Pseudo-Auntie and I finished two sets of tennis on indoor courts at a nearby university. She won, which was no surprise. She played four years of NCAA Division I tennis, as compared to my one year of high school tennis. The very first time the two of us ever played, it was obvious that she was going incredibly easy on me. At that time I had not yet decided to give up competitive tennis. I asked her not to give games or even points away to me because I would never know how I was doing against her if she didn't play her best against me. When we play she typically kills me, but I should usually win a single game out of two sets. If I don't, or if I win more, we can try to figure out if I'm getting better or if she's getting worse. Since I rarely play anymore, we now know for certain that she's getting worse. She's not worried about it. She said that when she starts losing to PseudoUncle, she'll start worrying.
When we got home, it was time for Part Two of Judge Alex's special series on bullying. Yesterday we watched Part One of the series. "Judge Alex" is one of the things PseudoAuntie and I have in common. No one else in either of our families is totally enamored of Judge Alex's courtroom TV program, although my dad watches it with me on occasion. When we DVR the program at the Pseudos' home and watch it in the evening, we have to put up with PseudoUncle's annoying commentary about Judge Alex's dreamy eyes or winning smile, or how closely he resembles PseudoAunt's father. PseudoUncle likes to make jokes about PseudoAunt's Electra complex. He's even said a few things when he thought I was out of earshot about how PseudoAunt closes her eyes when they're making love so that she can pretend PseudoUncle is Judge Alex. I know. It nearly made me ill as well.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the bullying special. It was well-done; not Earth-shatteringly informative, but good. Some of what was said may have come as more of a shock to someone removed from the trenches of elementary or secondary school for many years, although my parents assure me that bullying was around when they were kids, too. My dad, who served a two-year mission for his parents' church when he was nineteen, likes to periodically spout out some of the many scriptures he was forced to memorize. Though he's not particularly religious now, he probably does this more than anything because he hates to think of all the space in his brain occupied by scriptures as being basically wasted memory space. Anyway, when we were dicussing bullying once, he brought up Biblical accounts of bullying, including Joseph (of technicolor coat fame) who was first thrown into a hole in the ground, then sold into slavery by a large pack of brothers who ganged up on him.
When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher did a quarter-long unit on journalism in which we had to write editorials, usually focusing upon current events. If anyone wrote an editorial on, say, a recent earthquake, the main point of which was that earthquakes are bad, that person would have had his or her paper returned with a big fat "DUH!" written in red ink along with a letter grade of "F." The point I am trying to make is that writing or saying something to the effect of "bullying is bad" or "bullying is wrong" is obvious to the point of redundancy. Even Charles Manson or Satan himself would probably agree that bullying is not a good thing. Questions arise only in regard to what can be done to stop or to prevent it or even to the more rhetorical, "What is bullying?".
Most people generally agree that bullying of a physical nature is indeed bullying and is wrong. While it is, as Judge Alex brought up, sometimes misclassified as a fight, in general school authorities and parents agree that it is wrong for one student to hit, push, kick, spit on, steal from, or damage the property of another, and such behavior is usually met with consequences. Such actions are clearly illegal, furthermore, and the fact that the perpetrator and victim are minors or that the actions occurred in a school does little or nothing to make it more legal.
Verbal bullying is harder to agree upon and more difficult against which to levy consequences. The premise of freedom of speech as detailed in the First Amendment, while clearly not absolute, sometimes gives misguided students and their equally misguided parents the false perception that they have the legal right to speak their minds freely even if others are harmed in the process. Thus, parents are not always supportive of school administrators' attempts to protect students from verbal bullying. An added complication is that most students who verbally harass other students don't make it a point to do so in the presence of a vice-principal or another school authority, which leads to allegations and denials concerning verbal bullying. Still, eventually verbal bullies usually slip up in the presence of teachers or administrators. When a student is caught red-handed or red-mouthed, school authorities need to operate under the assumption that it is probably not the first time the perpetrator has verbally abused or the victim has suffered abuse, and should levy consequence and heighten supervision accordingly.
Bullying of a social nature, while devastating, is tough for school authorities to combat. Where overt threats are involved, clear lines have been crossed. Sometimes these threats take place outside of school, however, and often through text messages or social networks. School authorities may have limited power over students guilty of using social networks for bullying purposes. Furthermore, if the rumors spread are unkind but true, spreading them via Facebook or any other medium can hardly be termed libelous. Other forms of social bullying, such as exclusion or silence, are tough to regulate. Teachers can force students to interact with others in class, but how do school authorities force students to talk to each other in the cafeteria or elsewhere on school grounds? Perhaps the best they can do in this regard is to be sufficiently vigilant that overt bullying doesn't take place.
Judge Alex stated that some schools address bullying, while others do not. I assume the judge would not have made such an assertion without some supporting research. The schools I have attended have addressed bullying, although probably with varying degrees of success. In group sessions at the mental heaalth facility from which I am currently on furlough, the topic has been approached by therapists. Some inpatients have been victims of bullying, while others claim not to have been. (One would expect teens admitted to an inpatient mental health facility to be at a higher risk for victimization by bullies, although I have no research to support this hypothesis.) None of the teens in my groups suggested that their schools turned a blind eye to bullying, although, again, some reported effective handling of situations, while others gave reports of marginal competence in the area. My mom, who is a licensed clinical psychologist although she's not currently practicing as such, said that in the olden days when she was in school (she's 46 now), the common perception among educators was that the victim was doing something to cause himself to be a victim, and that it was best left to the kids to sort such things out themselves. Only when kids were physically injured did anyone typically intervene.
There clearly isn't an easy answer to the problem of bullying. It seems ironic to me that even though school authorities often did nothing about bullying in previous generations unless laws were broken in the process, more students today are driven to such extreme measures as suicide by the effects of bullying. Society as a whole seems less civilized, and the world seems a meaner place, than it perhaps was in the one or two preceding generations. Perhaps bullying, too, has taken on a meaner form. Also affecting the seriousness of today's bullying may be the presence of a cell phone in every kid's hand and the pervasiveness of social networks. In earlier years, one usually took refuge from the bullying of outsiders once one reached his or her home. Other than the rare harassing phone call on the family line, the sanctity of home was essentially impenetrable to bullies. Such is, unfortunately and obviously, no longer the case.
Some aspects of the conundrum of bullying were left unexamined by Judge Alex. Is every incidence of alleged bullying truly a case of bullying? Has bullying become such a buzz word that it is to the 2010's what child molestation was to the 1980's (think McMartin preschool), which would be, in essence, a modern-day witch hunt? While every allegation of bullying must be checked out, caution must be taken not to apply the word where it doesn't apply. For the record, each scenario featured on Judge Alex's two-part series clearly met the litmus test for bona fide bullying. The case of the thirteen-year-old boy who took his own life was particularly heartbreaking.
Bullying isn't a problem that is fixable in a two-part series, a fact of which Judge Alex Ferrer surely is aware. Furthermore, bullying will probably never disappear completely as long as humans populate the Earth. Still, the only way to keep bullying from affecting young people to the extent that it indisputably has is to discuss it openly. Parents of both bullies and victims must be aware of the signs for which they need to be on alert, and young people who are victims need to know that if bullying has gotten to the point that they no longer feel capable of dealing with it, help is available.