The Bully Breakdown

May 27, 2014

While recovering from a major grass allergy attack I finally found time to watch the documentary “Bully” on Netflix.  The film documents the stories of various kids and their families from around the country who are dealing with bullies. Tragically, some of the kids had gone to the extreme to escape their physical and physiological torment and had taken their own lives.  Their parents and friends search for answers in educational systems that are clearly toxic.

I was struck by how some of the schools resembled prisons with the metal detectors and police presence. As I watched the bullying happen on camera I seethed at the bully but found myself incredulous at the complacency of the present adults. They would look the other way or intervene only to blame the victim for allowing themselves to be the victim.

AND THIS IS ALL ON CAMERA! Not a hidden camera, mind you, a camera standing right next to them. They obviously signed a video release giving the filmmakers permission to use their likeness in the film since some faces are blurred in the movie indicating that they did not sign. You would think that people would be on their best behavior when a camera is present; but, then again we have a decade of reality TV to prove that theory wrong. What troubles me is that these kids, bus drivers and “educators” are so vapid as to not realize the consequences of their actions being captured on video. I shudder to imagine what they do when they know no one is looking.

Now, I am no expert on child psychology, or the psychology of immature and ineffectual administrators, and I realize this topic has been wrung out over and over; but, while watching the movie I was able to see a bigger picture.  You see, one of my kids was a target of bullying from various kids a couple of years ago. It was not extreme but it was a huge distraction from my child’s education and our day to day lives for a few weeks.  Through this film, “Bully”, I was able to see the problem from the perspective of a child in this day and age.

In one scene in the film, a dad asks his son why he “lets” them bully him and it just breaks your heart because the dad has no idea what this kid goes through everyday.  It hit me hard because I kinda did the same thing at first. Thinking back to the “good ole days” I told my son to tell them to stop bothering him, ignore them or if push came to shove punch them right in the face when they were not expecting it. That will show them.

Nice idea for the Karate Kid but things are more complicated in the real world. Finally, my wife and I talked to the principal, the vice principal and the teachers involved. We are lucky to have a professional staff at our school and they quickly cut the problem out by the roots.  The key was that we gave detailed information about the incidents and indicated that we were not going to take any bullshit.  School should be an environment for learning not a Hunger Games arena.  The school agreed and the problem was solved by telling the offending children AND their parents that their behavior was NOT going to be tolerated.  It is key that you get as many witnesses as possible to submit their stories and do it on a regular basis so that the cases against the bullies build up and it not a big surprise, all of a sudden, when other kids get their pants pulled down in the playground and they get pushed over.

In the film, an ineffectual school administrator roams the halls and frets that “boys will be boys” and “things happen” and it is “tough” to do anything about bullying. She comes late to each confrontation and then blames the victim.  She defends an equally ineffectual bus driver who lets punching, kicking and stabbing with pencils happen on her bus because it is “tough” to catch everything; even though, it is clear in the film that the bus driver knows exactly what is going on by peering sheepishly in the large mirror over her seat. Not to mention that this is all being recorded by a camera ON THE BUS in full view of everyone!

It is clear that the kids know that no one is going to do anything to defend the targets of bullying so they all jump in and even cheer on the bullies.  THIS IS THE PROBLEM. The kids need to know the rules and the limits.

Kids are smart and if there are rules they know how to push the limits.  Yes, the job of teachers and administrators is challenging but they are making it harder on themselves by not nipping this problem in the bud. Parents are also responsible to teach their own children not to bully and punish them accordingly if they do from pre-school to the playground.

I am amazed at what parents let their kids do without a word of correction. We know some kids who are known to be a problem from time to time for their parents and peers but they are not problems for us. You know why? They know that we won’t take their crap. And they behave. You have to watch them; but, they behave.

No one wants to watch. No one wants to see. They’d rather pretend everything is fine.  Well, everything is not fine unless you do your share. All adults present must do their share then the kids will feel protected. They will feel watched. And the kids: they WANT to be seen. That’s what they want. ATTENTION.

I have learned that kids are smarter than most adults realize and also, that they just want respect. We have some kids on our block who require attention and whose parents let them roam the neighborhood a bit freer and later than I would like and sometimes I have to tell them to, yes, stop smashing windows in the abandoned, foreclosed properties on our block or stop ding-dong and ditching or move out of the way when a car approaches in the street.  But, when I see them on the street and they appear as though they are playing nicely I look them in the eye and say, “Hey, how’s it going?”

They are usually surprised that I am extending a friendly greeting and rarely make eye contact but when they do, I can see that they enjoy being seen but you can almost feel the guilt of their last trespass flicker behind their eyes. As if I was about to accuse them of something.  And when they say, “Good.” I say “Good” back and hope they know that I see them, respect them and hope they do the same to everyone they meet.

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