Budding Bonus 2: Bullying

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Most people know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (thank you, Susan G. Komen), but it’s also the designated “awareness” month for several other issues. Each Monday this month, I will designate a Budding Bonus to one of these topics. Bullying is one of those.

You don’t have to be a victim of bullying to know what it’s all about. I don’t know if it’s a learned behavior or if it’s innate, but it can be BRUTAL. Can it be explained by the survival of the fittest? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.

Here’s the “official” government definition of bullying (www.stopbullying.gov):

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

I don’t know what clicks in a person’s brain that triggers that kind of behavior, but I think it’s safe to say most of us have experienced it or witnessed it. Unfortunately, I think I can say I have been on the receiving and giving end to some degree.

I may not have been physically abusive (although, my sisters may disagree with that!), but I made fun of others a child. I know I tried to exclude other peers.

There was the girl down the street who wanted to play, but I was busy playing with my best friend, so we lied to her to avoid hanging out with her.

There was a girl my group of friends tried to run and hide from because we didn’t feel like hanging out with her at the time.

There was the girl who was mentally challenged who, at times wet herself, and was the subject of class taunting. I am pretty sure I was involved in that, although I try not to think about it.

And then I’m pretty sure I was on the receiving end as well.

The rich, popular kids would make fun of me for not wearing the right brand of jeans. My Chic and Jordache jeans were not cool enough for all of the Girbaud- and Z. Cavaricci-wearers. (Sidenote: I eventually did get  that pair of Girbauds and I’m pretty sure my popularity points bumped up exponentially.)

I remember one lovely girl used the big, dirty, bushy table brush in shop class to brush my hair and she and her even lovelier friends laughed about it.

Those aren’t brutal examples. I didn’t go home and cry about these things. But it obviously had some effect. When my sisters and I later switched schools (not bullying-related), I was disappointed to leave my best friend, but I remember thinking, “Well, maybe I have a chance at being ‘popular’ or ‘cool’ for once!”

I don’t want to do this subject an injustice by sharing my tame examples of bullying.

I met a mother who recently pulled her child out of public school because her daughter had been physically bullied in class and the administration did little to nothing to correct the situation. The child had been choked by a classmate. And these children were in kindergarten (yes, KINDERGARTEN!) at supposedly one of the best school districts in the state.

I cannot even handle going into the extreme cases of bullying that have left permanent physical and emotional scars on children. The cases that have cost lives. I am not trying to have everyone in tears. I’m not trying to leave myself in tears!

I just want to share a personal plea. As a parent. Please talk about bullying with your children. It’s never too early. You don’t even have to be a parent. Talk to a child you are close with. The conversation may uncover if your child is a bully or if he/she is being bullied, or it may even help another child who is in that situation.

Talk to them about who they hang out with at school. Are there children they like? Don’t like? Do they ever see anyone getting picked on? Is there anyone in class/at school who is different? Who doesn’t have a lot of friends?

My son is 7. We have had multiple bullying conversations. It all boils down to compassion for humankind. I try to teach him that we are all deserving of love and happiness. No one deserves to feel bad about himself/herself. No one’s self esteem should be chipped away to the point of nothingness. I tell him, treat EVERYONE with kindness–especially those who are different. I tell him, don’t look at that person differently because he or she walks different, talks different or looks different. We all have feelings. And of course, I ask him if he would like someone to treat him that way. The Golden Rule is always a nice little safety net. I also tell him to tell a teacher/adult if he notices any bullying. I tell him, it’s ok to stick up for someone who is being picked on. It’s ok to be friends with someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends.

I feel like my words are resonating.

We were about to watch the movie “Radio” with Cuba Gooding, Junior. I told him it’s about a man who’s different and gets picked on, but then everyone ends up loving him and it has a happy ending. He was reluctant to watch. But I insisted that it was a “feel good” movie. oops! By the time a cop had Radio pushed up against the back of a police car just because he was handing out Christmas presents, my son had his head buried in a pillow. He watched the rest of the movie in bits and pieces. He did not want to see anyone getting bullied.

My heart melted. I thought, my son has a heart! My son feels compassion! I thought, I might be doing something right!

Maybe my son won’t grow up to be a bully. Maybe my son will grow up and be strong enough to not be affected by bullying. Maybe he will be strong enough to be that voice for a voiceless child. Maybe he will save a life and maybe yours will, too.

Have the conversation. Get Informed.

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