Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Story confirms bullies’ effect

March 21, 2001


The e-mails and phone calls started pouring in soon after my column about schoolyard bullies hit the street and the responses are still coming.

Readers from coast to coast have weighed in on my view that no one seems to be paying much attention to the bully problem a problem that is by all accounts a major factor in most of the horrifying school shootings we keep hearing about.

Not everyone loved the column, of course. One e-mailer dismissed my comments as "fatuous." Another complained that I missed the point entirely "GUNS are the problem," he insisted but most readers agreed with my contention that the issue of bullying needs to be addressed as part of any solution to the continuing epidemic of school violence.

"I agree wholeheartedly," wrote a reader from Chesapeake, Va. "Considering the impact of not halting this antisocial behavior, I think Americans should take a hard look at passing new laws against bullying rather than against firearms."

A former school counselor from Birmingham, Ala., said that teachers should take a role in stopping the verbal and physical abuse that some students inflict on classmates:

"There should be some way that they would be required to report bullying remarks to the principal or a school counselor or someone appointed to take and act on such reports."

A reader from Marion, Ill., says that the "media should focus more on the 'bully' aspect of these horrendous shootings" and that schools should adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward bullies.

"Are the authorities afraid to act?"

Several readers offered firsthand accounts of the agony that results from bullying. Here's one:

"I normally do not respond to editorials in our local Monterey Herald, but I felt moved by your column. I hear all kinds of solutions at work from people who have not really given this issue enough thought. I don't know that I have, either, but I understand Charles Andrew Williams' feelings and situation very clearly.

"I was the youngest and smallest student in a split fifth- and sixth-grade class in California in the early 1970s. The teasing was awful because of my size, gender and ethnicity. The teasing and harassment were especially bad as some of the girls matured physically more quickly and their parents could afford to buy them new clothes, etc. My father was out of work for a time, and my mother made our clothes, for which I was mercilessly teased.

"When I asked adults at school and at home for help, I got answers like: 'Ignore her,' 'try to be her friend,' 'punch her in the nose,' 'go tell the teacher,' 'tell her to leave you alone,' etc. None of the suggestions worked. They actually stoked my nemesis' ire, and her efforts increased as a result.

"I truly believe that parental involvement and school involvement are critical to addressing the issue of bullies. Not all bullies are misfits in society. Some are star athletes picking on the little guy, or kids just going along with the bully because it is cool and they want to be part of the crowd.

"Unfortunately, I have been on the receiving end of this and once was part of the crowd that picked on someone else. And, boy, did I feel terrible. My action and inaction have motivated me since to try to short-circuit aggressions in the children in my neighborhood. I cannot do enough because these are not my children and I cannot punish them. It is even harder when, after a child gets into a fight, all the parent asks is if the child won.

"Perhaps we are too afraid of infringing upon another parent's responsibility to raise children well. It has taken me 30-plus years to grow myself the way I want to be, someone I can respect and hope can raise children who are respectful of themselves and others and maybe have the courage to help their classmates in need.

"I know this has been a long letter, but I think the media sometimes ignore the painful issues in lieu of sensationalism. Thank you for your column."

Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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