FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The trial of 17-year-old Matthew Bent this week has me tormented, thinking about a subject, an issue that has gripped our society. Bullying. This heart-wrenching, painful case is a classic example that speaks to the depth of the crisis and our failed efforts to curb it. It is a problem without a solid solution. In the end, 15-year-old Michael Brewer is doused with paint thinner and set on fire. His life is forever changed physically and emotionally because of a bully, or a group of them.
Bullying Is a Big Deal. And, it's a Big Problem that affects a lot of people -- kids and adults.
Bullying is acting in ways that scare or harm another person. Kids who bully usually pick on someone who is weaker or more often alone, and they repeat the actions over and over. Bullying starts in elementary school and becomes most common in middle school. By high school, it is less common but still occurs.
It can take many forms; hitting, shoving, or tripping. And, there's emotional harm, such as making fun of the way a child acts, looks, or talks. Writing mean things about someone in emails, texts, or blogs is also bullying.
Children who are bullied are often quiet and shy. They may have few friends and find it hard to stand up for themselves. They may begin to think that they deserve the abuse.
Bullies often pick on someone they think they can have power over. They might pick on kids who have trouble sticking up for themselves. Sometimes bullies pick on someone who is smarter than they are or different from them in some way. Sometimes bullies just pick on a kid for no reason at all.
Bullying can make kids feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely, embarrassed and sad. Bullies might hit, kick, or push to hurt people, or use words to call names, threaten, tease, or scare them.
It can make kids not want to go to walk to and from school alone, or ride the bus. Or, go to school. And forget playing outside after school or on the weekends if the bully and his or her friend(s) are lurking nearby. And if you do go to school, it's hard to keep your mind on your schoolwork.
Bullying bothers everyone -- and not just the kids who are getting picked on. Bullying can make school a place of fear and can lead to more violence and more stress for everyone.
I know all this because I was bullied when I was young.
I'm not sure if it was because I was the new kid in school more often than I care to remember. I'm not sure if it was the clothes my mom bought me. She thought they were "cool" and therefore, I would be "cool" if I wore them. NOT! Sixth, seventh and eighth graders only see an opportunity to tease you.
I can vividly remember the bullies who made me their target. The names aren't important, but know this, I was "called out" a lot. I often heard "be at the church grounds after school -- and don't be late. And you better be there." O-kay. I got the message. If I didn't show up I would be labeled a chicken -- and teased and targeted by a whole lot more kids -- bullies. I won a few fights. Lost a lot more. But, not a day went by that I didn't build up a sweat, and my heart didn't race as I got dressed.
As I grew up, I realized some bullies are looking for attention. I say "are" because many adults are bullied, too. They might think bullying is a way to be popular or to get what they want. But, truth be known, most bullies are trying to make themselves feel more important. When they pick on someone else, it can make them feel big and powerful.
Sometimes bullies know that what they are doing or saying hurts other people. But other bullies may not really know how hurtful their actions can be. Most bullies don't understand -- or care about -- the feelings of others.
A suggestion: Don't give the bully a chance. As much as you can, avoid him or her. You can't go into hiding or skip class, of course. But if you can take a different route and avoid them, do it.
Most of all, stand tall and send a message: Don't mess with me.
Feel good about yourself. And, make plans to walk with a friend, a buddy, whenever possible. Offer to do the same for them.
Enough is enough!!!!
The fact is, it has to start with adults. Adults have to model healthy behavior for kids. If adults don't act nicer, how do we expect children to behave?
Don't only leave this for the kids to work out. Let's do our part to protect them.
We simply must be part of the solution. Sounds sappy, but it's true.