Over the past few years, we’ve heard so much about bullying. It seems as though a week doesn’t go by without a news story about a teenager committing suicide because he or she had been bullied by classmates. Or videos hitting YouTube showing horrific incidents of bullying.
I work at Rutgers University. I was there in the midst of it all when Tyler Clementi committed suicide back in September 2010. I was there for the candlelight vigil for Tyler as hundreds gathered on the steps of Brower Commons to remember a life gone too quickly, so tragically. I was touched by the sight of an elderly woman standing beside an infant as people from all walks of life gathered together to remember Tyler. I was outraged as some Rutgers students cowardly mocked the vigil from afar.
In the days that followed, many used Tyler’s suicide and the many suicides of young gay men to advocate for stronger anti-bullying legislation. I remember reading a statement on one activist group’s Facebook page about New Jersey’s pending anti-bullying legislation. The statement discussed how schools, administrators, and teachers would be responsible for policing bullying in schools.
But something major, something critical was missing from that statement. And, I, being the loudmouth that I am, pointed that out:
What about parents? Why wasn’t the group stressing the fact that parents need to play a role, too?
My challenge went ignored.
But even to this day, I hear little from activists, the media, policymakers, and others about the role that parents need to play in ensuring that their kids aren’t bullies, or about how parents can help their kids cope with being bullied.
Why is there so much emphasis on our educators, yet so little focus on parents?
I think back to my own childhood. Like so many others, I was bullied. My good friend Ginny and I were geeks in elementary school and plagued with health conditions that made us stand out from our peers.
Ginny had asthma; I had a club foot. Both conditions limited our abilities somewhat, including our participation in sports. One of the girls in our neighborhood, Gloria, saw our “weaknesses,” and taunted us mercilessly.
In time, Gloria stepped up her campaign against the both of us, demanding our lunch money lest she beat the living crap out of both of us. We willingly gave up our quarters to avoid a black eye.
My mom got wind of what Gloria was up to, and was she ever pissed! She didn’t hightail it to the school to complain. No. Instead, she stormed down the street to Gloria’s house.
She filled Gloria’s dad in on what his daughter was up to. Gloria’s pop immediately intervened, and told his daughter that her days of bullying were over. And, get this: they were over.
Oddly enough, in time, Ginny and I became friends with Gloria, hanging out together, re-enacting The Poseidon Adventure in her backyard. We even set up a lemonade stand at Gloria’s house. (And Gloria shared the profits with us equally.)
Yes, hard as it may be to believe, we became friends with our bully. And, honestly, I credit my mom and Gloria’s dad for that. If it hadn’t been for them, for their indignation, the bullying would likely had gone on. But our parents took responsibility for their children, their actions, and the consequences. As a result, life forever changed for three kids. It truly did get better.
What do you think? Is too much responsibility for bullying being placed on the stoops of our schools, and not enough responsibility at parents’ feet?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, but with one caveat: let’s be respectful of each other and our opinions. In the end, everyone’s opinion does matter.