Bullies

bullying

This may seem like a silly topic. Kids tease each other. Parents are too worried about this. Kids just need to toughen up and learn to deal with it, right?

Well, in some ways, that is true. We need to learn that the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and that other people may disagree with our opinions and think we look or act strangely.  However, there is a fine line between teasing and bullying.

What makes a bully?  According to Merriam-Webster, a bully is “a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.”

I think the second part of that definition is the one that’s most important.  Let’s break it down.  The first important word in there is “habitually.” One shove does not a bully make. This is a constant behavior, one that the victim has to deal with daily.  The next word is “cruel.” At first, this may lead you to think that these bullying actions are intentional.  Usually, they are.  In after school specials they certainly are. However, you don’t have to mean to be cruel to actually do something cruel. For example, when I was younger, maybe 3 or 4, I was very curious. I loved nature. So, my mom would let me “help” her garden.  She had a beautiful garden in California, with tons of lady bugs and worms everywhere. I remember one time getting really interested in the earth worms, and playing with them. Well, I decided it would be fun to rip them in half and see if they’d grow back, because my dad had told me lizards could grow their tails back if they were ripped off. So, I watched to see which way they were moving, then tore off the lagging half and waited for them to grow back.  I did this to about 10 worms before I realized they weren’t suddenly duplicating, but were dying. This seems like a cruel act, doesn’t it? I just ripped the worms in half and left them to die slowly (now that I think about it in more detail, that was really awful. I practically severed their CNS and watched them spasm until they died).  BUT I didn’t mean to, did I? Of course not. I had no idea I was hurting them, and bawled my eyes out when my sister told me I killed them. That doesn’t change the fact that I caused the worms extreme pain and eventually killed them.  It was still cruel, despite my intent.

What’s my point, you ask? By this definition of bullying, you can bully someone without necessarily  meaning to.  Say you have a friend that got really nervous whenever you mentioned a rumor of her dating someone else.  You could see it caused her some distress, but you thought it was just mild embarassment, so you brought it up often when you saw her. That means, every time you saw her, you caused her distress.  Little did you know, you were cuasing her pain (psychological pain, of course).  You habitually caused someone pain (AKA: you committed a cruel act).  Sound familiar?

Let’s continue looking at this definition. The next important part of this definition is that it is done to others. You can’t bully yourself. That’s getting into a completely different issue. Finally, a bully is someone who torments someone weaker than themselves.  They pick on “the little guy.” That one person or those people who have no one else to defend them.  They might not have any friends, they might be outcasts, they might be small and weak, or maybe incapacitated in some way. Somehow, they are an easy target. That’s who a bully goes after, which is what makes this so deplorable.

It’s interesting to think about. I never thought I was bullied too horribly in my formative years. I was teased by the guys, and I did my fair share of crying, but I was never afraid to go to school. I never felt like there was no one I could turn to. I had my group of friends (though granted, when I was in elementary school, this group was small. However, the friends I had were true  friends), and I knew I could talk to someone in a position of authority about any problem if it was serious. I had a good relationship with the school. Also, if worse came to worse, I knew I could tell my family about it, and they’d help me.  Maybe that’s why I don’t feel I was traumatized when I was little by the teasing that did happen. I had a support group. I had people I could rely on. Also, I had a place I felt I fit in–the classroom. I was intelligent and was praised by my teachers. I loved the library and had a great relationship with my librarian. I wasn’t isolated.

This might be why teasing among friends isn’t bullying, as well. You’re all equals. You aren’t isolated or significantly weaker than one another. You don’t feel truly threatened by any of your friends, so a bit of teasing doesn’t affect you as much.

However, there are kids out there who aren’t in this situation. They aren’t as lucky as I was to have those one or two friends who would stand up for them. They don’t have a place they felt like they belong, and/or they don’t have a good relationship with their family where they feel protected.  This, sadly, isn’t as rare as we’d like to think it is.

Take a moment and think about whether you’ve ever seen someone be bullied or teased. Have you ever bullied or teased someone? Have you been bullied or teased yourself? Have you just heard about someone being bullied or teased before? It’s not so rare, is it?
1 in 3 middle school and high school students are bullied.  Sometimes, it’s not that obvious.  Guys tend to tease openly and quickly. They’ll make quick quips about something, or push someone around for a bit. Girls tend to bully long term. We ladies know how to hold a grudge and stay angry. Girls can make someone’s whole year a hell. This type of aggression, relational aggression, is more dangerous than physical aggression. It wears you down a lot faster, especially if it hinders a child’s ability to make friends. It can make their whole outlook on life and their worth change.

There is something you can do, though. One friend makes a difference. If you see someone being bullied, either subversively or obviously, say something about it. I know it’s scary. I know you feel overwhelmed, and I know you’re worried about what others will think about you if you do this. However, think about it. Do you really want to be accepted by someone who thinks being cruel to someone is ok? Do you really think their opinion of you is important? If you speak up, you might encourage other people to speak up too. Most likely, the other people around are thinking this is wrong too.
What if they bully you back? Remember what I said: even one friend makes a difference. You’ve just made a friend by standing up for someone. Stick together. If you have other friends, they’ll be on your side too. It’s amazing how having friends can increase your self confidence and make you feel stronger. You’ve just made yourself a harder target. Even if they try to bully you, it won’t affect you that much. It might still hurt, but you can recover. Meanwhile, that bully is making more and more enemies.  Eventually, they’ll be in a bad position, and you’ll be fine.

It’s important to talk about this now. Look around you and see how many people are being hurt by others. If you can make a difference in just one person’s life, you’ve done a lot.   icon Stop Bullying

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