I saw the movie “Bully” yesterday which stirred some thoughts. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. My wife and I were both moved by the stories of the various children who had become targets of ridicule, mockery and social shunning.
For me, as someone who professionally has met many children who have become targets for a variety of reasons, there was one take-away point. This point is the same point I have always felt from the early stages of my career (as a teacher) to the present day. Targeted, victimized or bullied (whatever word you are comfortable with) children need effective adult protection, support and intervention. From what I saw in the movie and have seen over the years, there are certain children who wear a large target on their backs and they become fodder for the aggressive ones. Expecting these children to tough it out and ignore the aggressive kids is unrealistic. It is beyond their capacity and may be inherently unfair to expect.
In the movie “Bully” there was only one brief moment where there was anything close to an effective administrative action against the bully types where they (the bullies) were effectively stared down and told that their behavior would not be tolerated under any circumstances.
In addressing bully types there must be sufficient backbone and clarity of message. From my view, nothing short of clarity of message will be effective. Putting too much on the targeted child or even the “bystanders” to deal with these types is asking them to confront levels of fear and intimidation that would be beyond most of us. They can’t do it on their own.
One more point, with our new bully consciousness, since bullying is the current hot topic in and around the schools, we risk having the word “bully” becoming marginalized and trivialized, just as the overuse of “ADHD” had similar trivializing effects. Every off task behavior is not symbolic of ADHD and every confrontation or unhappy childhood experience does not represent bullying. See the movie. The children depicted were clearly bullied and their lives were made miserable as a result. There was no doubt about it.
In sum, if you deal with children, the chilren being bullied need support and understanding. They need someone (beyond their mom) on their team. The bullies need to know their behaviors will not be tolerated.