Kids bully each other. That’s just the way it is.
Or that’s the way it was. I grew up in the age of “just ignore it,” or, even dumber, “if he calls you names and chases you it means he likes you.” No, it means he is a budding sociopath (“60% of those characterized as bullies in grades 6-9 will have at least one criminal conviction by age 24.”). At the very least, he (or she, quite often) is mean. And he definitely doesn’t “like” me, especially with the “has a crush” that was always implied.
(What was that about, anyway? Teaching girls that bullying is a sign of affection? Way to go on that one, baby boomers.)
Things have changed. My generation (X) and our successors must have grown tired of being harassed at school and lied to at home, because today’s parents, school officials and activists are changing the rules. Adults are teaching children that bullying is unacceptable and that kids have the power to stop it. Schools display posters and administer programs against it.
At the same time, things are much scarier for today’s kids. A recent rash of suicides by bullying victims leaves no doubt that it is not something people can just ignore.
Bullying starts in preschool, as those innocent little cherubs people coo over practice dominating others and indulging their aggression. It peaks in middle school, but it never stops.
Back in the day victims could not recruit allies like their parents or teachers. If they told, the bullying would likely escalate; better to keep your trap closed and endure. Now a town in Wisconsin has adopted an ordinance meant to stop bullying and “to give victims of bullying hope that someone will take their concerns seriously,” said Monona Mayor Bob Miller.
The new law could force bullies’ parents to do some parenting. If they don’t stop their kids’ abusive behavior, they will get hit where it hurts: their wallets. Monona’s ordinance targets repeat offenders whose parents refuse to curb them. “Sometimes you’ll knock on someone’s door and they won’t want to talk to you — their kids are perfect, they could never do anything wrong,” said Monona Police Chief Wally Ostrenga. “This is for those times when we get the door slammed in our faces.” The city’s attorney calls the fine “a tool of last resort.”
The fine is $114 the first time. Each subsequent violation in the same year costs another $177. Parents will get written notice before they are fined.
The ordinance defines bullying as “an intentional course of conduct which is reasonably likely to intimidate, emotionally abuse, slander, threaten or intimidate another person and which serves no legitimate purpose.” (For a more comprehensive and nuanced definition, visit the National Bullying Prevention Center.)
The LGBT community has taken up the anti-bullying cause with “It Gets Better” videos and other campaigns, because many kids whose peers perceive them as outside traditional gender stereotypes get a lot of abuse. Rape victims are another group bullies target, with the perpetrators themselves often circulating photos of the crime via social media and others following up with victim blaming.
Most victims fall outside of any special interest group’s sphere. They need the new anti-bullying movement. Kudos to Monona, Wisconsin, for innovation in moving the ball forward for all these kids.
The next frontier for anti-bullying campaigns should be the workplace. As a lawyer who represented employees against their employers, I heard harrowing tales of supervisors creating a toxic, emotionally damaging environment by bullying subordinates. It isn’t illegal, but maybe someday places like Monona will make it so. Until then, we all have a responsibility to stand up to adult bullies. Human Resources professionals: you should be on the front lines of this fight to protect people who speak out. Just don’t tell employees to “ignore it”: no one can do that, and no one should have to.
Photo credit: Digital Vision