What Do We Do About Bullying?


So, this local story from my city and my school district:

A Fairfield Middle School seventh-grader took her own life on Thursday, and now her parents want to know if bullying was to blame.

Emilie Olsen’s parents said they knew their daughter was bullied in the past, but they thought the issues were resolved.

Maybe she wasn’t bullied, maybe she had other things going on. Maybe she was bullied and internalized it, told no one. Maybe the school and her parents thought everything was peachy because of that. Maybe it’s just hard to detect bullying and hard to detect when your child’s brain space is all fucked up. Maybe bullying is on the rise, maybe it’s not, maybe social media is exacerbating it, maybe it’s not.

I don’t know these answers. Well, I do know that at least according to national statistics, reports of bullying have indeed gone up since 2003. The suicide rate among teens, after dropping in 1994, is going back up, too. Often it’s because they have some sort of mental disorder and shockingly, a fair number of teens report attempting suicide as young as 9. That’s heartbreaking.

The parents want answers from the school. Since parents necessarily have to leave their children in the care of the school for six or seven hours a day, you reasonably expect them to be safe. That’s fair, I think, but I don’t have the answers on to how much culpability the school should bear.

At the same time, communication between the parent-child is key, but there are a plethora of reasons kids internalize things instead of turning to their parents for help. It’s a courageous act in itself to let your parents know about your torment.

I’m not a parent, but I do know what it’s like to be bullied, to be afraid to go to school the next day or a particular class or to face that particular person. I do know what it’s like to feel less than. Hell, I was (and am) a twig, I have glasses, acne, am a nerd, and am generally socially awkward, so I was ripe for the picking.

I also know that, even as guilty as it makes me feel to this day, I, too, engaged in my fair share of verbal bullying. I treated a few people like shit in the same way others did to me. It’s fucked up. How does that happen? I don’t know.

Is the answer merely to tell kids to toughen up? To fight back? I don’t know, but I’m weary of putting even more pressure on kids to end their own torment, especially by violent means. Then it goes back to internalizing their worthlessness, “Oh, I’m being bulled because I’m too much of a little bitch to fight back, so I guess I deserve this.”

Maybe I’m overextending my armchair psychoanalyzing. Be that as it may, I think sentiments like, “Kids will be kids,” as if bullying is just a natural part of growing up or that we should it accept it as such, or, “Kids need to toughen up,” seems too callous to me.

Regardless, though, it’s awful to think about someone so young being in such torment that suicide becomes the answer. Also, my go-to recommendation is the documentary Bully from 2011. It’s heartbreaking.


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