By Bill Buchanan
Admitting you are the victim of bullying is a very difficult thing to do. I was bullied as a kid in junior high school. I have a hard time talking about it even now.
Estimates vary widely, but recent ones reveal that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each year. That is about 13 million kids. To say this is an epidemic is like saying that current gas prices seem a little on the high side.
A few days ago, President and Mrs. Obama held a White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. The president admitted that he had some experience with being a target of bullies. “I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune,” said Obama.
I applaud President and Mrs. Obama for addressing this delicate and pervasive subject. However, sharing a personal example or two, and some advice on how he handled it, would have been a lot more helpful than his understated comment of “I didn’t emerge unscathed.” In my own case, it made my life miserable. For me to say “I didn’t emerge unscathed” would be like Gen. George Custer saying, “We encountered a few Indians today.”
My daddy died when I was 10 years old. I looked up to him as mentor, disciplinarian, and role model. His death robbed me of my self-confidence, and violently shook the foundation of my insulated little world.
Perhaps sensing my vulnerability, a couple of older kids seized on this, and began bullying me. The punishment they dealt out was devastating. I was not beaten up, but I was taunted, teased and threatened. I was made to feel less than human. I dreaded going to school, to sporting events or to other social situations that would bring me in contact with these bullies.
Not only was I miserable, I was ashamed to share the truth with my mother, or anyone else in whom I had confidence. So I suffered alone.
But I was very fortunate. I developed friendships, one or two in particular, that elevated my self-esteem. I hit a growth spurt and lifted weights. I became strong enough and self-confident enough to fight back —- verbally, and physically if necessary. And so it ended.
But the emotional scars from being bullied stayed with me. Years later, I ran into one of my former tormentors in a bar, pulled him aside, and physically threatened him. He was shocked, and had no idea why I was so upset. But what he had done to me was still fresh on my mind several years after it took place.
Many victims are not as fortunate as I was. Once thought of as a male-only problem, bullying is shared by both sexes. Girls are as vicious as boys. Technology and social networking sites have expanded the problem in the form of “cyber-bullying.” Some kids use computers and cell phones to harass other children 24/7, so that the bullying follows the victim home. There is no escape, no safe haven. Some victims have committed suicide to end their suffering.
Bullying has adverse effects upon all involved — the victims, the bullies and even those who are witnesses. Studies show that bullies have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and adults. They are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property and drop out of school. They are more likely to be abusive toward partners, spouses and children as adults. Students who are bullied are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have physical and mental health issues. Kids who witness bullying are more likely to have depression and anxiety than other students. Almost no one escapes untouched.
Many have taken aim at the problem. In addition to the initiative announced by the government, there are several organizations who offer advice and programs. These include The National Education Association (NEA); the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA); the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); and the National School Boards Association (NSBA). Facebook, a chief conduit for cyber-bullying, has developed a reporting system for online problems.
The government has an excellent website, stopbullying.gov, which offers tips, resources, links and videos. It offers warning signs to spot those who might be bullies, and those who might be victims.
This is all well and good. But the government, teachers and other groups cannot be expected to do the heavy-lifting to protect children. The problem will never be eradicated until family and friends get personally involved.
The tools to eliminate or at least strongly curb this insidious problem are out there. The question is; will the people who can best make a difference use them to do so?