This week on Facebook I saw a picture of a child with a sign around his neck on which the words, "Shame on me for being a bully" are painted in red. His mother stands beside him, arms crossed, hip jutted out, assuming what one can only describe as an unwavering, disciplining stance. In bold letters, the caption states, "This mom deserves an award."
Really? 'Cause from where I'm standing, seems to me she's giving as good as her kid does.
At the age of 15, I spent six months running scared from a bully. The bully in question would wait for me by the door of my classes, and as I would exit, she would follow closely on my heels; literally on my heels, until the backs of my shoes were frayed and my heels were blistered and bleeding.
I did finally tell my parents who in turn told the school. But 30 years ago, "anti-bullying" campaigns were non-existent, and the mean girl dodged not only consequences from the school, but her parents told my dad that if he was "tougher on me," I'd be able to handle what their kid was dishing out. Somehow I don't think making their daughter stand on the street with a sign around her neck while she posed for a picture would have solved the problem, especially if the household mentality required the individuals involved to be "tougher." Holding a sign would probably conjure the same irritated look as the one on the boy in the Facebook picture, and probably further fuel my bully's hatred of me.
Anti-bullying campaigns have been part of school curricula for at least 10 years, but I question whether the time spent teaching children to "tell a grown up" is even helpful, when in fact, the concerns stem from deeper sources than simply some kid with anger issues. Strength and power are valued in our society. As adults, we constantly strive to be the best we can be; get that promotion over the other guy at work; have a better car than the neighbour next door; buy a bigger house than the one we already can't afford. Survival of the fittest is no longer simply referring to Darwinism, it's a motto that drives our North American culture.
Even reality TV shows are set up to represent a microcosm of society, stacked with strong and weak players; the weaker ones edited to seem stupid, incapable, and useless of furthering themselves in the game. Of course this is purposefully set up in this fashion, but how quickly the roles are assumed in the game, and the bullies are immediately identified by both the viewers and the players, and yet how often are the bullies transformed into charming heroes given the cash in the end. Boston Rob from Survivor? Evil Will from Big Brother? Donald Trump? Mean anything to anybody?
Their superiority is not only flaunted by them, but the producers of their respective shows thrived when these outspoken individuals were in the spotlight referring to the other contestants in derogatory fashion: stupid and weak most often reasons for the demise of their nemesis.
Certainly parents don't encourage their children to dominate over other children in an aggressive manner, but when bullying occurs -- when the parents are contacted by the teacher, principal, basketball coach, boy scout leader and/or the ballet teacher informing them that their kid isn't playing nice -- accepting the truth about our children's behaviour may not only be difficult, but it may be reflective of our own subconscious need to position ourselves above others.
Recently a 13-year-old girl hid crying in a bathroom stall at a pre-teen dance because a group of boys had spent several hours tormenting her with rude and derogatory comments. The tormented girl's parents called the parents of the boys in question, and proceeded to explain what their children had done.
The young girl's mother was told by each of the boys' parents that 1) The boys were only playing, 2) The girl was being overly sensitive, 3) The girl was provoking the boys, and 4) The girl was lying; the scenario had not in fact taken place. Nobody apologized for their children's behaviour, and when the word "bullying" was used, the boys' parents became incensed, wondering out loud, "I don't know where he would get that from?" Yeah, I wonder...
Comedian Chris Rock, who has openly discussed being bullied by other children throughout his childhood, has stated, "I am not pro-bully." That having been said however, he also attributes his success to the fact that being bullied made him stronger.
So is putting a sign around your kid's neck teaching him a lesson or is it teaching him to be better at being tougher? And ultimately, isn't the entire event aimed at making the mom seem like this proactive, marvellous mother, who despite her humiliation tactics, is a hard-ass? And let's face it, North America loves a bully, as long as she/he is wearing a cape.