Let’s call bullying something different
Recently I read another news item on abusive behaviour among schoolchildren. There seems to be an online report every week from somewhere on the planet. It’s endless.
This particular article was about the now infamous incident in St. Michael’s College School, a private boys’ school in Toronto. Several students were found guilty of sexual assault on a boy in the locker rooms. (See at very bottom for link to Global News report.)
While reading the article, it occurred to me that perhaps words such as “bullies” or “violence” have been used so often in articles that many people are immune to them. The terms have become as meaningless as other overused words such as “amazing” or “really.”
In order to avoid having readers turn away with glazed eyes from what feels like a re-read of yet another item about school violence, these overused nouns and verbs need to be replaced with a series of different ones. The impact of what we call bullying needs to be kept fresh, because the victims need support. More help may come with more awareness, which means avoiding the risk of the public tuning out.
I believe it would be more effective if schools, as well as newspapers and other media, call out negative behaviours using more specific expressions.
For students committing the bullying acts, how about calling them delinquents, offenders, perpetrators, cowards, malefactors, abusers, committers of crimes, wrongdoers, sadists, culprits, criminals, or murderers (even if indirectly, by causing suicide in despairing victims).
For the behaviour itself, terms such as browbeating, vicious, spiteful, perversion, depravity, cruelty, ruthlessness, coercion, malevolence, debasement, maliciousness, corruption, oppression, derangement, self-centered and so on.
Yes, calling a teen bully a sadist or murderer sounds harsh. But what such students are inflicting is harsh too. If we ask any person who has survived childhood bullying, or look at children who are currently being terrorized by others committing serious physical and/or emotional harm, we’ll understand the lasting trauma that results. It needs to be stopped.
Young tormenters in schools need to be counseled, but also should hear strong definitions such I’ve listed here, to ensure they understand the severity of what they are doing. I think this is a first step, after which, reaching out to find underlying causes for their behaviour is a must. Some may be acting out because of a dysfunctional situation at home, or because they’ve heard or read anti-Semitic or racist comments and believed them. They might be demeaning a disabled peer, because they lack understanding of that disability. Regardless of the reason, they must be prevented from causing damage to the psyches of their victims.
In my opinion, there are too many examples of teachers and administration staff who are either apathetic or afraid of offending anyone. They won’t approach the abusers, because they are reluctant to deal with the complaints and/or denials of the bullies’ parents who, in some cases, are bullies themselves. They don’t want the publicity, because it reflects badly on their school. Many would prefer to look the other way.
On the other side, teachers explain they are not equipped to deal with bullying situations and actually, there is some truth to that. But bullying has been an ongoing problem. Studies have been done, conclusions drawn and recommendations put forward. These proposals include training and behind-the-scenes backup for teachers. This is reasonable. Educators need to know that if they witness and approach students in the process of mistreating one of their peers, they won’t have to worry about being left to face irate parents alone. They need reassurance that management will support them if the bully begins to cause trouble for them. Which means, ultimately, that school administration is responsible for the security of both students and teachers.
Management must take the research seriously, read the recommendations and implement them. They can also refer the bullies to youth development and violence prevention organizations in their neighbourhoods. Such associations give guidance to teenagers who are taking a wrong turn.
I would add that local organizations would likely be the best sources of support, due to the advantage of familiarity and relationship-building with nearby professionals. See my blog on the difference such places can make, here.
I’ve also written previous blogs that detail some solutions for school bullying. Here’s one:
In conclusion, I state that “mollycoddling” school bullies and/or their parents is wrong. Acts of cruelty and sadism in schools must be dealt with firmly and quickly. Protection of targeted children is paramount.