Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Why tell bullied kid to do what we did not?

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I'm no expert on bullying, but I can tell you some of the advice we're giving kids doesn't make sense. Such as, I just saw this anti-bullying public service announcement about "Billy the Bully," which shows this kid shadowboxing in the middle of a playground while taunting and teasing imaginary opponents. The catch is that Billy is all alone. An announcer's voice tells kids to "just walk away," and bullies like Billy will look silly dancing around all by themselves.

Oh really? It's not that easy to walk away. Most often a kid will find himself yanked to the ground and stomped when he does.

That announcer also claims bullies can't stand up to a crowd and encourages kids to band together against bullies. Again, not that easy. Have you ever tried to organize a bunch of scared kids to stand up to anything?

Heck, Clint Eastwood has made movies about entire towns too scared to stand up to bullies. Meanwhile, the kid who has the courage (or foolishness) to try to organize against the bully now has to face the bully alone.

And how many times do we hear that adage about bullies actually being cowards and when you stand up to one he will back down? But how many of us have actually tried this? Again, easier said than done. More often than not, the bully punches some poor kid's head in.

But the main point is why are we telling our kids to do things we never did?

The rules of the sandbox, like "play nice," "share your toys," "no name-calling," "take turns," and especially "misbehaving gets punished," get laid down by wise and compassionate adults. But they are not strictly enforced.

They do not resonate in children as fundamental truths but more as lofty ideals because they do not reflect the reality of the world in which the child must function. It is much more gratifying for a child to claim "my ball, my bat, my rules" (even TV producer Chuck Lorre can tell us that).

What I'm saying is if we are going to help kids deal with bullying, we have to start thinking like kids and putting ourselves in the real situations kids face.

As much as we would like our children and youth to think and behave like mature adults, something happens in the schoolyard and playground that turns our otherwise well-behaved kids into victims or bullies.

Why do kids make fun of each other when they know it is wrong? Why do they beat each other up? We can make up all sorts of psychological and sociological reasons for this, but what we really want to do is stop it.

We really help by recognizing the real world of the child and not telling them to do things that don't make sense in that world. And listen to them when they try and tell us why our advice just won't work.

Why do you think a kid doesn't tell his parents when he gets beat up by another kid at school? Because, all too often, the parents go ballistic and demand the name of the "perpetrator" and then immediately go over to the perp's home and confront his parents.

"This is not acceptable behaviour in a civilized world and... blah blah blah."

And sometimes, those parents discipline their kids. Or do nothing at all.

But it can be disastrous to the bullied child. Because now their boy is a snitch (a tattletale, a rat, whatever) and, while perhaps he gets protected from further physical harm in the short term, he is now being ridiculed as a "suck" and a "weakling" and a "momma's boy."

We keep forgetting why bullying takes place from the child's point of view and we forget to think like kids think or place ourselves in the situations that kids actually face.

Worse, we keep ignoring our kids when they try and tell us why the advice we are giving them just won't work.

And so they suffer in silence.

And some are silenced forever.


Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer who drew upon his experiences in elementary and junior high school to pen this piece.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2013 A9

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