Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Posts tagged ‘education’

The Answer to Bullying

“Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences,” says Stephen Luntz in an article, “Study Finds Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse” [].

Well, duh.

But wait. Look at that title again. “Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse“?

Yes. That’s an accurate headline, not just clickbait.

“Our results showed those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated,” says Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in the article. “Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression.”

He adds, “It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it.”

Again, duh. Easier said than done.

And how big is the problem? A CBS News poll reports that most Americans reported being bullied at some point while growing up Only 41 percent report never being bullied.

“Just” 10 percent said they were bullied “a lot.” That’s still a lot of children who are bullied a lot.

I know I was. And I’m willing to bet that many of you were too.

So what’s to be done?

Well, we know what doesn’t work.

Telling those who are bullied:
“They’re just joking.”
“Learn to take a little teasing.”
“You’re too sensitive.” (my personal favorite)
“Learn to fight back.”
“Get used to it.”
“Just ignore it.”
“What they say doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t let them see that they hurt you.”
“Laugh it off.”
“Handle it yourself.”
“Try to make friends with them.”
“Give them what they want and they’ll leave you alone.”
“Don’t give them what they want and they’ll stop.”
“Stay away from them.”
“Stand up to them.”
“Get your friends together when they’re around.”
“Tell your parents/teacher/principal.”
“Take karate lessons.”
“Avoid the second floor bathroom (or wherever).”
“Grow up.”

(If you have any other favorites, let us all know in the comments!)

Look again at that list. They are pieces of advice to the VICTIMS of bullying on HOW NOT TO BE BULLIED. What’s wrong with this picture?

Feminists and their allies have begun questioning the advice given to women on HOW NOT TO BE RAPED. Instead, they say, the focus should be on teaching men HOW NOT TO BE RAPISTS.

And apparently, this approach is having some success.

Of course, bullying is not rape; the analogy breaks down quickly. But both are about power and “the other” – asserting dominance over someone who is different.

In bullying, that difference can be real or merely perceived, and can be literally anything – weight, height, intelligence, socioeconomic level, race, ethnicity, popularity, clothing, sex, gender, hair color, disability, athletic prowess, speech, preference of superhero. The criteria for who is a victim seem completely arbitrary, because they are. The victim is the other, someone who is by definition different.

Is it fair, or even reasonable, to tell victims to alter whatever it is about themselves that makes them different? It can be soul-killing to have to pretend you are not smart, not poor, not gay, not Muslim. It can be impossible to pretend you’re not short, don’t have a disability, are good at sports. And why should victims have to, any more than women should never go out alone at night or never flirt?

We need to start teaching kids HOW NOT TO BE BULLIES, not how not to be bullied.

Some specifics, like this:
“If you think another kid is gay, ignore it.”
“If someone is not as popular as you, so what?”
“if a kid in your class dresses funny, don’t say anything.”
“If it’s not fun for everyone, stop.”

Or this:
“Don’t hit people because you don’t like the way they look.”
“Don’t joke about people who don’t enjoy it.”
“Don’t call people anything but what they want to be called.”
“If someone is unhappy, don’t make it worse.”

Or this:
“If someone is smarter or less smart than you, form a study group.”
“If someone has less money than you, do things that don’t cost money.”
“If someone is always dropping her books, help pick them up.”

I’m not an educator or a child psychologist – just a former smart, scrawny girl with weird hair and poor eyesight. In other words, bully-bait.

Maybe my ideas won’t work. But what we’re doing now sure doesn’t. That poll I mentioned earlier suggests that bullying is actually increasing, despite all the attention the topic is getting. Generalities like “All people deserve your respect” and “Celebrate differences” and “Be-kind-keep-your-hands-to-yourself-no-hazing-no-fighting-no-name-calling” aren’t getting the job done.

Bully culture is well and truly entrenched in our society. To change that, we need to change the culture – if for no other reason, to head off all those mental health problems waiting up ahead for bullied children.

Who’s with me?

Fun’s Fun – Until It Isn’t

When my husband, Dan, and I were dating, he would sometimes tickle me, or poke me, or make embarrassing jokes about bodily functions. And I would shut him down. “Stop that!” in the tone of voice that says, “I mean it and I’m angry.” If he persisted, I put my foot down even harder.

“You know what’s wrong with you?” he would say (and don’t you love sentences that start that way?). “You’ve forgotten how to have fun.”

I had to admit it was partly true. I had just come off a relationship in which I could set no boundaries. Rex would tickle me, for example, past the point of enjoyment until it was actually physically painful. I taught myself to shut down my tickle response (and who knows how many other responses along with it). I was depressed and I was damaged and I didn’t know what fun looked like anymore. But I knew that for me, tickling was not it, and that I had to clamp down on it or it might turn into pain.

A Facebook post brought this all back to me. Judi Miller, an awesome teacher of troubled teens, told of a time when a male student, “Johnny,” was teasing a girl, poking and tickling her and saying he wanted to handcuff her and tickle her till she screamed.

Judi objected. She explained, “Johnny, when you say to a woman who says ‘No’ to you that you’re going to restrain her with handcuffs and touch her without her permission until she screams, that sounds really rape-y to me.”

The boy protested that he hadn’t done anything wrong, and Judi took advantage of the teachable moment for a lesson on bodily autonomy: “That means you have a say in who touches you and how far you’re willing to go. In my family, if someone says ‘Stop tickling,’ we do, because consent is important to fun. If it’s all fun for you, and not for your partner, you aren’t listening to her needs.”

She added, “If you don’t respect her bodily autonomy when she says no tickling, or no touching, or to leave her alone, then will you respect her saying no when she doesn’t want to hug, or kiss, or get it on after a date? The pattern is the same. There’s the connection to rape.”

As with most teachers, she had no idea whether her message had an effect.

Until later that day, when a boy from a different class started an argument with his girlfriend, and grabbed her wrist, because she wouldn’t hug him.

Johnny was right there. “That ain’t cool. If she doesn’t want to hug right now, you got no call to get mad at her. You don’t own her ass, or her. She gets to decide if she feels like hugging you, kissing you, whatever. It’s called BODILY AUTONOMY, asshole. No wonder she don’t want to hug you if you won’t take NO for an answer!” Johnny said.

Judi thanked Johnny for listening to her and said she was proud of him. In fact, she later described this as her proudest moment of teaching all year.

Dan and I worked through our problem, I’m glad to say. I learned that I could say “no” and he learned not to push it. We both learned how to do things that were fun for both of us. Back then, I had never heard about “bodily autonomy.” We learned.

I wonder if Rex ever did.

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