Bullying is frequently in the headlines as it was in today’s Boston Globe. The common response is to protect and pity the victims and adult intervention.
Anti-bullying legislation hopes to safeguard youth against hard-hearted mean children
I propose a radical alternative to bullying: empower the victims.
1. As a victim of bullying for five years because I was one of a few white students in a black student body in the 1970s), I learned to take preventative action. I protested loudly during class when bullies threatened. I became acutely aware of my personal safety and stayed out of dangerous situations as much as possible. I out-smarted the bullies and developed an assertive walk. I found friends — other misfits. I stayed safe most of the time. I coped. I became stronger, more confident and willing to take risks.
2. My son Ian said when a known bully picked on him on the high school late bus, “I punched him in the face, hard. He left me alone after that.” Ian stood up for himself and it worked. If a child is small in statue, s/he can take martial arts classes and learn self-defense. S/he can teach the aggressors that bullying doesn’t pay.
3. It’s impossible to legislate good behavior. Examples of this abound. Start with affirmative action, violence against women and the Clean Air Act. It’s nearly impossible to legislate good behavior.
A Montessori teacher quoted in the Globe reports that 5-year-olds start saying, ”You’re not my best friend anymore. I’m not inviting you to my birthday party.”
If parents report such incidents to school authorities, does this mean schools must insure the girl has friends?
Who wants to go to a bully’s birthday party? Instead, let’s empower the victim to speak up and say, “I don’t want to go to your stupid birthday party!” and find other friends. We can’t all be in the popular crowd. The state can’t legislate it and schools can’t enforce it.
What we can do is the following — in order of efficacy.
1. Provide assertiveness training to victims: teach them to walk and talk confidently, to be acutely aware of their surroundings, to speak up loudly when bullies prey, to ask for help, and in extreme situations, change classes or schools.
2. Bullying often starts at home.Parents can create a positive parenting plan to avoid using size and strength to get children to behave. Parents can limit the kind of media their children watch and monitor texting and emails. Parents can eliminate the child’s access to electronics to control behavior.
3. Work together to create school environments that condone condemn bullying.
Empowering the victims is an unconventional approach and the most sensible and sustainable. Otherwise children can become victims for life.