Saturday, February 19, 2011

Judge Alex's Two-Part Series on Bullying

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.


  1. Scott, darling, are you getting the message? Alexis has ears.

  2. Alexis, why not -just for fun- next time you should find yourself picturing that happy scene, imagine that the good judge is a British or Irish judge and that he is wearing a wig like this:-

  3. That's a very thought-provoking piece, Alexis. I would have to define it as journalistic. And, as a journalist, that's high praise, indeed!

    When I was at school I started school in 1961 when I was four, and left at 16 in 1973, it was a sad fact that a good deal of bullying was perpetrated by teachers. A minority, but still too many. One teacher pushed it too far and as a result a child had a nervous breakdown and severely beat said teacher.

    The teacher concerned went to see the Head Master the next day, demanding that the school prosecute the boy. Instead, the Head Master forced the teacher to write a letter of resignation with immediate effect. Pity that the Head Master allowed it to get to that stage without previously intervening.

  4. You never cease to amaze me - you always make me laugh and cry all in the same post.

    As your parents said, I know - I know you hate when I agree with your parents, bullying has been around forever - true. Has it changed over the years, I think so. The level, malice and lack of basic human kindness has changed the face of bullying. Cyberbullying has given bravado for those too cowardice to harass another teen face to face and the good old herd mentality kicks right in. Smutlists, hate profiles, sexting and cyberstalking have made degrading others not only commonplace but vogue.

    I think schools and even parents are missing the mark on this one big time. instead of just doling out punishments the lack of reasoning skills need to be identified, the emotional issues and lack of self esteem bringing on their behaviors examined and along with consequences needs to come a better understanding of the psychology of teens that bullying. Parents also need to be better role models - zero tolerance of physical or emotional abuse - stop the gossiping - watch how they speak to others and about others and set an example. A great read is Why Good Kids Act Cruel by Dr Carl Pickhardt he is returning as my guest on 3/6 on a different topic for his new book. In my eyes the best way to stop the bullying is to heal the bully as well as the victim. In the end punishments don't work - consequences don't work - getting to the root of the problem, the bully, just may work.

    Today's bullies are technologically empowered, they are reckless and as we have all read are pushing these weakened teens especially those that are fragile due to special needs or other differences over the edge to the point of suicide. What I hope teens hear is that it will get better, you can get through this, there are adults that care and will take action and that a whole new world opens up for you after the horrors of middle school and high school - just hang in there and find an adult you trust to help navigate these rough waters.

    Bullying is no joke and Im glad to see Judge Alex and others like Annie Fox, Joel Burns and Shannon Cuttle taking a stand. Planning a great interview with JA and we will be going into much detail on the causes, solutions, legislation and laws surrounding bullying.

  5. Matt, those are some fine threads the judges are wearing. picturing the judge in them might give me something else to think about in those awkward moments.

    This is neither here nor there, but for Christmas I gave my pseudorelatives a cave man and cave woman costume so they could act out some of their wilder fantasies. Pseudo-Aunt's mom (she'the Catholic - not even the Mormon) was appalled and wanted to know what they had been talking about or doing in front of me.

  6. Marianne, your response was most thought-provoking, and, as usual,right on the mark. I agree that schools ar missing the boat on this issue. I also feel that parents too often see behavior as bullying when the victims are their own children or their friends' children. When the children close to them are perpetrators, they see it as kids being kids or kids exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of speech. These parents run interference for their children by hiring lawyers or doing whatever is necessary to protect the children from facing the consequences of their actions. School-imposed counseling, diversity training, and other means of opening channels of communication can only be so effective when parents undermine the efforts of the schools. I'm usually the last one in the room to defend school administrators, but, based on my own limited experience with my own school district, the school is trying to do the right thing. Parents of bullies, who are themselves bullies as well, effectively thwart any chances the schools have for succeeding in this regard. I recognize that my own experiences may not be typical.

  7. Alexis I posted a comment earlier and didn't come through I will test this line and see where I messed it up

  8. Alexis I set the previous message it seems that I have to post as anonymous and then sign it.
    Anyway my original post was very nice and comforting but I can't go back to all that. Since then I heard about some discomforting news. Jillian shouldn't repeat my thoughts about your first two paragraphs because I don't know you and you don't know me most of all I am not a family member.Mistakes like that shouldn't take such a dramatic turn, an advice and an explanation was in order but not this kind of a mess by every one attacking you.
    What happened to simple explanation to a seventeen year old. We all make mistakes at any place any time and we learn from that.
    At any event your writing about bulling was impressive and your response to Marianne indicated that you are aware of the cause of this problem.As long as we have parents who are protecting their kids for misbehaving we will always have this problem around. Parents of bullies should get a wake up call and in general all parents should learn how to read their children's behavior.
    Don't feel upset about the first tow segments it is true that private conversations should be kept private but the only thing that I found wrong was to send this blog to Judge Alex.
    It is not his business to know private conversations of family members.
    I am 100% sure that you know that but it was a moment of not thinking right when you sent him the link to this blog.
    I acted stupid myself a couple of weeks ago when I was harassed by friend in FB.
    This harassment went on for about a year now from the same person. Well finally the time came that she pushed my Greek fuse and I exploded like a volcano. Finally I had to report her on Face Book and she was gone very fast; my regret is that I should have done that before I exploded and came down to her level.
    These are lessons in life and for a moment I forgot my mothers advice to "think ten times before I open my mouth." These situations are happening sometimes and then we regret them but hopefully we have learned something from our mistakes.
    Alexis whatever you hear tonight take it as a lady and respond as one. love you Catherine.

  9. We still love you, Alexis.
    Auntie Jillian and Uncle Scott

  10. Everything is going to be OK, Alexis.
    Love, Aunt Jillian

  11. One day, from your office in Hollywood, you'll say to yourself: "Hey. Judge Alexis. Yep. That's a GOOD title for my TV programme."

    Pease excuse clunky British English spelling. Do they add an honoUrable degree of coloUr to my posts? ;o))

  12. I like British spelling, Matt. I'd probably use it except that it seems a tad pretentious for a non-Brit to use it. On the other hand, for the sake of pretentiousness would be a he!! of a reason for me to use it.