The beginning of school means a return to emotional turmoil for the kids who are the victims of malicious ridicule and intimidation by their peers. This is not the good natured teasing that inevitably occurs among young kids. The behavior of some children with their peers is vicious and sadistic, leaving lifelong emotional scars on their victims.
Many well meaning adults, particularly teachers and coaches have traditionally done little to intervene in these situations. Perhaps they felt it best to let kids work these things out on their own. Maybe they were unaware of the impact of such hurtful behavior on young victims. Some teachers have told me that kids have to get ready for a cruel world and learn to deal with all types of people.
I’ve been heartened by a more aggressive approach in the past few years by many school systems. Clear limits for appropriate behavior are being set and consequences are being enforced. However, adults alone cannot stop this problem. It’s time for the peers of these bullies to do something.
If you are not the victim, the most typical response when you witness such behavior is passive acquiescence or active encouragement of the bully. Most kids are fearful that any actions on their part will result in their own victimization. Here are the messages we need to send to these kids.
- You have a responsibility to speak up. Your silence encourages cruel behavior that is hurtful to other kids. How you respond, or choose not to respond, is a test of the kind of person you are. Will you be quiet and do nothing, or take a stand when bad things happen to others?
- Get together with your peers. Throughout your life you will witness others ridiculed because of their weight, quirky personality, sexual orientation, or just because they are different in some way. It’s hard to confront a bully, so get together with your friends and agree to do something together when you observe such behavior.
- Student leaders have a special responsibility. Use your influence to intervene on behalf of other kids who need help. Leadership is all about doing what is right, not what is fashionable.
- Offer support to the bullied person. Send a text message or reach out in some way to the person who was bullied. You have no idea what an incredibly positive impact a kind word or supportive behavior can have on another student.
I recently spoke with an obese teen who vomits every morning in the days when he has gym class, anticipating the mean comments he will hear from other students. Isn’t it time for other kids to step up and stop this type of cruelty?