| Aaron was a small, chubby freshman in high school with Down syndrome. Without his glasses he couldn’t see and would have meltdowns. Garfield the Cat comic books calmed him down. At lunch one day a group of senior boys, the rednecks, shoved him down between a set of lockers and a column. It was a space too small for him. His glasses flew off. Aaron was stuck.
We stood there and did nothing as the bullies circled Aaron and pointed and laughed. I walked away.
I was 17 and wish I’d helped Aaron up and got his glasses for him. I know why I didn’t, though. When those boys, my classmates, saw me in a red shirt a year earlier they’d called me Kool-Aid after the big red pitcher in the commercials. I was just relieved it wasn’t me.
It’s not just the victims that end up feeling it’s an unsafe environment after an encounter with a bully. Witnesses also end up feeling unsafe. Bullying can lead to being fearful, feeling powerless to act or even guilty for not acting. Even worse, some may even be tempted to join in.
I feel guilty.
There are so many ways a witness can help out and stand up for the kid being bullied. We can choose not to repeat gossip. Both adults and kids aren’t immune to the excitement of a secret, even if it’s a lie.
We, as witnesses, can speak out and get help. Tell teachers, adults, your boss, the cops, whoever. Parents usually are considered overprotective, but a neutral party, a witness, could be strong evidence.
Finally, we could take the brave and courageous path and confront the bully. The problem there lies in the odds. Standing up to a bully may work but it could make things much worse.
I’m old enough to say that bullying has gotten worse over the years. I only graduated ten years ago, but technology has really opened the landscape. Unlimited access to the Internet has changed things.
In my day, bullying was face to face in public. My home was my safety. Well, the Internet comes into the home, inviting in the bad with the good. Even worse, it’s the kids who know all the ins and outs of computers, the Internet, and technology—adults who are supposed to protect them know next to nothing on the subject.
Move the computer into a family room and be aware of what’s going on. Ask questions and get involved. Overcome the common perception that cyber-bullying doesn’t end tragically.
Phoebe Prince is a great example, bullied for months because of a boy she dated, her tormentors even posted on Facebook that she should die. Unfortunately, she listened to these vicious words and hung herself. She was fifteen.
The case rocked the nation when initially nine fellow classmates were charged with various charges from statutory rape to stalking to criminal harassment. The defense has pleaded not guilty and plans to use Prince’s mental state as reason.
The defendants maintain their innocence even though the prosecution has witnesses who can tie five of the nine to several different incidents. The prosecution plans to use those witness accounts to convince a jury that criminal behavior led to Prince’s suicide.
Remember, this is all over a boy she dated briefly.
And then there’s Tyler Clementi, another horrifying story. He’s brought a new face to bullying. After being webcammed (that’s a camera for the computers so you can video chat) by his roommate in an intimate encounter with a man, he jumped off a bridge.
The roommate and a friend are charged with invasion of privacy, which could carry five years in prison. Prosecutors are even considering adding hate crime charges. This would carry a maximum ten-year sentence; however, there may not be enough evidence.
In Delaware a fourteen-year-old was arrested, arraigned, and released to his parents on a $4,000 unsecured bail. He was ordered to have no contact with the seven-year-old he forced into a port-a-potty and pushed over. The younger boy suffered a knee injury and the older boy’s charged with unlawful imprisonment, assault, and harassment.
Some people think these charges are harsh; after all, these are kids we’re talking about.
Billy Wolfe’s a vulnerable 15-year-old kid and his parents have binders of school records and police reports, along with pictures of bruises and black eyes. There have been so many incidents they seem to blur together.
Some classmate called Wolfe about a sex toy and that started it off. Twice Wolfe’s lost consciousness. The family dentist had to sew up his cheek; braces got stuck in his cheek. Wolfe had his own hate webpage made by classmates. Wolfe was suspended.
One school official refused to call the cops, saying Wolfe got what he deserved.
In March 2010 his parents sued one of the bullies “and other John Does” and sued the school district in September 2010.
Drastic measures, but isn’t Wolfe allowed the right to a safe education?
Sophomore year in high school and I was off to a rough start. Over the summer I had surgery on my foot; a cancerous tumor was wrapped around everything in my foot. Needless to say, I couldn’t wear a shoe on that foot and wore a special sock instead.
For some reason, a girl a year or two older than me would hunt me down at lunch. She would humiliate me with remarks about not wearing a shoe, only wearing a sock, and any other reason she could come up with. Even though she was heavy set like me, it always came down to me being too fat. I don’t really remember what she said; I just remember her attacks were relentless.
I’d tell Mrs. Glen, the Dean of Girls, and I’d tell my mom. Mom would talk to Mrs. Glen. This went on for quite some time and nothing Mrs. Glen tried worked. Then she hit on a brilliant idea.
She made a sign out of a dry-erase board and turned it into a necklace. It said, “I pick on people because of their socks.” The girl had to wear it at lunch. Mrs. Glen even watched the cafeteria that day. I wasn’t bothered by her again.
Solutions are everywhere; you just have to be creative. Yes, the obvious solutions are proven to work. Have metal detectors to check for guns, identity cards to make sure only the right people can get into the schools and uniforms to stop the judgment of who wears what. Only, try to have random metal detector searches instead. In one school, weapons violations dropped more than ninety percent. Many districts use this method with similar results. What if weapons violations aren’t a problem though?
Here’s an easy one, keep the bathrooms clean and odor free. Teachers and other school staff may be more willing to spot-check them.
Bathrooms are a common problem area and one that’s hardly supervised. One way to make the bathroom safer is to redesign it to reduce the probability of crime. No doors on the entryway but instead have a zigzag entrance. The bully won’t be able to depend on the sound of a door to warn him and the victim could call for help.
Schools can also participate in a program called Challenge Day. MTV aired a show called “If You Really Knew Me” that showed how the program worked. All students, bullies and victims alike, talked, really talked, about their lives and their issues. They gave a why as to their actions and listening to each other helped changed everyone’s opinion.
Challenge Day is a six-and-a-half-hour program for one hundred students in grades seven through twelve and twenty-five adults. Two trained leaders guide everybody to address the different problems students face. They provide tools and curricula to maintain progress.
Watching “If You Really Knew Me” made me wish both my middle school and high school could have participated.
Teachers and adults could just be more available. Listen watch, and understand. A younger victim’s more likely to tell an adult; whereas an older victim fears’ telling puts them at a greater risk for retaliation. A witness is afraid they’ll become the victim. Adults should be aware of this and support them.
For younger kids an adult should explain how bullying is dangerous and how, as the adult in charge, they need to know when personal safety’s at risk. A discussion about snitching, tattling, reporting and their differences is important.
Another option growing in popularity is alternative schools. An alternative school seeks to help students whose needs are not met in a traditional setting. It’s based on the belief that there are many ways as well as many types of environments for education. This is the same belief that homeschooling comes from.
An alternative school serves those girls who are pregnant or already trying to raise a child. It also covers those suspended or expelled and those who have been considered disruptive or trouble making. Some alternative schools run all day, others for only a couple of hours.
However it’s done, an alternative school setting has two important factors. First, a low teacher-to-student ration allows students and teachers to work together. Students get to receive the individualized attention they may need. Second, the alternative school shouldn’t be a dumping ground, full with teachers who have had problems. The teachers, or any adult involved, should want to be there.
Rose was a fellow classmate and we were both juniors. She wasn’t anyone special; she was slower and smaller than the rest of us. Rose was in Mrs. Jones’ class, a class for those who needed help for their mental and social disabilities. She wasn’t so bad, I always found her loud.
One morning she was running around, showing off her dollar for lunch. Someone told her to rip it in half and she’d have two dollars. Eager to be cool, she did it.
The teacher taped up her dollar but no one got in trouble.
Bullies, victims, and witnesses need to see consequences. They need to see that bullying in any form is not accepted.
Witnesses need to stand up. There is power in a neutral party. Just getting help from someone else is a victory over bullies. Witnesses can come into play even more with technology and the doors it’s opened.
Alternative schools and better bathrooms are creative solutions. But nothing replaces good old-fashioned listening and understanding. We have to quit ignoring the children. Remember, everyone’s a witness.
In the words of Teddy Roosevelt: “To educate a person in mind and not morals is to create a menace to society.”