Bully for You: Part 2

I mentioned that I was not a victim of bullying growing up. Nor was I a bully (I’m pretty sure).

Yesterday, I read this article questioning the line between bullying and sexual harassment.

I just wonder sometimes if the number of bullying awareness campaigns or the language they use haven’t lead to some oversensitivity on our parts.

Don’t get me wrong: Bullying is bad, and can be a serious offense that we need to protect our children from. I just don’t know that “zero tolerance” policies, and reductive “down with bullies” messages are effective.

Here’s an example of the problem with anti-bullying campaigns:

Flora comes home, says, “I’m being bullied.”

Me: By whom? (Okay, I probably said By WHO?!)
Flora: Donnie. (Not his real name.)
Me: Did he put his hands on you?
Flora: No.
Me: Did he call you names?
Flora: No.
Me: What’s going on?
Flora: Well, he talks to himself. And he doesn’t play with anyone.
Me: Well who cares? You worry about yourself, and let the little boy worry about himself.

Flora isn’t being bullied, she’s just bothered by this little boy. (And, yes, Flora needs to worry more about her own self instead of others. We’re working on it.) As a commenter writes on the Slate opinion piece I reference above, “The definition of bullying in schools is in danger of becoming so broad that it loses all meaning. In some states bullying is defined as something that makes a student uncomfortable or that makes them feel demeaned.”

I have a very physically affectionate 4-year-old. She hasn’t learned personal space boundaries yet. We continually remind her to keep her hands to herself, to ask someone before she hugs him or her, and to be aware of her body and others’ space. In a zero-tolerance grade school, she’s going to have problems learning about appropriate touch.

What has to be emphasized is that bullying is an ongoing campaign of harassment, either verbal or physical. If someone calls you a name ONCE, that’s not bullying. Unwanted touching ONCE is assault, and should be dealt with, but it’s a one-off, not bullying.

I was appalled recently to have Twitter discussion with several people (most of whom I know IRL) about their experiences being harassed and bullied. Their experiences sounded terrible, including borderline rape.

What Flora is experiencing isn’t terrible. It’s just annoying. But the language she is being taught (at school) about being annoyed or bothered is “bullied”. So that’s what she’s going to tell us.

Of course, on the other hand, when does joking around or playing grab-ass in the high school hallway become a problem? Do we move the line from zero to two? Or what?

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7 thoughts on “Bully for You: Part 2

  1. I don’t know where the line is. I wasn’t bullied much in school – teased for being nerdy, complete with nerd glasses and lots of braces.

    I was, however, sexually molested. That sounds so awful when I type it out. A boy in my class with ‘issues’ took a liking to me, and I was nice to him. And he thought it was more than that, and I rejected him. He didn’t like THAT, and took to calling me nasty names. Slut, skank, etc. Maybe that was bullying? I don’t know. He did it in front of teachers and they wouldn’t acknowledge it was happening. I reported him using the official “zero tolerance of sexual harassment” form, met with the principal repeatedly, and she told me to ignore him and it would go away. One day, he followed me into the coat area of an empty classroom one day at lunch, pinned me against the wall and put his hands up my uniform. I went to the principal. She once again brushed me off.

    To say the least, my parents were horrified. There was a long, late night phone call to the principal. The boy was suspended for a week. I finished out the school year and switched to public school. My mother went to the school board and fought to have the principal removed the following year.

    That sucked, but it’s more embarrassing to me than anything. I don’t feel like I’m permanently scarred over it. Was it bullying? I don’t know. It was an assault. It was definitely sexual harassment. And yet, I still don’t know what it really was. I just don’t know.

    • What.The.Fuck.

      two quick thoughts: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THOSE ADULTS? If the administration and teachers are preaching it (“it” being zero tolerance for bullying) then they fucking better have the chutzpah to put their money where the mouth is. Excuse my language, but that is fucking outrageous.

      Also: that last thought, that it was embarrassing to you (to have to deal with the fallout from your mom following through): that’s something that I think holds back people who are harassed, bullied, molested, assaulted — pick the word you want. That awful feeling of reliving the humilation of the original act has got to be horrendous, horrifying, mortifying, and more. I cannot imagine. Having to relive it especially after the indifference of the adults in the first go-round… Gawd. It’s a wonder that ANYONE comes forward to report these things after they happen. That you had the guts to tell your parents, and that your mom had the guts to follow through on it… God bless both of you.

      • Yea, in retrospect, I’m very much WTF, even more so than I was at the time, about the fact that I was told to ‘ignore it’ and the fact that my teachers didn’t stop him from doing it. I guess they figured, ‘eh, he’s a huge problem all the time and nothing i do is going to change that’.

        He ended up getting kicked out of the catholic high school for various similar infractions, and being sent to the public school when we were in 10th grade (so much for the myth that “ALL THE BAD KIDS ARE SENT TO CATHOLIC SCHOOL”). I got the heads up from friends at the Catholic school, and I explained to my guy friends what the situation was. On his first day there, he came up to me and started trying the same stuff he did 2 years ago (names, not touching) and my tallest, largest guy friends looked their tallest, largest and meanest and made sure he knew he wasn’t even supposed to look at me the wrong way. He avoided me like the plague after tat.

        It’s funny that a bunch of 16 to 18 year old guys know what the appropriate response to that sort of person is, and teachers/administrators in a Catholic elementary school do not.

  2. Potpie, That was a person using sex to show his power over you. If that is not harrasment or bullying, I do not know what is. Good for your mom for going the distance. What happened to you could also have happened to other kids.

    As for ‘anti-bullying’ language, I am never sure if we are teaching kids the right thing or not. I recently saw an antibullying poster that made the pre-teen in my soul go ‘ya, right.”

  3. That was sexual assault and the adults should be dealt with for not defending you also.

    I agree that bullying and sexual assault are completely different, I do feel that bullying can lead to sexual assault. Zero tolerance rules are usually only for the name and I have yet to see them actually work. I feel that a strict hand needs to be dealt with them, but common sense must be applied.

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