Children Changing the World: Bullying, Politics and Indifference

To continue from where I began my first blog post, bullying was something I experienced as a child, but I quickly adapted to the situation and became one of the kids that intervened when other children were being picked on. Even though I had no friends in grade school, it became a way for me to deal with bullies and mean girls. When I fought back against the boys who tried to punch me by picking a boy up one day and swinging him around, it became clear that I was too strong to be physically intimidated, but it didn’t stop them all from calling me names and ignoring me- tomboy, freak, weirdo. Girls picked on me for what I wore, and wouldn’t befriend me. At first I tried to make friends but eventually gave up and defended those weaker than me. When I did that, people stopped picking on me and just opted to ignore me. It was my internal superhero complex and desire as a child. I always wished I could fly with the ability to rescue kids from harm, as if I could swoop down and pluck them up, delivering them to a safe place. This wish originated from being abused at home and hoping someone would rescue me. I transferred that desire into helping other kids at school, the ones called four-eyes, ugly, stupid.

After watching a CNN program recently on bullying, and having already seen the film Bully by Lee Hirsch many months ago, it did remind me of the power young people, that young people can make a difference in each others lives, to be the change they wish to see. It goes without saying that adults have ultimate power over (unfortunately), but I believe that each and every child has internal power and the ability to encourage each other and to change what is happening to some degree.

The CNN show moderated by Anderson Cooper which had the children from the documentary, Bully, and  Lee Hirsch on stage with him in a forum, discussed the ability for young people to stand up to bullies, that one by one if young people and children collectively stopped listening to, being overpowered by and scared into submission and acceptance/following of the bully, that the dynamics would change, that bullying would end and balance could be restored. There were children in the forum discussion who were intervenors, who defended and stepped up to bullies. It works. It can work. It can work everywhere if young people, educators, principals and parents all participate in the movement against bullying. If children are being bullied at home or abused, school should be a safe place, a place where children can learn, develop friendship and find ways to talk about what is happening at home, but that can’t happen if school is also unsafe, if educators don’t listen and aren’t trained themselves to deal with social issues of violence/disclosures, and if young people are being bullied and no one is intervening. The message is, “no place is safe and there is no point in telling anyone because no one will do anything to stop it.”

How many times have children said they told a teacher or the principal or coach that someone is picking on them or beating them up, or calling them derogatory names based on race, gender, sexuality or economic status, only to have a teacher say, “don’t let it get to you” or, “It will stop if you ignore it.” Why do we tell young people that violence against them will stop if they ignore it? Why is that message okay at school?

And what about our politicians? In Canada, Prime Minister Harper voted against a national bullying prevention strategy campaign. He would prefer to send youth to prison it seems instead of dealing with violence where it begins, at home and in the schools.

If there is a zero policy on using certain words in school to describe race(though sadly I doubt this is enforced everywhere given the high levels of racism, but…), why isn’t there a zero policy on using certain words that put down gay people? Why isn’t there a zero policy to use certain horrible words to describe girls? We all know the words, words that start with F, or B, or C. While adults are often just as horrible and pass on hatred and homophobia to their own children, there should be a zero policy in all schools, enforced strict policies.

And for the youth and the children who disagree and deep down don’t really like it when others are being picked on, don’t be a by stander to bullying. Organize with other youth and students, create anti-bullying groups and a visible presence in the schools so that children who are being bullied know there is a safe place to go, that there are children and youth who are there for them, who will stand with them and do everything in their power to end bullying. It’s not that youth are responsible to end bullying, no! But unfortunately adults are failing and it doesn’t seem to be enough to tell and rely on adults alone.

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Craig Kielburger stood up to make a change when a young boy in Pakistan was murdered many years ago. Craig understood as a 12 year old that unethical labor policies existed all over the world and that children were being used in slave labor. Craig vowed never to forget the boy who was killed and created the charity, Free The Children. I recently viewed a clip on 60 minutes with Craig Kielburger and thought how appropriate his movement and beliefs were, how the mission of children helping children is exactly the type of movement and mission that could stop bullying, that could show adults and parents a thing or two, and that could change the course of history and the lives of so many children who are experiencing violence.

As a child, being vocal and political allowed me to step away from my own circumstance at home and to change my own path. It was a difficult road for multiple reasons, but the one thing I learned along the way was that activism and helping others was a big part of my own growth and that the very act of helping others, volunteerism and political activism, elevated my own life at the same time.

For those interested in seeing the 60 minute clip, please visit: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50135739n

And for those who haven’t seen the movie Bully, it’s worth seeing, worth sharing with other adults, parents, children and educators and then continuing the discussion. Here is the IMDb link to the film:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1682181/

Thanks for reading! Please share this with young people you know and please share the ideas and movies and, talk, talk, talk! You never know, maybe a new movement will start to take form. I was one of the lucky ones and only because I was able to turn the experience of being picked on into something else, but what about the children and youth who have no outlet? What about the ones that can’t defend themselves against harassment and violence at school? What about the ones that kill themselves?

If you have a story to share or idea on the issue of violence and bullying, please post a comment.

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Photos By Joanne Vannicola, taken during Youth Out Loud event to raise awareness of child abuse. Visit:  www.youth-out-loud.org

3 comments

  1. there is a guy in my neighbourhood who makes me think about bullying a lot. i’ve hated this guy for three years now. he’s certainly not the worst kind of bully but he is rough with his dogs, his girlfriend and probably her teen aged daughter who lives with them too. everyone in the ‘hood knows him. the cops and animal services know him well. he’s one of those guys who’s out there all the time cooking something up on the street and people come and go from his apartment all day/evening.
    anyway….i’ve had yelling matches with him, fantasized about stealing his dogs, fantasized about some how proving that he’s selling drugs to kids, etc. and then a few weeks ago i had to thank him for something. it was like all my anger and frustration with this guy was boiling over and suddenly instead of having to go to jail for kicking the shit out of him, the universe made me be nice to him instead: i was watching a friend’s dog and he ran out of the backyard and took off.
    30 frantic minutes later, someone told me that this guy had found him and had him in his apartment. i know where he lives so i went to his place and knocked on the door.
    both he and the dog came to the door and the guy was smiling and so thrilled to have found the dog and kept him safe.
    he’d already put out food and water for the dog and told me the story about how he found him in the alley and coaxed him over. the whole time he’s talking to me, he’s also screaming at his own dogs to shut up and shoving them away with his fists. but he’s pouring affection all over this lost dog he found. and the whole time i couldn’t help but picture this guy as a kid. he happens to be small, but still…it was a stretch. he is rough looking and he is certainly responsible for every shitty thing he’s up to now.
    but i think he’s probably that kid who was bullied and neglected, maybe abused, and never found an outlet or a way to not become the problem. and that’s what the asshole makes me think about now when i see him; every bully was a little boy/girl once. and i still want him to disappear and want to defend everyone around him and steal his dogs. but these days i find myself also imagining ways to bring out the good side in him. that maybe he could still lighten up and stop being so mean and physical with every vulnerable being around him. and it makes me think of how much we need to do for kids right now who are being bullied by people like him. we need to keep their good side shining through all the hell they’re living – and it’s everyone’s responsibility to provide the outlets these kids are not finding at home or school. i certainly want to do more!
    thanks for sharing, jo!

    • Thanks for the story Kelly. What a horrible situation with the man on the block. I so hope that the teenager, and the animals are not being harmed by this man. The odds are not very good if he is using fists around his dogs and shouting at them while you stood at his door. Wouldn’t it be great if the community could do a bully intervention? maybe there is a way to organize and deal with this man in ways that could help the situation?
      And you are so right, intervention needs to happen at a young age so that children being hurt at home don’t turn into bullies and so that they can also get the help they require. Good luck with the bully on the block. I really hope someone can help the teenager and the animals.

  2. Hi Joanne,
    GREAT 2nd blog! I really appreciate the move to open the field of inquiry like you have so that ALL bullying can be discussed especially with the stories that go with the reach toward solutions. The stories are what hold me–like your stories, like the one Kelly (above post) told. Wow! I was reading a magazine I get four times a year. It’s called Ed. and is a Harvard Graduate School of Education magazine. I am an alum of that school so I am always interested in seeing how the School is thinking these day. The whole COVER was “Bullying” with an image of a fist. I’ve read the articles and they are GOOD. Here is a link that has a bunch of excellent information. I recommend them all but if you have to pick one, I would pick the one written by Alyssa Ahrens (she is a young person and here is the link to her winning essay: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2012/09/in-their-words/

    Here’s the link with the group of recent articles in Ed.
    http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/tag/bullying/

    Thanks for doing this Blog, Joanne!
    Sharon

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