Tag Archives: bullying

My Apology to the City of London — It’s Time to Grow Up

By Jay Menard

Name-calling, questioning people’s intellectual capabilities, mocking, snide supercilious comments, mean-spirited personal attacks? It’s somewhat sad that the very behaviour that we discourage amongst our children has become the culture of choice for on-line discourse in London, ON.

I learned very early on that you don’t have to like someone and you don’t have to agree with them. But you have to be respectful of everyone and their perspective. And, most importantly, you have to value their efforts and ideas.

Sadly, it’s a lesson lost on many of those who purport to work for a better London, Ontario. Continue reading

Is Well-Intended Anti-Bullying Pledge Just Empty Words?

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. Continue reading

Day of Silence Reminds Us of Need to Speak Up

By Jason Menard

As powerful as today’s National Day of Silence has the potential to be, to affect real change we need to use the other 364 day to speak up against name-calling, bullying, and harassment not just in schools, but everywhere.

The National Day of Silence is an event led by the U.S.-based Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. It’s intent is to get students to take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered name-calling, bullying, and harassment. Continue reading

London School Path Could Lead to Death

By Jason Menard

Violence in schools, unfortunately, is nothing new. What people should really be concerned about is how it’s only going to get worse due to the inertia of school officials.

On Wednesday, in Toronto, one student snapped. In retaliation to a prank gone wrong, a student allegedly overreacted and returned firecracker fire with a more lethal blow from a bullet. Those types of incidents are tough to avoid because one way or another that student would have snapped.

It’s not the extreme violence that we should concern ourselves with. It’s the rising tolerance of day-to-day aggression that our school system has come to accept – and, in some cases with its policies, encourage.

The school in London, ON, at which my seventh-grade son attends has a hands-off policy. Unfortunately, it’s a hands-off for the victim, not the victimizers. For students who are being bullied they’re trapped on both sides by fear – fear of the bullies, and fear of the school system punishing them for defending themselves.

Students who are prone to bullying are generally those who are more likely to abide by the rules – and fear the ramifications of disobeying them. Students who bully take pride in flaunting the lackadaisical approach of school administrators, knowing that any punishment certainly won’t match the crime. What’s worse, lying and deception is encouraged – and, in some cases, rewarded.

I turn to a recent example for illustrative purposes. During the course of one day, a student accidentally kicked a basketball into the chest of another boy. That was the extent of the transgression. However, the boy who was hit by the ball then stewed in his own juices, formulating a plan, and building his anger. At the end of the day, this boy walked out into the schoolyard, asked who the ball-kicker was, and – without warning or provocation – assaulted him.

Assault. Violent, malevolent, viscious.

Without giving the unsuspecting boy a chance to defend himself – or even be aware of the fact that a blow was coming – the child who had the ball accidentally kicked into him pounced upon the other boy, punching him repeatedly in the eye, at best oblivious to (or, at worse, completely aware of) the fact that the victim was wearing glasses.

In the end, the victimized boy was taken to the hospital and was told that he was lucky that nothing was broken. He suffered lacerations to the face and back, severe swelling and bruising around the eye, and an unhealthy dose of psychological trauma.

The assailant? One day suspension and a slap on the wrist. How? Because he lied. He told school officials and police officers that it was a mutual fight. Although he suffered some wounds due to defensive injuries, the fact of the matter was this was an assault. The police, in turn, were unable to progress any further.

One day off school. That’s it. That’s supposed to be a deterrent to kids in the future?

What’s worse, a crowd of students stood around watching the assault. No one stepped forward to break it up, or even to help. And then we wonder why school violence is rising?

Bullies will continue to bully until there are serious ramifications to their actions. And those who are bullied will continue to not fight back because they’re actually worried about the “no-touch” policies in place. So we have to get tough now unless we want the next school shooting to take place in The Forest City.

First, longer suspensions for fight instigators. Yes, there will always be schoolyard dust-ups as youth trying to carve their space and identities in this world come into conflict. But there are clear aggressors in most cases and they should be dealt with harshly. One day, three days is not enough. Make it hurt – and make it impact parents who refuse to understand the severity. One month out of school? That’s going to impact parents and child alike and will set the wheels in motion for change.

Punish those who stand around and do nothing. If a fight breaks out, the natural reaction should be to break it up. Two combatants can’t do anything against 30 or 40 kids. So if people decide to turn schoolyard fights into a spectator sport, then they should be sent to the sidelines – detention or suspension. By encouraging interventionist behaviour, schools will be able to prevent these fights from escalating into something worse.

Abolish the “no-touch” policies. They’re great in theory, but horrible in practice. I’ve heard several good kids say they are afraid to fight back because they’re going to get suspended. Where’s the common sense in that? Defending one’s self is a right, but through their policies, schools are taking it away from those who need it most. The meek, the studious, the bullied aren’t going to go against the rules, so why should they be hamstrung against aggressors who ignore the rules outright?

Bullying is real. Bullying is getting worse. And it’s only a matter of time until one of our own children lies dead from a bullet. As parents and teachers, we have the ability to affect change, but hiding behind established procedures and policies only serves to hurt those that need it most. School should be a safe refuge for all and the only way we can do that is to get tough on those who prey on the weak.

I refuse to accept that my son’s after-school activities could include a trip to the morgue. But if we keep on following the path we’ve defined, that’s where some unlucky parent will find themselves. And at that point, the community will rise up and the cries to get tough will be shouted from the rooftops!

But why do we have to wait? One dead child is one too many. Toronto and other communities have shown us where school violence can lead, so why must we follow that path? Let’s blaze a new trail – one along which students can feel safe about travelling.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Fighting Chance

By Jason Menard

As a father, I can only imagine the pain Strathroy’s John Melo is feeling today, grieving the loss of his son Joshua, who took his own life – with bullying named the catalyst for his action.

Bullying is rampant in our schools – and our schools are ill-equipped to handle it. In fact, many schools have instituted a hands-off policy, the concept of which my wife and I fully support. However, a concept and its reality can be far different things. Essentially, what educational hands-off policies encompass is a zero-tolerance approach to violence and physical aggression. One punch and you’re out.

The hands-off policy has brought a different form of bullying to the fore. Now, more than the realized action of violence, the perceived threat of violence and intimidation are the preferred tactics of bullies. What hands-off policies tend to breed is a refuge for more subtle forms of bullying: veiled threats, intimidation, implied violence, and ostracizing run almost unchecked, with little recourse for the victims of this situation. While there’s an increased awareness of the social and emotional ramifications of bullying within the school system, the current system, as it exists, ends up protecting the aggressors and further victimizing the victimized.

As adults we tend to overrationalize the problems faced by our children. What seems clear to us, illuminated by the wisdom of experience and perspective, is not so clear to our youth. While adults can understand that these threats are nothing more than a cry for attention, or braggadocio covering up the bully’s insecurities and fears, to our children these threats are real and present threats to their physical and emotional well being.

I’ve seen some kids’ frustration with their situation. Up until a certain age, kids just aren’t equipped with the mental and emotional maturity to diffuse situations with intellectual tools like negotiation, humour, or dialogue. Rather, they’re more impulsive, conflicted in their thought processes, and incapable of resolving their emotions in a mature way.

So what do they do? They either become sullen and reclusive, or they lash out – but with the hands-off policy, they are punished for striking back against their aggressors, while the bullies get off scot-free. And as much as students and administrators encourage students to come forward with their concerns and fears, few if any students will do so out of fear of being branded a “squealer” or “tattle-tale.” Parental intervention often does more harm than good as well, as the child then becomes a target for having other people fighting their battles (the irony of which is that these bullies often travel in packs, having older children as their muscle.)

Bullying also is not simply restricted to the schoolyard. While threats may not be carried out on the playground, the victims of bullying carry the fear that they could be confronted on their way home from school, in their neighbourhood, or at their park. While the hands-off policies may discourage violence on the school property, they have little effect on the outside world.

So what are we to do? If a school embraces a hands-off policy and is vigilant in its execution, it must be equally, if not more so, vigilant in the proactive curtailment of intimidation. A verbal threat must be treated with the same response as if a punch was thrown, and teachers and administrators must be increasingly vigilant about actively looking for these situations. Threatening another student should eventually result in suspensions, parents should be immediately notified about their children’s aggressive behaviour, and consequences must be set in place to discourage this type of activity.

It’s a lot of work, but it needs to be done. When I was in school, you dealt with bullies in one of two ways, you either turned tail and ran or you stood your ground and fought. There was a clear line and there were no shades of grey. Obviously a return to this type of frontier justice is neither desired or warranted.

However, if we truly want to embrace a hands-off policy and make our schools a safe haven for social and educational development, then we need to do a better job of making sure that all our students stand – pardon the expression – a fighting chance.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved