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You are the last line of defense against bullying
I looked up in desperation. The woman looked back at me with a mixture of shame and helplessness. She pitied me, but reprimanding her daughters’ cruelty would be tantamount to admitting that she had failed as a parent. She turned away.
Bullying is a critical problem, but it also seems an insurmountable one without the help of parents.
Luckily, there are direct factors that can still be addressed.
In my experience, when other students tried to intervene against my bullies it was in an anodyne or halfhearted manner—sometimes with a mumbled “cut it out” or a playful slap on the wrist—so the observer could assuage their guilt while simultaneously not offending their friend, the bully. Regrettably, these methods reassure the aggressor that nothing is seriously wrong thereby enabling bullying.
For my part, I once asked someone to send me a picture of themselves online, just so I could mock their physical appearance with my friend. I was surprised by my own meanness but my empathy seemed nonexistent while my friend was enabling me. Similarly, I got along with my tormenters once they were alone from their usual bullying cronies. For whatever reason, compassion seems to dissipate when at least one other person is reassuring you, subconsciously or otherwise, that it's OK to be cruel.
Thusly, I believe the only way to fight bullying is to make the bully feel ashamed, if possible. Teenagers will resist this for fear of being ostracized themselves and being left friendless, but why kowtow to anybody who isn’t going to be valuable to you on your road to college and adulthood? Stand up to bullies, seriously. And if they don't like it, remember that you're better off without them.
But where are the safety nets that prevent youth cruelty from trickling down into the school hallways?
Once a teacher held up our class for 10 minutes demanding to know specifically why two kids had been arguing. When the boy refused to say in front of the whole classroom that the girl had been calling him gay, the teacher dismissed the issue.
Another time I went to a teacher and pleaded that a guy was threatening to beat me up. A defeated sort of woman with her leg in a cast, she replied, “the two of you are going to have to work this out amongst yourselves”. That was helpful advice, if by “work this out” she meant me running away in fear and by helpful I mean totally worthless.
If feckless parents are too lazy to preach compassion in advance or address cruelty after the fact then the problem can only be engaged when and where it occurs—at school. With teachers dropping the ball, students themselves are the only floodgate left standing against the tide of bullying.
This issue pervades the national discourse, but it will be for naught if we ride the anti-bullying bandwagon without implementing real solutions.
Nevertheless, while the adults are busy fumbling, teenagers can—and will—tackle bullying head on.