Bullying has been all over the news recently. The main cause has been a rash of suicides by teenagers who were bullied for being gay or being perceived as gay. It’s been troubling reading all these stories. On one hand I connect personally with a lot of the articles. I grew up unpopular, not for being gay but just different. On the other hand I never experienced extreme feelings of depression or suicide. I’ve never had any desire to harm myself. In addition I read about some of the physical abuse these kids take, some on a daily basis , and it really is shocking. I got in my share of fights and dealt with lots of verbal abuse but I never went to school scared of a certain group of kids.
The response to all this media attention has been a glut of anti-bullying laws across the country. This is great. Here I want to offer what I think is one major cause and enabler of bullying. Hopefully by verbalizing it adults, teachers, coaches and other leaders will be more aware about seeing and dealing with bullying in their communities.
For many teachers and leaders in my life growing up I was just a big question mark. I wasn’t fat or stupid. I didn’t look different. I talked a bit differently but not in a significant way. I was good at sports. And yet for the most part, outside of Christian events, I was almost invariably on the outside looking in. I remember hearing a teacher discuss to another in 8th grade that, “the kids just don’t seem to like him.” The overwhelming sense I got from leaders in my life was of resignation and indifference. This indifference is where bullying has the potential to grow into the tragedies we have been seeing. In almost every case I read there is some point where for once an adult actually sees the bullying taking place, yet instead of helping the victim or punishing the perpetrators, nothing is done. “The boy needs to toughen up.” “Some kids just don’t fit in.” This is often the breaking point for many kids. They come to believe adults won’t help them and so they retract and internalize until they can no longer take it.
I thankfully never had a severe breaking point. Church, sports, and family gave me more than enough respite from my crappy social life. I’ m also not asking adults to become our overprotective nannies, watching over us 24 hours a day. All I’m saying is if you see bullying or some other form of abuse, stop it. Don’t ignore it or shrug it away. Step in and use it as a teachable moment for both parties. If more adults in our communities do this I think bullying and the tragedies resulting from it will invariably go down. Stopping bullies wouldn’t have made me cool or popular but it would have made my day-to-day life that much better and given me a healthier psyche growing up. Some kids today need that, a lot more than even I did.