By Jason Menard
The old adage states that actions speak louder than words. Until schools, police, and parents are willing to get tough on bullies, I fear that this latest anti-bullying endeavour – the Pledge to End Bullying – will amount to nothing more than empty words.
Essentially, the pledge states one’s belief that everyone in the community has a right to feel safe and that “I pledge to be respectful of others and stand up against bullying whenever and wherever I see it.”
Nice words. Great sentiment. But the ones who most need to follow those rules won’t be the ones lining up to take this pledge. If this sounds familiar, perhaps because it’s very similar to a piece I wrote in the Ottawa Citizen in May regarding a much-more graphic anti-sexual assault campaign.
The Pledge site continues by explaining how the Pledge is a community-wide initiative. It’s designed to raise awareness in schools, at work, and at home. Unfortunately, certain people are already all-too-aware of bullying – and those are the victims.
I’m all in favour of awareness campaigns and education. And what I like about this is that, unlike the Ottawa anti-rape campaign, it doesn’t only target the bullies – it also asks that the community at large get involved and take action.
But at some point, we have to ask when is enough enough? When to we stop focusing solely on education (Stand Up 2 Bullying, Pink Shirt Day, Anti-Bullying Day… the list goes on and on) and take true action. Bullies prey on fear, so maybe it’s time to give them a taste of their own medicine.
No, I’m not saying we should form a lynch mob and whack the bejeezus out of these kids. And, not, I’m not denying that many of these kids have real emotional, psychological, and social disorders that require support and counselling. But those are issues that should be dealt with after the fact.
Bullying isn’t just overt. It’s not just the playground fight or the pushing and shoving in the hall. It’s often much more insidious. It’s the threats uttered so no one else can hear; it’s the non-verbal and off-location intimidation tactics. It’s the on-line harassment.
And it’s all made worse when the school refuses to take it seriously.
Our son was bullied in his younger days. We called the school on a regular basis demanding that something be done. We were told that the situation was being monitored by teachers. But teachers can only see so much. In the end, our son found himself in the hospital after being pummeled by one of these bullies. Only then did the school take action – and at that it was only nominal.
We were lucky. Other families aren’t. Their kids are killed – some in the moment of bullying; others by their own hand suffering from the long-term anguish.
You want to stop bullying? Get tough. Fast. A child utters a threat? Call in the cops. You purport to have a hands-off policy on school? Well then enforce it. Hanging a bunch of cheesy posters doesn’t do anything; suspending these kids from school or having them spend some time in juvenile hall will.
Bullying is a crime. In the real world, we call it harassment, assault, and – in some cases – murder. Awareness programs and cutesy slogans are fine, but we’re well beyond the point of gathering around and hoping our chorus of Kumbaya will make bullies see the error of their ways.
Unfortunately, many schools see these troubled kids – and the targets of their tormenting behaviour – as someone else’s problem. Gloss over the issue long enough and these kids will slide on into another school. And while the physical pain will fade, the emotional scars can last for years. We need to get tough. Fast.
Schools must take threats seriously and they must act fast. Parents must stop protecting their bullying children – we’ve been told over and over that we are in the vast minority because we expect the school to enforce consequences for our son’s actions (tardiness, not handing in assignments). In many cases, the parents can’t control their kids’ behaviours, but they can certainly get out of the way when it comes time to punish them for their actions. Kids know they can threaten parents, teachers, and fellow students alike with absolutely no repercussions.
Recently, New Jersey enacted legislation that holds schools legally responsible for the behaviour of their students towards one another. Is that the answer? Something has to be. Anti-bullying has to be more than posters and buzz words. Holding people accountable for their actions – or lack thereof – is the only way we can reduce bullying.
The Pledge to End Bullying is a nice start – a rallying point around which the community can gather. But unless that pledge is backed up by serious action, then it will prove to be just like the rest of the campaigns and it will be our community’s children that suffer for our empty words.