mustn't go on; For many kids, foremost fright is being bullied
By James Alan Fox
Monday, August 29, 2005
You would think that a Web site called ``schooliscoming.com,'' launched by a major clothing retailer like Old Navy, is a back-to-school promotion for everything from flip-flops to sleeveless tops. Well, not exactly.
Old Navy is certainly clever in exploiting kids' fascination with horror as a hook to sell jerseys and jeans. The Web site is frighteningly accurate about how millions of children view the approach of school during these waning days of summer.
"It's a difficult time for kids,'' explained Emilie Nicks, PR manager for Old Navy. "We're trying to connect with how they're thinking about going back to school."
Of course, children are not worrying literally about wooden desks lurking in the corridors, but about menacing bullies in the halls. As many as 3.2 million kids are bullied, according to a 1998 national survey of sixth- through 10th-graders by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. And there are even more offenders - an estimated 3.7 million bullies - joining in on this team sport, pitting several against one.
Bullying is hardly new. As an obese 14-year-old with coke-bottle glasses who was one of a few Jewish kids at a boys' prep school, I was teased, taunted and tormented. It wasn't just because of my being Jewish; I was bullied at Hebrew school too.
In those days of unenlightenment, I had three options: continue to take it; react passive-aggressively by vandalizing the rabbi's study; or stand up and resist. After many months, with encouragement from my father and most adults, I fought back, and obviously lived to tell about it.
In this post-Columbine era, teachers and administrators are taking a very different approach to schoolyard terror, because so many youngsters are not living to tell. Homicides and suicide by bullied students have opened eyes to the devastating effect of what was formerly seen as merely ``kids being kids.''
Victims of frequent bullying, according to research on Finnish schoolchildren, are four times more apt to be depressed and twice as likely to contemplate suicide.
Fortunately, some excellent anti-bullying awareness and intervention programs have been implemented in school districts across the country. Yet the problem and its solution go well beyond the walls of little red schoolhouses.
In our culture, bullies - those who intimidate others - frequently win. We worship athletes who taunt their opponents. In the workplace, managers are often rewarded for manipulating subordinates. And many of our political leaders capture votes by bullying - I mean challenging - their rivals with tough-sounding, ``bring it on'' rhetoric. Efforts to combat school bullying will be feeble so long as we admire brutes and pity pushovers.
And just when you thought it was safer to go back into the classroom, think again. ``Bully,'' coming in October to a video-game store near you, simulates classroom chaos at a fictional academy whose motto, ``Canis Canem Edit,'' translates to ``Dog Eat Dog.'' Advance publicity says it all: ``As a troublesome schoolboy, you'll stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids.''
Though make-believe, the graphic violence in ``Bully'' is a virtual reality for millions of youngsters and a painful memory for countless adults. Sadly, the beat-up goes on.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at firstname.lastname@example.org.