Earlier this week, authors Mandy Roth and Yasmine Galenorn put out a call to all authors to speak out against bullying. The ugly subject raised its head yet again in my country after 15 year old Amanda Todd, of Vancouver B.C. killed herself after being relentlessly bullied. Unfortunately Amanda is not alone. Over 300 children in Canada kill themselves each yet because of bullying.
Last year another teen, Jamie Hubley, committed suicide too. Rick Mercer, who is famous for his weekly rants on his own television show up here, did a rant about teen suicide and bullying and in my humble opinion put the blame squarely where it belonged and turned it back on us all, saying every single one of us, every teacher, every student, every adult has to step up to the plate. Though he’s talking about bullying of the LGBT community, I love the point he makes in this video about us all taking responsibility and stopping bullying in its tracks. It’s time for everyone to say “enough”. No more kids should feel that suicide is the only way to stop the bullying. So when I saw Mandy and Yasmine put out the call, I didn’t waste any time in responding.
When I sent my youngest son to school for kindergarten, he was a bubbly, enthusiastic, outgoing child who thought of everyone as his friend. I felt safe sending him to that school–his big brother was happy there and better yet, his school had such an excellent reputation both for their academic record and their discipline, people would pull their children from the other local school and enroll them in his school until the school was over-capacity.
Then when he was in grade one, the principal retired and a new administration was brought in. Things rapidly changed.
The first time I became aware of the bullying, he’d come home from school with his brand new glasses broken and bruises around his eyes where he’d been punched in the face. I was horrified to learn that this incident had happened in the classroom, in front of the teacher. Yes, right in front of the teacher. Who did nothing. I didn’t even get a phone call. I was up there the next morning only to hear the teacher try to shrug it off and say “kids will be kids.” Then the verbal abuse started along with the physical abuse. What did the administration do? They’d send him to the time out room along with the other child who had hit him. The administration’s reasoning? They need to work it out between them. Yeah, I didn’t get it either.
My husband and I had meeting after meeting with the administration who kept trying to “blame the victim” saying he needed to learn to stand up for himself and I was “hovering too much.”
His big brother looked out for him as much as he could, but it didn’t protect him from the taunts in the classroom. He withdrew and started becoming clingy or sick to his stomach at the thought of going to school. So we tried meeting with the parents of several of the worst offenders, only to be shrugged off yet again. We discussed moving him to another school in the area, except some of the kids who were bullying him in the neighborhood went to that school too. Plus we’d recently bought our first house and couldn’t afford to move, and since I didn’t own a car, I couldn’t easily get him to another school further away. And since I worked and my paycheque helped put food on the table, I couldn’t afford to home school him either. Though it made paying the bills extremely difficult, I changed my hours and worked part-time. That left me free to walk up to the school during recess to help patrol the schoolyard–I’d discovered that the yard duty teacher would come out from the staff room, take one circuit around the yard and then disappear inside again, only to be told off by the administration, that I was “smothering my son and he needed to learn to deal with it himself”, along with the mind-blowing “there was no bullying going on in the school yard.” My jaw dropped on that one. You see, not fifteen minutes before that statement was made to me, a little boy had been roughed up by two others and pushed into a chain link fence behind one of the portables. His face had been cut by a piece of wire right between the eyes. Since I was the only adult around, other kids brought him to me. I took him to the office and found…no one. The janitor and I took care of that little boy until the principal and the office staff drove back from their jaunt out to a local coffee shop.
Yet I still didn’t feel I had any choice in removing him from that school. Especially since my mother, who worked at a school in a different school board, repeated exactly the same things they said to me: he has to learn how to deal with it himself; it’ll toughen him up; he’s a boy, boys will be boys. I kept hoping it would get better. That the bully would move away. That something, anything, would change.
Then one day he clung to me, crying, and saying that he didn’t want to live anymore.
He was eight. Eight! And my beautiful son was ready to stop living.
Luckily around that time, my husband got hired by another firm for a substantial raise and we could finally afford to move to a new school district. He thrived in that new school—and I started to see the child I’d known return, that spark of his laughter in his eye brighten again. I wish we could have done it earlier and saved him all that grief. Because although he’s regained some of his confidence, it has changed him. He’s not so outgoing anymore. He’s much more guarded.
Now I’m older, now I’ve realized how much power I have against the school system, I would do things differently. I would have taken my fight beyond the school administration, beyond the school trustee and even beyond the board. I would have taken him out of that school after I didn’t get satisfaction on that first meeting. What we would have done from there, I’m not sure. But I wish I’d had the confidence to stand up to them then, to have protected him the way I didn’t feel I could back then. I wish I’d had websites like Bullying.org or BullyingCanada.ca back then.
And I hate to say he was lucky, but in a way he was. He’s lucky because the bullying didn’t resume when students from his old school reappeared in his life because everyone from all the schools from that board attends the same high school. He’s also lucky because when he was being bullied, the internet was only just starting so he didn’t have to worry about Facebook, or Twitter or cyberattacks.
The internet allows people to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, but from what I’ve seen online, these kids are quite proud of bullying others, even if they don’t know the person. Especially if they don’t know the person. Troll doesn’t even begin to describe them. And what’s even more abhorrent is the parents and adults who heap more blame on the victim.
Approximately one in 10 children have bullied others and as many as 25% of children in grades four to six have been bullied. A 2004 study published in the medical Journal of Pediatrics found that about one in seven Canadian children aged 11 to 16 are victims of bullying. Studies have found bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in the classroom. ~ Source BullyingCanada.ca
What can you do to help? Even if you’re not from Canada, you can go to Bullying.org for more information on what you can do in your community, or even just at home. They have some excellent PDFs you can download about what bullying is, and what it isn’t. Here are few that I’ve downloaded to save you a trip, but really, take the time to go to their site, there is a lot of information about what you can do for your child, or other people’s children. For instance, did you know in 2002 a British survey found that one in four youths between 11 and 19 years old, had been threatened via their computers or cell phones, including death threats. One in four! And that was back in 2002, before Facebook, before Twitter.
Information you can find on the Bullying.org site:
Bystanders have the power to help stop bullying.
·Bystanders (other kids watching) are present most of the time (85%) when there is a bully episode on the playground or in the classroom.
·Most kids feel uncomfortable witnessing bullying, but very few intervene.
·When peers step in; the bullying stops within ten seconds 57% of the time
There are lots of other pamphlets you can download to your computer that will help you talk with your child about if they’re being bullied or seeing someone else bullied.