Thursday, May 27, 2010


This is 11 year old Joseph Walker-Hoover, of Springfield, MA

In January, a 15-year-old girl from South Hadley, Massachusetts hung herself after being tormented for months by bullies. Phoebe Price was a recent Irish immigrant, and was apparently welcomed to the freedom loving USA, by a bunch of kids determined to torture her, in person, and anonymously in cyberspace. Incidents took place at the school she attended – things were thrown at her, etc. No adults at the school intervened.

An 11-year-old boy from Springfield, MA hung himself after being bullied by boys calling him gay. Last year in Mentor, Ohio, a bully in a classroom told another kid that he should go home and shoot himself, because no one would miss him. Seventeen-year-old Eric Mohat went home and did just that, after being bullied mercilessly at school. Eric was a smart, geeky kid, who was labeled as a “queer” and a “homo.” Apparently much of the bullying took place in a class taught by a coach – who didn’t intervene. None of the adults at the school did anything to protect this kid.

Last week in Concord, an intellectually challenged, 14 year old freshman boy was tattooed by a group of boys that had been bullying him. The bullies told the kid that they’d stop hassling him if he agreed to be tattooed, so they took him into the basement of one bully’s house, and tattooed a penis on his buttocks, along with some puerile commentary. One threatened to touch him with his own genitalia if the boy didn’t cooperate. The bullies were all 18 and over, and two apparently have white supremacist leanings.
These are not smart guys. The mother, at whose home this occurred, came home to find the detritus of ink stained paper towels. She was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying that the victim willingly participated, in what she called a “hazing.” Sadly, the victim in this story went back to school and faced continued harassment, so his parents have chosen to remove him from school.

There wasn’t much bullying in the lily- white rural suburbs of my youth, but that was in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a different time, and a time of different technology. Hate speech wasn’t a regular feature on the radio or the TV news. Sometimes kids got into fights, but they usually ended pretty quickly, by either adult or peer intervention.

As adults, we forget what it’s like to be a kid in school. School, and what happens in school makes up most of a kid’s life. It feels as though it’s going to last forever. Many adults have the mistaken impression that if the bullied kid “fights back,” that will be the end of it. I’m not sure that was ever true outside of Hollywood. If a bullied kid fights back, the bully just gets a bigger group of kids to pile on. A successful bully is usually a very popular kid. Bullying is all about power over those perceived as weaker.
Common tactics include: physical violence, psychological/verbal abuse, taunts, name calling, spreading rumors, social ostracism, and sexual harassment – where a boy would be labeled as “gay” and a girl as a “slut.” A kid who is already bearing the burden of not being popular or remotely cool isn’t equipped to fight back against a group of bullies.

This is where adult intervention should be taking place. In each of the stories I mentioned, teachers, parents, and other adults failed. Not intervening in the bullying makes them complicit in the act.

There’s going to be a forum at Kennett High School about cyber bullying. The anonymity of the Internet is a fertile breeding ground for bullies. Bullies, are not, however, the fault of the Internet, of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, chat, or text messages on cell phones. If we believe that guns don’t kill people – how can we blame technology for those who misuse it?

One thing kids really don’t understand is that putting stupid stuff on the internet can come back to haunt you later on. Pictures of you and your weapons on MySpace can lead to arrests. Pictures of you drunkenly flashing your boobs on Facebook can come back to haunt you when you apply for a job. Googling people is now standard operating procedure in many businesses. If you flashed those boobs as a minor, and people pass the pictures around, it can lead to child porn charges, and being forced to register as a sex offender. This is generally not perceived as an asset on college or job applications.

There’s another important aspect to the bullying conversation. We revere and reward bullies in our society. Bill O’Reilly is a verbal abuser, bully, and stalker – and he makes millions and has his own TV show. Rush Limbaugh is a famous bully – who makes even more millions and has a radio show. Anyone who stands in front of a woman’s health clinic is a bully. The teahaddis disrupting town hall meetings are bullies. Some of the people who write letters to the editor of this very newspaper are bullies. Refer to the list of bullying tactics, and you’ll be able to identify the offenders quite handily.

Adults must intervene when they witness bullying. Parents should supervise their children, and know as much as they can about what the kids are up to. A great deal of intolerance is being expressed rather loudly these days. We have no one but ourselves to blame if that is the message our kids receive, and act upon.

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
” John Fitzgerald Kennedy

© 2010 sbruce
This was published as an op-ed in the May 28, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

1 comment:

DissedBelief said...

Gold stars to you Susan for addressing this. Bullying lasts a lifetime. I carry the scars from relentless attacks as a child. Walking the gauntlet home from school usually resulted in a bloody nose and my lips split. At about ten years old my back was so badly kicked, that today I have multiple back issues. No adults ever intervened (this is the first time I've ever "spoken" of this). My belief is that bullies learn their trade right in the home from their parents. Political discussions, speech involving hate, intolerance all are soaked up by the sponge brains of children who then act in accordance with their environments. Our world is the toilet bowel it is due to just these individuals. I see examples of this daily in public. Poor parenting and children destined to become bullies and individuals the rest of us in society have to deal with. Most parents in my opinion are incompetent and unqualified (I know mine certainly were). Ten years into the 21st century we are only now addressing this issue at higher levels. Better late than never I suppose.