Bullying, defined by Oxford Languages as to "seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived
as vulnerable)" has been around as long as mankind. I remember with horror, back in the early 60s, our junior high version of social media, the "slam" book. Someone would pass around a spiral notebook with a fellow student's name at the top of the page, and each recipient would (anonymously) write his or her opinion of the person. I don't remember what or if I wrote on those pages, or whether my own name was ever subject to the judgement of a gang of bloodthirsty 13-year-olds, but I do remember thinking the practice was cruel. Fast forward 60 years, and the slam book has morphed into a plethora of social media apps, where kids who would never spew insults to a peer's face feel safe hurling the vilest of verbal arrows into the hearts of their most vulnerable victims. No wonder we find a suicide rate among the young that is steadily trending upward.
And it's not just kids. Daily, we hear news of the most innocent of arguments escalating into vicious beatings; of drivers cut off in traffic grabbing a gun and firing randomly into the car of an absolute stranger; of threats, mocking, and condemnation of others with whom we disagree; of keyboard warriors on social media posting nasty memes and tweets. We've even had a leader of the free world who opening mocked the disabled and bragged about assaulting women!
When we moved to Granbury, Texas, in the fall of 2020, the burning topic on Facebook was mandated masks in school. Parents were foaming at the mouth and issuing threats about this, in my opinion, fairly innocuous practice. Freedom! Liberty! Constitution! Rights! etc. etc. Eventually, the school board caved to the bullying and removed the mandate. Later, I was shocked, and frankly angry, when my 27-year-old granddaughter, who was wearing a mask after visiting her doctor and learning her illness was contagious, told me that while she was waiting for me to pick her up outside the clinic, a man in a passing vehicle called her a nasty name and screamed at her to "take off that f**king mask!" Other issues have since evoked similar outrage among adults, especially concerning the affairs of our school board and administration. In school board meetings, I have personally witnessed a gun-toting citizen threaten the members of the board. I have seen board members and administration called cowardly, evil, unChristian, unpatriotic, stupid, unethical, untrustworthy, and irresponsible. They have been labeled as liberals, socialists, leftists, cheaters, Satan's minions, porn pushers, groomers, criminals, and yes...bullies.
Currently, a family's dissatisfaction with a local middle school's handling of a bullying incident in which their child was a victimized has evoked protests and an even deeper schism between one faction of the community and another. It has blown up into an US vs. THEM political battle, exploited for its usefulness as a talking point in an election. But, to my knowledge, nobody is talking about how to confront bullying in schools, getting to the root of the problem and being PROactive instead of REactive.
Here's my opinion, based on decades of work with kids who were both victims and perpetrators:
Bullying is a systemic problem and as such must be addressed by all stakeholders - not just the schools. Until members of the community (preferably leaders or their appointees), parents, schools, and churches come together to make an organized, concerted effort to educate, confront, and eradicate it, bullying will continue to flourish. It's not that hard to make positive change. There are websites, organizations, and even governmental entities with all kinds of ideas to address bullying. I was always impressed with the road signs posted around town in my former home. They read simply, BE KIND, but that simple directive reminded me each day of the importance of extending my hand to both strangers and friends, not slapping them in the face for saying or doing something that rubbed me the wrong way. Children in school and Sunday school, who are taught this simple lesson from pre-school through graduation, take those lessons home with them. Has your child ever chided you for cursing the driver in front of you? Mine has.
The problem with pursuing a unified, systematic anti-bullying program, especially for the schools in our conservative community, is the pushback from those who claim that elements of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and SEL (social-emotional learning) are means of grooming and "indoctrinating" our kids. But they have no true, clear understanding of these dog-whistle terms or their sister acronym, CRT. I was dumbfounded when I witnessed the opposition and pushback from members of our own school board when the continuing partnership with the nonprofit Community in Schools was introduced. Why? Because they had seen "DEI" on the organization's website. This is a group that partners with families of struggling children, providing tutoring, transportation, counseling, and other needed services to help those children become thriving, successful students. How could that be bad? Most people in this community claim that they are Christians. The very core of Christ's message is the practice of treating others in the manner we would wish to be treated. How ironic.
So, what do we do?
We must do something. Children in our own community have taken their lives due to relentless bullying on social media and in school. We can't ignore the problem. One young life lost is too many. Those who are passionate about the topic must come together, face the issue without excuses, and develop a sound, workable plan. Leadership in the schools must stand firm in their plan of action and ignore, even push back against, the haters. Yes, parents do have rights, but not the right to push their personal beliefs and prejudices to the top of the "to do" agenda, to the detriment of others. Any parent who disagrees has a variety of private, charter, and home schools to choose from.
Bullying is horrendous. As adults, most of us can usually handle bullies efficiently, but children cannot. The most important thing to a child in school is to fit in. The cruelty inflicted by those who exclude and ridicule them leave scars for a lifetime - some even choose to end their lives. It's up to us to make a positive change in our community. Now.