We realize this is a long post but it's a subject we both feel strongly about.
Bullying has become somewhat of a hot topic in the news lately. I have mixed feelings about this only because of the events that have brought it to the forefront, most notably the death of Amanda Todd, the fifteen year old girl who took her life after being repeatedly harassed by "friends" and classmates. It's sad it takes extreme situations like this to bring bullying to the public eye, and there have been too many people like her who saw no other way out. But it has opened dialogue, which I think can only be a good thing.
Growing up I faced several bullies. I never went looking for these people. In early grade school there was a kid in my neighbourhood whom I referred to as my 'enemy', I can't remember much about him but he was intimidating and I often felt I had to look over my shoulder. Bullying was never talked about back then, I don't think the term even existed the way it applies to kids today. Although it was upsetting at times, in my mind it was something everyone just goes through. When I was in my early teens my family moved to a new neighbourhood, before we were even unpacked I met two more boys who decided to intimidate the new kid. I had a problem with them in the beginning but it didn't seem to last long. The school I went to at that time was Catholic with a French school on the same grounds (having two next to each other is only asking for trouble). One of the kids from the French school began picking on me and it was at this time I began fighting back, we had a few scraps and I got the better of him. I figured that was the end of it until the following day when he showed up with another kid as his 'bodyguard'. They both harassed me on and off for the rest of the year.
In high school, once more I had run-ins with another bully. Joe was just an angry kid and seemed happiest when he was throwing his weight around with some of the students. We had a few shoving matches in the hall, it never developed into a fistfight but it did dampen my enthusiasm for school. It all came to a head in Chemistry class one day when he began spitting rolled up bits of paper at me through a straw. I gave him a few looks but he kept doing it. Finally I jumped up and yelled, "Fuck off Joe!!" as loud as I could. My teacher told me to settle down and I remember saying to her, "If you won't do anything about it I will".
Fast forward thirty years.
After running my blog for some time I began getting bold comments, all seemingly from the same anonymous person. Initially I laughed them off, I have a high tolerance for anything crude or sexual and found them funny at first. But when this person began making references to my wife the tone changed and it was clear their intent was to harass. My first reaction was to call them on it but I knew it would only make the situation worse. Instead I changed my comments to moderated and said nothing, either in response to them or by post. Eventually the comments stopped.
What I've experienced in my life is nothing compared to what many children face. It's hard enough being harassed by one or more people, but when kids don't have the support of adults in their lives who are supposed to look out for them it only adds to their feeling of desperation. I don't think there's one easy solution to the problem, but I believe it starts with awareness. Bullying is either more common these days or we're just hearing about it more, either way it's not something that "just happens" and we can't simply accept it as "kids being kids". Bullying is a form of mental, physical and/or emotional abuse and it's devastating to people of all ages who endure it, especially youth in their formative years whose self-perception is based largely on acceptance from their peers.
I think one of our biggest problems is that basic assumption that if we ignore it, it'll go away. Amanda Todd tried to do this, she tried to run away from it, start over but with the advent of Social Media like Facebook, she couldn't ignore it, she couldn't run away. One of the things that saddens me the most is that what she experienced is no different than what a good chunk of teens face in high school. If this was a workplace the bullying would be called harassment. So why does it become simplified into nothing more than a childhood experience that everyone must go through when it involves the exact same behaviours, (if not worse) on school grounds.
What bothers me the most I think, is that no one does anything till people die. I was going to say, till people get hurt, but seeing as bullying is inherently violent people are hurt by it every day. I think that at the end of the day it's not about some grand gesture or the government creating legislations, it's about learning to talk to youth about what it means to treat other people with respect. Parents need to be communicative with their children, praise them when they've done something positive for another person and not only reprimand them but talk to them when they've harmed (either verbally or physically) another person. Schools need to have strong anti-bullying policies that are reinforced by the teachers. One of the hardest things to face as a school aged youth, is going to an authority figure who's supposed to help you and does nothing.
I remember going to my guidance counsellor to tell her that this boy in the locker beside me wouldn't let me into mine between classes. She literally said she found that shocking "Brandon is such a nice young man though!" So I took it upon myself to move lockers when she wouldn't let me. The bullying didn't stop there, I was called fat and ugly every single day of my life until around grade 10 and I still believe many of those words today. The teachers would see this and literally do nothing. So rather than ignoring the bullying that happens directly under their noses they need to have school programs that talk about the long term effects of bullying. That again has both reward and punishment systems to promote good behaviours.
We were hoping to post this anti-bullying flash mob video at the top but there were issues embedding it, so here's a link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhYyAa0VnyY Definitely worth watching!