Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How Do You Really Feel About Bullying?

By Vickie Bergman, who blogs about education and parenting at Demand Euphoria

This is a story about Mary.

Almost every day for a few years, Mary has spent many hours with Peter and his friends, who are very cruel to Mary. They call her terrible names, throw things at her, spit at her, destroy things that are valuable to her. She has started to eat meals in the bathroom when Peter is around, because it is the only place she can escape his torment. She believes she is worthless and has thought about killing herself. Peter has warned her not to tell anyone about the things he does to her or else he will only make it worse for her. He is much bigger than she is, so she has not said anything until now. Mary has finally come to you and shared her story, and she is afraid.

How do you feel about Mary? About Peter? What should Mary do? Do your answers depend on who Mary is, and what is her relationship to Peter? Let's think about some of the possibilities...

1. Mary is 17 years old, and Peter is her boyfriend.
2. Mary is 27 years old, and Peter is her boss.
3. Mary is 37 years old, and Peter is her husband.

In each of these situations, I think the ideal outcome would be for Mary to be able to be removed from the abusive environment. I would encourage and help Mary to remove herself. As quickly as possible. I would give her a hug and tell her that no one deserves to be treated that way. I would reassure her that she would not have to face her abuser again.

Now let's add a fourth case.
4. Mary is 13 years old, and Peter is a classmate.

Do you feel different about this one? I don't. But I know a lot of people who do. People who would tell this Mary that it's probably not as bad as she thinks. That she should try ignoring it. That she shouldn't be so sensitive. That being tormented is part of life.

Some would tell her to fight back against Peter and his friends. Maybe they would advise her to tell a teacher about the abuse. They are certain that the teacher should and can stop whatever is going on. But until it all gets sorted out, she should keep going to the abusive environment (school) every day.

I can't imagine any sane person telling any of the first three Marys any of these things. Why is the fourth case any different?

I don't know if there is a way to "end bullying" in schools. I have a feeling that harsher punishments will not do the trick. But I do know that no one, girl or boy, child or adult, should have to put up with bullying or abuse. No one should have to dread waking up in the morning, when she knows that the day will be filled with torment and harassment. No one should have to feel like the only way to stop the hurt is to kill herself.

You might know someone like Mary in one of the first three situations. You might wonder why she would have so much trouble getting out of it. Why she keeps subjecting herself to the terrible treatment. Or why she has allowed it to go on for so long already. Maybe it's because so many people told her as a child to stop being so sensitive. It's just a part of life. And she tells herself it's probably not as bad as she thinks.


  1. I think you are correct in that more punishment will not stop bullying (when has punishment ever changed behavior). The only thing that I think will stop bullying is a tandem of character behavior and student leaders saying "stop that, it is wrong. Mary come sit with us"

  2. Unfortunately, the school environment is a breeding ground for bullying because it psychologically messes with a young human beings healthy self-image. The bully also has deep rooted issue that need to be sorted out and their behavior is really a symptom of a deeper problem. In the school environment however, this goes unaddressed, much like the victims issues get swept under the flow. Teachers hands are tied because of bureaucracy. It's very sad.
    Ideally you are right. If this were an adult, we'd encourage her to remove herself from the abusive situation.
    So the same answer goes for a 13 year old Mary. She should remove herself from the situation.
    IMO nobody should be in the sort of environment that breeds this problem.

  3. Lannah Sawers-DigginsApril 19, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    My first thought was that Mary should remove herself from this environment. I also feel she should say something but sadly feels too scared to (as I was) for fear of repercussions. This is when so many victims turn to 'other' forms of escape. Talking with her tormentors is not going to help (I tried that) and removing herself might not make any difference at all. It is a horrible situation and one that is all too common. How sad.

  4. Lisa, when it comes to adults, re: the scenario you mentioned in your blog post, far too many people would not care if a woman was bullying a man, unfortunately. It is very hard to get justice for male victims of any age, especially when a female is the physical, emotional or sexual bully/abuser. In my work with children, I see an overwhelming problem of girls severely harassing boys, even sexually and physically assaulting them- and it is not taken seriously by parents or schools. However, your point that people view the bullying of children as acceptable vs. that of adults is right on... It is the same with corporal punishment- Assault against a child is legally acceptable; the same assault against an adult citizen is a criminal act.

  5. 13 year old Mary is the most helpless victim and needs her advocates to step up and remove her IMMEDIATELY from the abusive environment. Then, her advocates and Mary herself can go through the process of confronting the bully and seeking justice for her suffering. If her advocates are dutiful, they will do what is in their power to protect 13 year old Mary.

    Then, 13 year old Mary can thrive in an environment that respects and values her and having learned from the actions of her advocates, grow up to be a 17, 27 or 37 year old Mary who can advocate for herself in any abusive environment.