Dealing with Bullying

Bullies are profoundly fucked up:

Studies show that kids who are involved in bullying — bullies, victims and a third subgroup of particularly problematic kids who engage in both behaviors and are referred to as bully-victims — are more likely to have started out with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that predispose them to lashing out and to self-harm.

We knew this, right? I think we let a lot of stuff go that, were adults doing it to each other, would land someone’s ass in handcuffs, because “it’s just kids being kids,” and hell no. A lot of the commenters over at ONTD hit the article for drifting into victim-blaming, and it does (the last graf is particularly WTF). But there’s also important info in there about attempting to understand why somebody would torture somebody else, and what that would do. Which goes back to what we say around here all the time, right? It’s not about if somebody else deserves the treatment, it’s about if you deserve to dole it out. If you deserve to carry that.

Looking back at my own childhood experiences, it was mostly the stupid girl-bullying that goes on, the “your hair is stupid” and very loudly not being invited to parties and being given the side-eye over clothes. There was no Internet. It was pretty mild, though of course it didn’t feel that way to me. I did a lot to ask for it by being too loud and too eager and too desperate to join in with people who I now thank GOD were not my friends because ick. It’s only in hindsight (and running into some of them at parties later) that made me realize how scared and aggro and weird they were, too. This, though:

The concept of the menacing bully with problems at home is as established in the culture as it is in the research, but most people shy away from addressing the existing mental-health struggles of the bully’s victim for fear of appearing to blame the more vulnerable party. But in viewing the victim as an actor in the relationship, educators and researchers may be able to provide him with the correct kind of support.

It took me forever to figure this out, and I mean I just got it like two years ago, that there is nothing you can do to make yourself inoffensive and invisible to an abuser. You will always trip up. You will always say something today that is like Armageddon but yesterday was fine. You will always talk too loud or run too fast or knock over a glass of milk at the table and it will be like the end of the world, and walking on eggshells is exhausting and not possible. We cannot prevent bullying by nobody acting like a target.

So how to do it? It’s not blaming the victim to say bullies have their own shit going on, and we should be dealing with that, and THEY should be dealing with that, with the fear and lack of compassion that makes them need to kick somebody smaller than them. Trouble is, the grown-ups they see all day long … have you noticed what a country of assholes we are, how concerned we are that everybody else’s behavior be above reproach in any way? Have you noticed our pathological inability to let anything go?

It’s no wonder kids pick up on that, and act accordingly. I swear to you, I would not be fifteen right now if you put a gun to my head.


5 thoughts on “Dealing with Bullying

  1. so odd. i don’t remember any bullies in my schools/ of course i was unbullyable. except by my uncles. i guess they gave me a veneer. plus, i was most likely to hit back. + i had a younger brother so i know how to hit.

  2. 1975, 7th grade. For reasons I never understood, a kid in my art class took an instant dislike to me; I never knew he existed before that. He pestered me, ruined my projects etc. I didn’t do anything until one day he threw a piece of hard clay at me and it nearly took out an eye.
    I went over to him, pushed him against a wall, grabbed his throat and started squeezing. He was laughing until he figured out that I was seriously going to strangle him to death. He starts thrashing, I squeeze harder. The teacher starts freaking out, and I get pulled off him. He never came within 10 feet of me again and I didn’t get so much as a reprimand.
    To this day, I can remember what that cold, dead fury I felt over 35 years ago feels like, like it happened yesterday. It scares the shit out of me how easy it would be to access that rage again.

  3. What the previous two commenters said: the way to stop a bully is to punch back HARD.
    Bullies require victims that don’t fight back.

  4. I wish it had been easy for me to fight back when I was a kid. Seemed like every time I did I was the one who got in trouble and, eventually, was the one who ended up in analysis. I got punished way more than the bullies did.
    I wish I could say that the causes of bullying mean a lot to me personally…but we still don’t do enough to address these problems. And I continue to live in fear for my son’s future this way, when these terrible times will come along and any and all admonishments (ignore it, fight back, they tease you because of their own problems, it will get better, blah blah blah) for great kids to hold their heads above it all will pale and wither in the face of such a psychological – and, possibly, physical – toll it will take on these kids on a daily basis. Kids are thinking, first and foremost, about the here and now. Everyone who has reached adulthood seems to conveniently forget or downplay that.
    I still feel sick when I think of how I was bullied, and, damn, how I want to forget it. Would that every parent recall their own school days and quit living in denial in regards to their own kids’ behavior. Until that happens in a big way, these causes of bullying will simply be nifty, meaningless studies. Sad, but true.

  5. There’s a third class of people besides bullies and victims. Bystanders.
    Yes, bullies are the source of the problem. But bystanders contribute by bystanding. Don’t, and teach your kids not to. The usual form of that acceptance is careful obliviousness at the time, followed by private condemnation later, which helps nobody. If the social acceptance ends, the bullying ends. At least, that’s how I’ve seen it work in my life. Yeah, it’s a bit embarrassing to go mixing yourself up in other people’s business, but what the hell. It’s better than standing by.

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