My guest today, Lisa A Listwa, was a high school teacher for fifteen years and she has a LOT of great things to say about this topic. I can’t even IMAGINE what being a teacher to teenagers is like. I am good with my ONE kiddo at home. Actually, who am I kidding? I can barely keep up with her so I am in awe of good teachers and the service they do for all of us.
I have seen physical bullying and it is almost always apparent who the bully is. I say almost because many times the kid you caught throwing the punch is the one being bullied. Lisa has seen bullying go from the playground to the internet first hand.
In my opinion, rumors, are one of the fastest and meanest forms of bullying. It starts with telling visible secrets where everyone laughs at the subject and ends with online torture campaigns. Please, please, please teach your children how to distinguish the difference between news and rumors.
BULLYING IS NOT AS OBVIOUS ANYMORE by Lisa A Listwa
When I was in school, bullies were pretty simple.
A bully was that big, tough kid who pushed you on the playground and took your lunch money. Maybe it was the cool kid who called you a nerd because you wore glasses and did well in school. You didn’t hear people talking about how this girl or that boy was bullied so mercilessly that suicide seemed like the best way to stop it. Was bullying less of a problem that it is today? Has it gotten worse over the last few decades? Or is it simply that no one was talking about it?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. And most likely, no one does.
But I do know that bullying has come a long way from that big kid on the playground.
I spent fifteen years teaching high school age students and I have seen bullying in action far more often than I care to recall. I don’t have to tell you all the ways bullying manifests itself today. You have seen and heard the stories. You have likely seen it or know someone who has. Bullying wears so many different masks. It is everything from that big kid on the playground to the complicated cyber-bullying scenarios of today.
A major part of the problem today is that bullying is not obvious anymore. It’s sneaky. It’s far away from the eyes and ears of the playground or the lunchroom. It’s unsupervised and it’s invisible. Bullying has left the classroom and the playground and moved to social media. And that world is a place that eliminates the classroom educator from the equation. The large problem facing teachers and parents is that we cannot fix what we cannot see.
Once upon a time, you saw the bullying in action at school – someone got pushed, or someone dropped a handwritten note. Then you could sit the involved parties down and settle the issue. But today the teasing and the shaming and the cruelty happen outside of school time and off of school property.
When educators bring concerns to the attention of school counselors or administrators, roadblocks appear. Administrators warn teachers to step back, tell them they are treading on dangerous ground. Talking about what happens on social media is a potential invasion of privacy. All too often, the answer is that if it did not happen on school property, in essence, it did not happen.
By the time students reach fifth or sixth grade, they are smart enough to keep the evidence out of the classroom – at least for the most part. They figure out ways to hurt one another and take pains to make sure adults don’t see.
But believe me, teachers know it happens. Teachers know that students are harassing one another but they can’t find it, they don’t have access to it, and they can’t prove it. There may be something large and dangerous brewing, but instinct is not enough to spur any tangible action to stop it. Teachers cannot help if they do not know.
The only way to know for certain that there is a problem is if students tell someone. But bullied kids are afraid. They are afraid of the people who are bullying them and they are afraid of getting others in trouble. They are afraid that someone, somehow, will judge or blame them for what is happening. They are afraid that someone will find out that they told someone.
It is our job as parents and educators to help take away that fear.
One of the most important things we can teach our children and teens is that they must speak up when someone harasses them. Tell a teacher. Tell a parent. Give specific details. Get the information to the right people so they can address the issue. If they do not tell someone what is going on, people will end up hurt – or even worse.
Teachers and parents must communicate in clear language with the children in our care. If something is going on, they need to start a conversation. They need to give details – the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Be specific. What did someone say or write? Who said it? Who else was present or shared it? What exactly happened? When and where did it occur? More specific detail means that adults can take more specific action to resolve the problem.
Our children also need to know that they are safe if they speak up. They must trust teachers and other school personnel to protect their safety and anonymity. The last thing a teacher, counselor, or administrator wants to do is make things worse for the victims.
And before any of this, there must be vigilance at home. Parents, talk with your children. Make sure they understand the way social media works. Make sure they understand what is OK and not OK for people to say and do and what defines a bullying or harassment situation. Look at their social media – or, better yet, use it with them. Please don’t say they need their privacy. It is in those private, unsupervised moments that our children are doing these terrible things to one another. If we sit by their side we can teach them to not only make appropriate choices for themselves, but also to recognize a potential problem.
The stark reality is that we cannot track every moment of our children’s lives. That was not possible thirty years ago and it is not possible now. But we can teach them what we believe about right and wrong. We can be present and attentive and teach them how to behave with responsibility and compassion, online or off. We can role-play with them and empower them to be confident enough to speak up when the time comes that they must. We can do all this and then we can hope and pray that they will remember when it matters most.
It may seem simplistic to say so, but it would not take much to begin to change the culture of bullying and harassment that exists today. It only takes one small stone thrown into a pond to create waves at the water’s edge. That is true of cruelty and evil, and it is true of kindness and compassion.
Lisa A. Listwa is a wife, mother, and self-employed recovering high school English teacher. She works as a freelance writer, editor, and tutor.
Lisa lives with her husband, her daughter, and three Rotten Cats. She spends her time stacking the pile of books to read ever higher, wondering if she should have been a chef, and trying to figure out where she last left her damn cell phone.
Lisa writes about life and all its fascinations and banalities at her blog, the The Meaning of Me. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
The Meaning of Me – http://www.themeaningofme.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Meaning-of-Me/1549497105318801
Twitter – https://twitter.com/LisaMeaningofMe