How To Deal With Bullying

How to Deal with Bullying

Bullying—whether it occurs amongst school-age children or in the world at large—is the use of actual or perceived superior strength or influence to intimidate, take advantage of, or force another person to do something he does not want to do. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior—typically repeated—of a physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, and/or anti-social nature.

But the bottom line on bullying is this: When attempts at peaceful intervention and resolution fail to produce the desired results, and the bullying meets the criminal standard of “assault and battery” or some other crime of which the bully may be found guilty, or qualifies as the civil causes of action of “libel” or “slander” or some other tort for which the bully may be held liable, appropriate legal action should be immediately taken. [In some jurisdictions, libel and slander are criminal offenses]. The sooner a bully is made to realize that his actions have real-life, real-world legal and social ramifications and that law enforcement officers—not the president of the P.T.A., the guidance counselor, or the school principal—will come pounding on his door, or that he and/or his family might get slapped with law suits for monetary damages, the bully will be more inclined to cease and desist his bad behavior. Bullying is premeditated, malicious, harmful behavior that is knowingly and willfully engaged in, usually for extended periods of time. And as such, culpability should be meted out accordingly. Bullying oftentimes has grave consequences; many young victims are emotionally scarred for life or even take their own lives because of bullying. Bullying should therefore be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Bullying has been around from the beginning of time: Cavemen did it; the advanced, sophisticated Egyptians did it; tyrannical monarchs of Europe did it; and Victorian-era boys at England’s prestigious public schools did it. But for the most part, until people became more transient around the 1950s, bullying had its own checks-and-balances system: Almost everyone had or knew someone who could bully the bully if need be. So whenever bullying occurred, it was usually short-lived. [Of course, marginalized segments of society—such as minorities, homosexuals, illegal immigrants, the poor, etc.,—are still systematically bullied. But such mistreatment is usually categorized within a greater social construct, be it “discrimination” or “racism” or “sexism” or “homophobia” or “xenophobia” or “poverty,” for example].

With the proliferation of the automobile and the construction of cross-country and international highway systems, coupled with the ease and affordability of air traffic, very few people today grow into adulthood living in the same town or community where they were born. And rare these days in much of the industrialized world are “hometowns”—in the old sense of the word—where almost everyone is a multi-generational resident and knows everyone else or is related either by blood, marriage, and/or common heritage. In today’s transient world, people, oftentimes in the pursuit of employment or other opportunity, simply move “across country” or to another country and settle into communities where they know no one and no one knows them. For children, despite their adaptability and resilience, such moves can be traumatic, especially in the judgmental, peer-pressure-filled teenage years. Unlike years ago, when families were larger and seemingly everyone had an “older brother” or “big sister,” or a “young uncle,” today, many children have few immediate and extended family members and, as a result, feel less secure and more isolated in their environments. Such conditions are ideal for bullies to home in on the vulnerable. Oftentimes the “new kid on the block” is subjected to verbal and physical beat-downs, sometimes to the point of trauma and tragedy.

Unfortunately, much bullying occurs on school campuses, where children, theoretically, are supposed to feel safe. And part of the reason for widespread bullying on campuses is because of the cultural outlook towards schoolyard politics and violence: The general attitude is that the playground is at once microcosm and training-camp of the real world—the place where children toughen up to the harsh realities of life. In the minds of many, playground violence is a boot camp where “standing up for oneself” is a part of growing up.

The social record is replete with cases where complaints about on-campus bullying goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed. And while there is some legitimacy to the notion that children need to learn how to defend themselves physically, verbally, and emotionally, schools also need to be safe havens for students. Oftentimes, however, school personnel and authorities lack the skill-sets, training, and counseling expertise required for effectively dealing with bullying, oftentimes presuming, incorrectly, that children, if left to their own devices, will “work things out on their own.” But the result oftentimes is that aggressive children feel entitled to abuse their more docile contemporaries on campus—under the protective umbrella of “campus discipline” as opposed to the harsh realities of the penal and civil codes.

When bullying occurs within a campus context, and the bullying involves all minors, the victim should immediately notify his teacher, the counselor, and the other appropriate school officials, including school security and the office of the principal. Immediately thereafter, he should notify his parents or guardians, who should then request an immediate conference involving all the necessary parties. If, after the school has been notified and has undertaken conflict-resolution measures the bullying persists, the victim should contact law enforcement. When the bullying involves adults, law enforcement should be immediately contacted. In the case of non-physical bullying, if the conduct continues after the school has attempted conflict-resolution, civil legal proceedings should be initiated.

Outside the campus context, whenever physical bullying rises to the level of assault and battery or some other crime, criminal law enforcement should be immediately contacted, police reports should be completed and filed, and criminal proceeding should commence. When the non-physical bullying rises to the level of libel and slander or some other civil harm, civil law suits should be filed. Indigent victims should contact local civil liberties organizations so as to be put in contact with organizations and law offices that will provide pro bono legal advice and representation in civil matters.

In essence, then, a gentleman must be aware of his legal rights. Criminal and civil laws exist in every society that specifically address the crimes and harms typically associated with bullying. And bullies should be brought to justice posthaste; a victim’s life may depend on vigilance.

Today, via the internet, both bullies and victims can seek help. Organizations such as www.boystown.org; www.yourlifeyourvoice.org ; www.stopbullying.gov ; and www.parenting.org provide 24/7 service, hotlines, telephone counselors, etc., to help both victims and perpetrators of bullying. The listed organizations have international counterparts to help victims and bullies all over the world.

No gentleman would ever engage in bullying, and if bullied, he should consider the advice presented above. And when a gentleman witnesses bullying, he should guide both the victim and perpetrator to the appropriate outreach institutions that provide assistance and professional counseling. Finally, when a gentleman witnesses or becomes aware of bullying that rises to the level of a criminal act, he should immediately contact law enforcement. Bullying is one of the most pervasive, yet unaddressed, wrongs of modern society. And a gentleman should do everything within his power to eradicate it.

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