Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

How bullying can happen: mass parental indifference

with 9 comments

You don’t have to be a parent who explicitly encourages your child’s bullying behavior, or knows of it and doesn’t discourage it, for such abuse to happen at school. Sometimes, all it takes is good people doing nothing.

Such as at East Middle School in Biscoe, N.C., where 12 students face juvenile charges for sexually hazing and bullying 13 younger members of the school baseball and soccer teams. Fox 8 News in Greensboro is reporting the efforts the school is making to get counseling for the victims and institute new anti-bullying programs.

But the school already tried reaching out to parents three months beforehand — and their efforts were met with a collective shoulder-shrug.

From Fox 8:

Officials at East Middle School held a poorly attended bullying awareness and prevention program for parents just three months before a dozen students face assault and sexual battery charges in connection with a sports team hazing ritual.

Attendance records show six parents attended the program, which was held in January.

I can’t get too haughty about how East Middle School parents must be horrible and ignorant, because my son’s junior high hosted a cyberbullying session for parents, complete with a speaker from Vermont whose son committed suicide after a long stretch of being on the receiving end of such activity. About 150 chairs were set up in the school gym. Counting me, seven parents showed up.

Of course, some parents don’t show because they’re working, or they can’t get child care. But, really, these pitiful numbers speak — to me, anyway — about how much parents want to put their heads in the sand about bullying and hazing. They figure if their kid isn’t a bully, or a victim, who cares? Or, more than that, they could never imagine their child in either position, so why bother? Or, worse yet, they chalk up such behavior as a normal part of growing up, so kids should just suck it up and tough it out — just like they did.

I don’t think the schools — or myself — are asking for parents to be rabid anti-bullying activists. It would be nice, though, if they would acknowledge that the behavior exists, and it’s not a good thing.

9 Responses

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  1. Thanks for writing about this. I got a ton of reaction to my USA Today op-ed on having been bullied in high school, including hearing from people whose kids are now being bullied and one whose sibling committed suicide. The attitude of “suck it up and tough it out” is wrong, I believe. Occasional teasing is normal, and yes, get used to it — hard for people like me who was an only child. After that, if people, or a group, are making you really unhappy day after day after day for months, there is NO excuse for allowing their viciousness and cruelty to go unchecked.

    I always ask one question: if your child was being punched in the face daily (or punching another in the face) would this be tolerated? No. Cops and lawsuits, stat. But verbal abuse, whose scars are invisible and go very deep, is seen as benign. It is sheer cruelty and anyone who turns a blind eye to cruelty is not “a good person.” They are complicit and should be ashamed of the example (passive, cold) they set for their offspring.

    Caitlin Kelly

    April 30, 2010 at 7:50 am

  2. Thanks, Caitlin. I think a lot of parents (and school administrators) still get caught up with bullying as physical intimidation, and underestimate the effects of constant verbal abuse from peers. Plus, there is a huge technology generation gap, with parents who have no idea about what a Facebook is allowing their tweens and young teens to participate in social networking sites, where their actions are subject to greater misinterpretation, and where their cruelty can be magnified by a million. A middle school principal in New Jersey just sent a note home to parents saying they should ban their kids from social network. That seems extreme, but it speaks to the disconnect between parents and kids, and how parents have no clue what their kids are doing online.

    Bob Cook

    April 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

  3. This is self-serving BS — as I can tell you from the heartbreaking emails I have been getting, from adults, kid and parents of kids being bullied. None of them discussed physical assault — which is clearly criminal behavior — but the verbal abuse. I had three years of it and it changed me forever, not necessarily for the happier. As you can see, I have ZERO tolerance for it; I don’t have kids. I would end up as a NYPost headline if someone went anywhere near my kids.

    Bullying is ugly, nasty, hideous cruelty.

    There needs to be a much larger conversation about why that’s acceptable.

    Caitlin Kelly

    April 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

  4. I am also really sensitized to this because my sweetie (who is Hispanic, slight of stature) and my youngest half-brother (tall, muscular) were both also badly bullied when younger.

    The fallout keeps showing up later in life.

    Caitlin Kelly

    April 30, 2010 at 11:38 am

  5. Here is Caitlin’s story from USA Today:

    I’m shocked that pretty much all the comments are supportive. I figured there would a few people who would tell her and others to quit their whining and accept this as a part of growing up — because I’ve certainly seen that sentiment in other forums.

    Bob Cook

    April 30, 2010 at 11:51 am

  6. Today’s Redlands Daily Facts – Redlands, CA – has a leading headline about a twelve year old who attempted suicide as a result of bullying. Oh, and the Clement Middle School principal – he thinks the incident was “overblown.” To the credit of the town and the school district – where half my family teaches – an investigation is underway. Very hard to mount a defense against a mob, especially if you’re twelve. Tom Medlicott

    Thomas Medlicott

    April 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm

  7. There seems to be little discussion about where kids learn to bully others: mostly their parents, who criticize, belittle, withdraw and/or use physical means to control their children.

    Carol Achtman

    April 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm

  8. When my son was in middle school he was being routinely bullied physically by a child who was being “mainstreamed.” I’m not sure what the boy’s problem was but he was several years older than the other students and my child happened to be small for his age.
    While waiting in the “car” line for me to pick him up, this older boy would take my son’s clarinet (he was in the band) and hit him over the head with it repeatedly. He would shove him out into the driveway, etc. When my son told me what was happening I was furious, and much of my fury was aimed at the three teachers who were supposed to be supervising the children in the car waiting line. The three teachers would stand together and chat while completely ignoring what was going on right next to them or behind them.
    I was so angry that I marched into the principals’ office and was shaking with anger when I told her what my son was experiencing while three teachers ignored the daily abuse of my son. Her solution was to have me pick my son up from a different location at the school. This worked to prevent my son from being physically assaulted daily but I thought it was a feeble solution and feel sure the abuse continued on some other unfortunate child.

    School bullying shouldn’t be tolerated by anybody, and I include the school administration, teachers, parents, etc.

    Karen Harper

    May 1, 2010 at 3:41 am

  9. Bob, I admit I chose not to read the comments on my piece there because there is no defense for bullying. None.

    If the comments were supportive it may be because I was totally honest about what devastation it wreaks — and yet (clearly) I still had whatever it took to survive and become successful in later life. It shows one can surmount the abuse…but abuse in any form is cruel, degrading and aggressive. If people defend bullying, they have zero empathy or, which I suspect is often the case, were bullied themselves and are still furious that no one helped them in their real pain and time of need.

    Any school or larger culture that tacitly encourages cruelty through passivity is a toxic environment. Life hands us plenty of other challenges; this is one wholly unecessary for maturation.

    Caitlin Kelly

    May 1, 2010 at 7:18 am

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