The Bully Ring - Long Lived and Long Perpetuated
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 15:09

Parents Have to Get Out of the Ring and Mediate!

In the last year, five young men and two barely pubescent girls took their lives as a result of being thrown into the “bully ring” – the historic, even medieval space into which usually one human being is dragged by a more resilient group of human beings and soul killed. Historically, again, the “bully ring” has long come to refer to one, ill-equipped young person as a victim, and a group, city block, neighborhood, or school of ill-equipped, identity-flexing kids, pummeling the soul out of a victim with the relentlessness of a flesh-starved and tortured bear.

This week, the "bully ring” is in the light of adult news again. And, again, the same questions are being asked of television stars, popular newscasters, Dr. Phil , and most recently and worthwhile, bullied adolescents. Their stories never get any easier to hear. However, the real question, yet again, is what we, as adults, are going to do for them, and about unacceptable, negligent, abusive and potentially homicidal behavior perpetrated by children against children.

There are several difficulties we have with the drama and fear-coated incidental model we take out and dust off to address the latest and most dramatic act of national or international bullying. First, the children involved are not from ghettos, the projects, not poor minorities or easily contained and viewed as a specific group other than "us". These are kids from middle to upper middle class homes, in good schools, with “good” teachers. This is when bullying hits the big time – regardless of the elements of sexual preference, deformity, or a bad case of zits. These are our kids – privileged, North American kids – kids  we raised and privileged. Second, the bullies (and the bullied), as our own, reflect much about us. They reflect our fears, insecurities, ways of problem-solving, the access we gave them to television, the internet, and repeated rentals of blatant snuff-ography, as well as how much time we enjoyed being apart from them, leading our ever-young lives, maintaining and nurturing our “individuality”. Parenting was not going to take us down or bend us out of shape. Thank God for the ‘parenting accessories” that came with the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, or the baby boomers and their followers might have had to wrestle with the historically challenging balance of the “parent trap”.

Of course, there are many causes of bullying. The psychological, instinctive causes have been around since the origin of man (and woman). However, the stepped up, high stakes bullying of the decade preceding the new millennium and into the first decade of this strange new world, is no longer the stuff of guess-work debates. We – the parents, teachers, police officers, even governments – have to act, and act quickly and firmly.

Without authority (which brings with it fear, cause and effect), bullying will go on as dictated by social norms and children’s and adolescents’ imaginations. Yes, as I have written in two books on the subject, “imitative bullying” will reflect the worst in movies and television, but it will also be redolent of bullying in the work place, among neighbors, and among adults in traffic. Children watch, absorb, compute and then spit out what they see and learn. We are, as adults, as impressive as we want to be. If we choose to be the “friend-parent” or the “good-guy parent”, “cooler than other parents “ (We all love that one!), we are part of and, in a way, right inside the “bully ring”. The secret taping scheme didn’t come out of nowhere among the predators at Rutgers. The emphasis on appearance over character, on “me, first” and the empty but pumping notion of “I’m amazing, and you’re nobody” didn’t come from television or film. Sure, we have a difficult time of it as parents – we are up against a celebrity culture in which virtually everything is based on image, glitz, and power. But adults bully too. Every day, in the news, and every day, at home, in different ways and with different names. It’s just tricky, adult semantics.

So unless we wish to continue to self-delude, we had better, first, police ourselves, with respect to our behaviors and our parenting. No pre-teen or adolescent child likes hard rules and punishments. But when did we forget that we were creating and saving lives when we decided to raise children? Until we step into the “bully ring”, recognize ourselves, and play stern mediator, bullying will continue to be a historic killer of souls, one we perpetuated. It is time we divested ourselves of our denial and belatedly addressed this social blight by both talking to our own children and playing an active role in our communities. The latter means that we have to push to enact laws that scare those prone to bullying. It is the “gentle touch”, the convenient, “creative laissez-faire approach” to parenting (that has been shown to be effective with 1 out of 500,000 children) that has exacerbated an unaddressed impulse in all growing and adult humans. We know that traditional abusers raise imitative bullies almost without exception. But is there another kind of abuse? Is it benign negligence? Well-meaning, if ego-centric miss-direction? Whatever it is, let’s get a grip on it – a tight one. And squeeze hard. It is the kindest and most responsible thing to do. Or, we can just stay in and continue to chat about, but perpetuate the “bully ring”.

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