Tag Archives: bullying

What about prom?

Let’s let go for a moment of the fact that Constance McMillen wanted to bring a girl to the prom.  Let’s forget the lawsuit and the homophobia and the absurdity of anyone giving a shit who brings whom to the prom.  In fact, let’s leave Constance out of this conversation altogether for a couple of minutes.

Instead, if we may, can we please focus in on the fact that the parents in Itawamba, Mississippi all got together and organized a fake prom for the sole purpose of excluding a couple of queers and a few learning disabled kids and – I’m just guessing here – one or two other social misfits, as well.

Now, I am always the first person to sign up for organizing parties at my kids’ schools, not because I love doing that crap but because the first person to sign up always gets to bring napkins or grapes, while the last person is inevitably stuck making 97 tiny egg salad sandwiches.  Organizing this shit SUCKS, and that’s why I make it my business to do as little as possible for school parties while still appearing to be involved.

So it fucking blows my mind that there was a group of parents who actually thought it was worth the trouble to plan two proms – a real one and a fake one – just for the sake of excluding a handful of kids.

Really?  You care that much?

I mean, think of the effort they had to go to, not just planning two parties, but making sure that the losers all got sent to the wrong place while the rest of the kids went to the right place.  There just must not be a whole hell of a lot to do in Itawamba, Mississippi if we’re spending our time on that kind of crap.

The diamond-pointed cruelty of it all just astonishes me.  Sure, my high school had meanness and bullying and all that shit, but most of us have grown out of it by now.  I cannot imagine a group of adults all being so incredibly mean-spirited as to target a small group of kids because they were too uncool to do the Electric Slide next to their own precious children.

And, so, on the off chance that someone in Itawamba is reading this, I would like to point out the bleeding obvious that somehow missed your attention: those kids – the ones with learning disabilities and buck teeth and whathaveyou – those kids are someone’s children.

And you should be fucking ashamed of yourselves.

On grownups and teenaged bullies

So, I’ve been thinking about these girls who bullied Phoebe Prince for three months before the fifteen-year-old couldn’t take it anymore and hung herself with a scarf her sister had given her for Christmas.  It’s a tragic story, not the least for her poor sister, who found Phoebe’s body hanging in a stairwell.

It’s also tragic, however, for the girls who harassed their classmate so mercilessly that she saw no way out but to kill herself.  Because, I’m betting that these girls are more or less normal teenagers – insecure, feeling their oats, and just generally clueless about life.  We all know how the song goes, because we surely sang it throughout our teens.  Even the happiest of teenagers hummed a few bars.

Come on, talk to me here.  How many of you bullied or teased someone?  How many were bullied or teased yourself?  Probably most of you.  Because that’s what teenagers do, right?  They get a little bit of power and have no fucking clue what the hell to do with it, so they get drunk on it and abuse it.

Now, hopefully, in most situations, the victim is strong enough to withstand it and the perpetrators think the better of it after a few rounds.  That’s the best-case scenario, right?  It’s a normal part of growing up.

Well, I’m gonna have to call “Bullshit” on this one.  Hell, yes, it’s a normal part of growing up.  But that doesn’t mean we just sit around drinking beers with our thumbs up our asses and hope everyone comes through the fire with only mild burns.

Acne is a normal part of growing up, yet we take our kids to dermatologists.  Crooked teeth are normal, yet we go to orthodontists.  So, sure, bullying is normal, but that doesn’t mean we leave our kids to figure it out for themselves.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: kids have no fucking clue what they are doing.  It’s the grown-ups’ job to help them, teach them, guide them.  That is equally true for algebra and for social relationships.  When a group of girls gets carried away by their own power, they need adults to reign them in.  They have no idea how to do it for themselves.

Maybe we all need to spend less time worrying about whether teenagers are having sex and more time teaching them how to handle social situations.  Because sex?  Also a normal part of growing up.

The bullies were let down by their adults.  No one helped them learn to be kinder or more civil.  No one set the limits they needed, no one gave them the lessons they needed in the line between acceptable and unacceptable.  The adults just stood aside and waited for them to outgrow it.

Unfortunately, Phoebe Prince won’t get a chance to outgrow it.

The boy in fourth period

My first year of teaching, he was enrolled in my freshman honors English class, fourth period.  He was enrolled, but by the middle of November, I was getting used to marking a little X in the box by his name.  He was enrolled, but he almost never attended school.

Dan had school phobia, they told us.  After winter break, we all met with his parents to discuss how to help him come back to school, now that he had missed so much.  He showed up in January, then disappeared again.

I recognized Dan when I saw him.  He was a walking target.  Anxious, nervous ticks, shoulders slumped.  Walking targets are the kids who care too much about fitting in but don’t quite know how to.  The ones who want to be normal even though that just isn’t the way they are wired.  I knew all about walking targets.

I had been one myself throughout my childhood.  For a long, long time, I assumed that I had social troubles was because I had been abused in my home until I was ten.  No one had taught me how to fit in.  No one had given me self-confidence and ease and all that good shit.  As I get older, however, I have come to realize that much of it may just have been the way I was born.

My son cares deeply about fitting in.  My son doesn’t know how to.  And he fights me hard when I try to help him.  Not that I really know how to help him.

My parents, I have come to suspect, were much the same way.  Not freaks, but just different enough to stand out.  That, paired with a dorky sort of charisma that draws attention to oneself?  Might as well tape that “Kick Me” sign to our backs before we even leave for school in the morning.

So, I recognized this kid the few times he came into my room.  I heard rumors that his school phobia came from being teased, and I sure believed that.  Dan disappeared again in January, but we were assured he would try to return in February.

Some say he shot himself that day just so he wouldn’t have to return to school.

There were far, far too many kids who died from my first year of teaching.  There was a tragic car accident and another suicide, not to mention some other deaths in the school system.  But, lately his death has haunted me the most, even though I knew him the least.

I turned mean girl once my senior year of high school.  I had finally accomplished some level of social acceptance, after years of social scrabbling to try to get out from the bottom of the heap.  When a sophomore friend of mine started in with an ex-boyfriend of mine, I turned quite a few of the senior girls against her.  “Leave her alone,” the ex-boyfriend told me.  “She can’t walk down the halls in school without people taunting her.”

That was all it took to bring me to my senses.  I had been in her shoes so many times, and the last thing I wanted to do was be that kind of an asshole.  I had behaved very, very badly.

She’s turned out OK and seems to have forgiven me, which gives me less absolution than you would think.  But, the incident stands out for me as a reminder that the tormenters are human and easily can be turned around, if only handled properly.

It’s that proper handling that’s so tricky to figure out.  Who needs to intervene?  How?  When?  When do we let the victim fight for his own self-respect and when do we step in?  What could have been done differently in eighth grade, sixth grade, kindergarten to have kept Dan from shooting himself on the roof of his house?

I ask you these questions, and so many more.  What should the parents do?  What helps a kid learn the trick for stopping the bullying?  I cannot tell you my story because we are in a small town, and details will not help my child.  Suffice it to say, nothing terrible has happened yet, but my kid is feeling the beginnings and he is trying hard to deal with it.

I cannot tell you the story, but you can tell me yours. What worked with your kids?  What worked with you?  Were you a bully, a bullied?  Both?  Were your kids?  Talk to me people.  Tell me what you know.

Because even now, thirteen years later, I still go to sleep some nights thinking about Dan.