“No son of mine is going to be a mama’s boy,” said the proud father of the whimpering 8-year-old boy in my counseling practice who had just been terrorized by a trio of bullies at school. “He’s got to learn to take care of himself. He’s not going to run to his mama, his teachers, or anyone else. It’s just part of growing up.” And with that, he gave his son a solicitous pat on the back.
The boy sank a bit deeper into the chair.
The boy’s father wasn’t a bad person. He was just a subscriber to the age-old idiocy that bullying is a part of life, part of growing up, and that the shame does not lie with the bully but with the victim who isn’t “up to” handling it. Possibly when he was a kid his dad likewise told him to “man up.”
And despite these enlightened times, entrenched lies die hard.
But bullying is emphatically not “a part of growing up.” As Paula F. Goldberg, executive director of PACER, a national nonprofit parent center located in Minnesota says, “Childhood bullying is a significant problem nationwide. It can cause school absenteeism, mental and physical stress, poor school performance, poor self-esteem and, in some cases, school violence. Statistics show that 160,000 children in the United States miss school each day as a result of being bullied. That’s not acceptable. Teachers and parents can play a critical role in creating a climate where bullying is not tolerated. When adults and children stand together, bullying ends.”
Violence has no place in the mind, memory, or make-up of a child.
The United Nations has taken a stand against bullying by setting the 4th of May each year as International Anti-Bullying Day. Marta Santos Pais, former UN Special Representative for the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, set bullying squarely on the agenda by declaring, “Protecting children from bullying and other forms of violence at school is not just an ethical imperative or a laudable aim of education policy: it is a question of human rights.”
Seven years ago, the United Nations included the right of the child to protection from violence as a fundamental component of the newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making the elimination of all forms of violence against children a priority for every nation in the world for the first time in history. The Agenda further calls for the fostering of a culture of peace through education—and that includes a safe learning environment for every child on earth.
Violence has no place in the mind, memory, or make-up of a child. Children’s rights are human rights, and a child has the right to grow and develop in his or her way and in his or her time without being impeded, balked or punished for simply being alive. The bully who gets away with no accountability learns that his or her conduct is “acceptable” and, as an adult, will employ it as a useful tool for handling situations quickly with hatred, abuse and violence—as opposed to the more “cumbersome” arts of grace, communication and understanding.
The recipient of bullying learns as well. He or she learns that there is no defense against bullying, no reprisal, no justice and so has no choice. He must accept his lot and succumb to a life of victimhood, with the accompanying stress, depression and low self-esteem. Not an acceptable choice for your children or mine.
This May 4, reflect on any bullying you may have witnessed or been the target of or that you perpetrated yourself. Then ask yourself are any of those people—yourself included—better for having been bullied or having been the bully?
Is there any benefit from bullying at all?
Or is it, after all, “just a part of growing up?”