- Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The American Psychological Association estimates that a shocking 90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of some form of bullying. Sometimes parents (usually father), when they discover their kid is being kicked around, tell him to respond in kind. This is generally not good advice, though, because being bullied, by definition, means one person has more power than another, whether physical, verbal, social, financial, or whatever gives one power over another in a given culture. This is why the majority of school shooters shoot: they use technology in a desperate attempt to bridge and surmount the power gap.
Bullying, in most cases, is not when two kids of roughly equal power go toe to toe. Such a standoff, or face off, or square off, does not get a parent’s disdain for injustice roaring. The state of inequality that’s innate to bullying is why kids who are physically, verbally, or socially bullied must be shown more effective ways of handling their situation. Otherwise they will likely receive increasing humiliation, or worse.
Bullying deploys aggressive behavior with negative intent from a more powerful child to a lesser. This is why in many ways bullies are cowards: They launch their attacks of humiliation from a superior position with assurance of victory. The uneven playing field, tipped in their favor, emboldens them; bullies rarely go after someone of their own size in physical stature, verbal acumen, or social status. This is why adults must step in and level the field: fear and humiliation are as substantial obstacles to learning as poor nutrition, bad study habits, and lack of sleep. Bullying often does not sort itself out naturally.
Most bullying is not physical, but in other ways it still shoves, pushes, and punches. It’s often social, like spreading rumors and lies about another through spoken or written words (via electronic media, called cyber-bullying). As a journalist, I’m amazed by what bullies think they can publish without considering their victim’s rights under the law. Hubris is a blinding force that can be key to their defeat; as bullying among youth the world over receives more scrutiny, we can expect libel laws to modify and become more applicable.
A bully’s teasing is not good-natured—it intends to sting, pierce, and degrade. Bullying is the use of power to marginalize, discredit, and exclude. It’s not the putting up of boundaries against something dangerous or cruel; it’s rejecting and abusing someone because she’s different and frequently not as fortunate. Bullying is superior power wielded by an individual or group for unjust reasons and in unjust ways.
Churches are far from exempt, according to counselors who work with those bullied within congregations. Counselor and bullying expert Barbara Coloroso, after helping numerous people damaged from this form of mistreatment, says everyone who witnesses examples of bullying in churches, especially among leadership, has “an obligation to speak, to make the church a safe place.” She recommends that congregations develop a code of conduct and make it public. Otherwise, says the former Franciscan nun, “religion can be an instrument of” bullying, which has three common elements: the liberty to exclude, intolerance for difference, and a sense of entitlement.
Bullies are the most disliked group of children in any given classroom. The kids they pick on come in second (more on this later).
Bullies are often both abuser and abused. They frequently receive parenting that uses unhealthy force to get them to behave a certain way. School bullies are often bullied at home, where their will, wants, and desires are overridden and trampled. In turn, they override and trample others.
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