Monday, October 3, 2011

Bullying: Gotta Nip It In The Bud

 When I was in sixth grade, there was a girl in school that decided I was someone she could pick on. My parents had moved my sisters and I to a new neighborhood from another part of town and I was new to this middle school.

This girl was taller than me, and definitely tougher than me. She was in my homeroom class and liked talking trash using vulgar language. For about three days straight, during the beginning of our last class, she’d approach my desk and taunt me.

“Que? Te crees muy chingona? “(What? You think you’re real tough?) “I can beat you up. Come on. A chingazos.” (Spanish Slang for “Let’s have some blows”). I was five feet tall, pretty skinny, had a bad hair cut and wore white, polka-dotted yellow bell-bottom pants. I was far from looking tough.

I couldn’t figure out what I had done to her and would politely and, somewhat scared, refuse her invitation to fight. The bell would ring and she’d go to her seat. The class would end and she’d throw in one last verbal jab as she’d walk out of the classroom to go home, repeating her desire to have blows with me.“ A chingazos,”she'd say as she looked me up and down. My line of defense was simply to ignore her. But I couldn’t ignore the anxiety she was causing me.

If you asked me why I didn’t tell anyone, I couldn’t give you a straight answer. Fear? Yes, perhaps of being labeled a tattletale or for being weak for not standing up for myself. One thing I did know is that I wanted her to stop bothering me. I knew what I had to do. But I was afraid. On the third day of this bullying, I became more fed up than afraid. Like clockwork, she approached my desk and once again extended her invitation to go at it “a chingazos”.  

This time with heart racing and a composed face I responded, “Orale. A chingazos.” (You’re on. Let’s fight.) “ I’ll meet you behind the portables after school,” I said as tough as I could sound. For a second she looked taken aback, then she put on her tough game face and accepted my challenge. “Orale,” she replied, and walked back to her desk. For the rest of the class period I was shaking in my boots but also psyching myself up to do what I had to do. I had to put a stop to her bullying me.

The school bell rang marking the end of class and what was to be the end of my anxiety. I slowly walked to the back of the school portables feeling the anger building inside me for having to do this. By the time I got to the designated spot I was as ready to brawl as my too-tall bully. I put my books on the ground and waited with clinched fists and still a little afraid.  After about 15 minutes I realized she was not going to show up. I waited a little longer then I picked up my books and walked away feeling very relieved and baffled at her no-show. The following day she walked right past my desk minus the taunts. Over the years we became friendly and traveled in the same social circle. My lesson then and now is that you gotta nip it in the bud. The longer this bad behavior lasts, the more power you give it. That was my personal solution to bullying. Did my teacher see what was going on right in his own classroom? I don’t know. But he should have. 

Much of the bullying that goes on in schools happens in the hallways. There should be an assigned teacher in every hallway wearing a big orange patrol belt that reads “Bully Patrol” In big black letters. They should walk up and down the corridors and pluck out any student who is bullying another and right there and then give them the walk of shame straight to the principal’s office for swift punishment. I am aware that the problem is much more complex than this but it seems that schools are putting the onus on the bullied kids. These victims are tasked with having to go and report the incident but who’s listening?

Jamey Rodemeyer was a 14-year-old high school student in buffalo, NY who took his own life because he wasn’t being heard. These are his words from an “It Gets Better” campaign, Youtube video he created.

“ They taunt me in the hallways. And I thought I could never escape it.” In his blog he wrote.  “I always say how bullied I am but no one listens. What do I have to do so people will listen?”

My question is: why didn’t the teachers see this happening in the hallways? Where are the parents of these bullies? If he’s telling someone, why does he feel the only solution is suicide? Somehow we are not providing the proper solution for this pandemic problem.

Here’s another example of a well-intended rule that sends mixed signals. I have a friend whose son was being harassed by another student during a physical education class. The verbal back and forth between the two boys went on for several minutes without teacher intervention, until the aggressor got physical and the other student hit back in self-defense. The school has a zero tolerance for violence. This means both boys were suspended for 10 days. Where’s the justice in that? In the “real world” everyone has his or her day in court. The victim presents his or her case of self-defense, and a judge or jury will weigh the evidence and apply the proper punishment to the aggressor once the case if proven.

In the case of the two boys, a self-defense argument was not allowed. Both were guilty. What other kid is gonna want to defend another from being bullied if the consequences are 10 days of suspension on his or her record for trying to do good?  There’s too much red tape and too much political correctness for a problem that has become so pandemic there is now a word for it, Bullycide”. Every seven seconds someone is being bullied. Shame on the bullies and shame on the grownups for not moving fast enough to solve this deadly problem. If the best we can do is tell bullied kids to wait until it “gets better,” these young victims are going to keep losing hope.

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