability to do these things without shame, or inability to connect with other kids in a way they’ll accept that. You could argue about the cases where the problem is a lack of personal hygiene, or their general appearance is the trigger for bullying, but in those cases it still comes down to the confidence. Do you think a child who smells like pee is all that confident about how they smell? They’re generally aware of what’s wrong. Often paranoid about how others will respond to this. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d subconsciously drive themselves to a situation where they will get bullied about it.

Still don’t believe me?

Okay, sure. It’s not an easy thing to accept. Especially not if you have kids. Your kids are amazing, great, and perfect. To you. But not to others. And certainly not to other kids.

Just for one moment think and wonder why problems with bullying don’t stop when they move to a different school. If the problem wasn’t with your kid, then why does it continue when you take out the other kids?

It’s because they’re bringing their problem along with them. Whatever was wrong with them in the previous school, they’re taking it with them when they go to a different school.

The only way the bullying is ever going to end is if they’d find a way to deal with their problems. It’s an inner conflict, and they’re going to have to make their steps themselves. That doesn’t mean you can’t help them move in the right direction though. Working on their confidence is one thing. Start building on their confidence, their feeling of self-worth, try to make them understand why they’re being bullied without making them feel guilty about it.

Whatever you do, don’t make them move to a different school because of the bullies. Don’t demonize the bullies for their actions in front of your kids. Don’t have a long talk with the teacher about how he should punish the bullies either, because if the teacher follows up on that it’ll only piss off the bullies giving them yet another reason to keep up the bullying. Taking any of these actions only give the bullies more power, more control, and your child less power, less control.

That’s one of the major issues with bullying. It’s initiated by the bullies. Ends when the bullies end it. Most actions made to prevent it from happening focus on bullies. Most actions taken after the bullying focus on the bullies. The parents in their anger often focus on the bullies. Meanwhile the kid who gets bullied is in the center, ignored. Alienated. They have no power in the situation. No pull. Even by accepting them as a part of, or even the source of, the problem they’d have more power, more pull, more confidence in their standing. They can fight back against the bullies, but they second they do that they do that in a school setting they get punished, simply because it’s easier to blame one kid than blame half of the class. That’s just depressing. It’s not surprising there are plenty of cases of bullying leading to suicide.

What does any of this say about the bullies themselves? I’m afraid it doesn’t really say much about them. Give the kids who are being bullied one shot, one chance, and they’ll turn the tables around and start bullying other kids themselves. Bullying is… I hate saying this, but it’s natural. It’s part of the status quo. To quote a much more brilliant mind than myself, the status quo sucks.

Dr Horrible

Pictrured: A much more brilliant mind.

I know, I’ve got it easy. I’m writing on my blog, lecturing parents on how to raise their children when I don’t have any kids myself. I’m fully aware of that. It’s just that these anti-bullying campaigns piss me off so much. Thanks Lady Gaga.

One last thing: bullying is never going to fully disappear. As painful it is to hear, there’s a reason it’s happening. The only way you could possibly ever end it completely is by having all kids completely the same. Nobody stands out. I don’t think that’s the situation we want.


5 thoughts on “Bullies: Dealing With It.

  1. If you’re being bullied, you’re probably going to get bullied till you leave school, unless drastic measures are taken. As you say, usually it’s a “problem” with the child. Being ginger, fat or foreign, whatever be it.

    And also, getting teachers or whatever involve doesn’t help, either. Try telling my parents that though >.>

    The only way to deal with bullying is to not let it bother you. I was bullied all of secondary school, but instead of getting depressed, I just threw insults right back. Other than the bullies I actually enjoyed school, so I got angry at them, instead of depressed about myself. Get in their face, tell them to fuck off, and although they don’t stop, it makes you feel better, or at least it did me.

    The single worst piece of advise you can give, however, is to tell your kid to fight back. “Bullies are cowards, fight back and they’ll leave you alone!” No, no they won’t. Even if your able to put up a good fight and beat up one bully, they’re not stupid. They know how to wait outside the school gates and kick the crap out of you in a group.

    • Fighting back only gives bullies more gratification and power, and often enough results in teachers punishing the bullied party since it’s easier to blame one kid than an entire class.

  2. Having been through this with more than one kid, I couldn’t disagree more.

    Yes, if your kid has problems that can be helped, you should help them. No, that doesn’t mean bullies will go away if only your child tries hard enough. Particularly if it’s something your kid *can’t* change. (“Just try to limp less, honey.”)

    And yes, it’s natural, but, um, so what? It’s also natural for three-year-olds to pee in their pants, and we teach them not to do that.

    The way you stop bullying is to make it clear to the bullies, and the school system, that either the bullying stops or there will be consequences that will make them regret they got up in the morning. I don’t mean violence. But a school that is serious about stopping bullying can do so.

    Anecdote time: my oldest kid, who has ASD, was being bullied in middle school. She reacted to bullying very strongly. The other kids learned something very quickly: if you picked on the ‘weird kid’, she would throw something heavy at your head (and she had good aim). And then you would get suspended for a week, and a referral given to the police, while the ‘weird kid’ was given a finger-wagging and told to go home until the next day.

    You’d be amazing at how quickly the ‘natural’ behavior stopped. Kids bully because adults permit and sometimes encourage it. Period.

    • I hadn’t thought of it that way. Although in your oldest kid’s case, she got lucky. If I fought back, the teachers would more often than not look at me in terms of punishment, making it even more satisfying for the bullies.

      Then again they did it behind their backs, so teachers didn’t believe I was being bullied most of the time.

      • She was lucky in that bullying is taken a lot more seriously nowadays than it was when you and I were kids. Also, this school district had a huge issue with bullying several years ago and the clue ship really landed.

        Where she didn’t get lucky is that I learned pretty early on that disproportionate response is the way you shut down bullies. (In middle school, my best friend beat one particularly annoying bully to within an inch of the hospital. They left us alone after that. )There are ways to apply that in adult life that don’t actually require beating the crap out of people. I’m sure there were a couple of teachers at that school who didn’t care about the bullying. A letter to the school supervisor carefully larded with veiled legal threats took care of that right quick.

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