I read an article this morning about a student who posted a dramatic note on Reddit, threatening to kill herself if a school bully wasn’t addressed in some way. The student, who identified herself as “Sarah” says of this bully, “It is hard to use the word because almost everyone knows and loves him.” (Huff Post, 2012) Sarah had reported this bully to school administration and no action had been taken.
When I read this article, I remembered an NPR interview by Neil Conan a few years ago. The segment dealt with Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. A self-identified bully called in (she is a practicing psychologist) and bullied Neil for a period of time. Whether other people found this memorable, I can’t say. For myself, I flashed back to middle school, and felt horrible for the NPR host, his guest, and everyone listening.
A point made (and well-illustrated) during this interview: The bully is often socially intelligent. The bully can manipulate his or her image in ways that make Eddie Haskell seem like the clumsiest of operators. Because the bully is socially adjusted (likely moreso than the person being bullied) he/she is likely to be held in high esteem. This can cause a conundrum for school administrators. Who wants to be the person who calls the high school quarterback or the homecoming queen into the office because he or she is accused of bullying? A child or young adult could be stigmatized even by the accusation. In addition, bullies aren’t made in isolation. A child who is a bully possibly has a parent who is a bully. From the human side of things (and we are all tragically human) what administrator wants to deal with that?
Debra Johnson, mother of bullying victim Jeffrey Johnson, stated that being bullied is no more a part of childhood than domestic violence is a part of marriage. I find this a compelling point, and one that school administrators should take to heart. We may have been raised to believe that bullying is a rite of passage, and that we have to be tough to overcome it; however, we are responsible for the students under our care, and when those students can’t overcome the bully, we are bound – ethically and in some cases legally – to address the problem.
The Department of Student Services, Cicero said, also has done outreach within the community to encourage parents to be more aware of what their children are posting online. But she said that while this is important, the biggest challenge with social media is getting students to talk about it.
This situation actually seems to belie Cicero’s point. I have no doubt that this is a complex situation, but all bullying situations are complex.
It does no good for students to talk about being bullied, when administrators and teachers will not take action because of the complexity of the issue.