Bullying is big news. With kids cutting and killing themselves, the media, legislatures, and school systems are just now waking up to an epidemic that has been thriving under their noses for way too long.
We are searching for answers. Whose fault is it? The bully’s? The teacher? The Principal? The parent?
The truth is, we are missing the boat about what causes bullying and why it exists in the first place.
Bullying, at its core, is about relationships. The whole system promotes and allows bullying. Kids increasingly do not know how to be in relationship with each other so they resort to surviving the best they know how.
We don’t teach a “how to get along in the world” class. Kids must figure out the complexity of relationship on their own, making interpersonal interaction a Darwinian experience. Many think back to their childhood and view survival of the fittest as a positive way to learn about life. But the truth is, school is increasingly a Lord of the Flies existence, where teachers opt out of being in relationship with their students.
This leaves kids to flounder right before their eyes.
Bullying is the disintegration of intimate, caring relationships in a society gone digital. Bullying is not just a kid-on-kid phenomenon.
And here is the surprising part. IT EXISTS EVERYWHERE, especially in school between teacher and student.
Teresa is a 15-year-old who is chronically overwhelmed by the expectations of her teachers and her mother. An impatient mother demanding excellence coupled with teachers who never stop giving homework, grading and moving on to the next chapter has Teresa living in a constant state of anxiety and fear.
She has panic attacks at night thinking about her failure and inadequacy. Teresa attempted to talk to her teachers but mostly they ignore her, dismissing her as someone who has given up. Though clearly emotionally drowning in full view of everyone, no adult “bystanders” have stepped in to help Teresa.
Reaching her breaking point, she stabbed herself in the neck – all in an effort to stop the intense and unbearable feeling of rejection and inadequacy.
What makes this a case of bullying is how teachers caused Teresa’s fear and anxiety without attending to her obvious suffering. There is no relationship of caring between Teresa and her teachers. They were able to walk away (like any bully) and not take responsibility for their actions.
Too many teachers bully students to get their work done instead of being in relationship with them. Bullying bypasses the intimacy and work of real relationship. It is more than being rude or insensitive; it’s emotional harming of another in exchange for power, prestige, control, dominance or playing out unresolved issues on others.
Most kids, when asked about school, will answer that it is an impossible situation. They have no rights or privileges and absolutely no voice. Too often parents join with teachers to push, prod, threaten, humiliate, ridicule, judge, grade, embarrass, all in an effort to get kids to good student status, to get them to tow the line.
But in the end, what will work and what will always work is being in caring and respectful relationships. Everyone wins in a healthy relationship. It is harder and needs to be taught. But it is the only way to stop bullying.