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The Suburbanite
  • Christine Haymond: Adults must intervene to stop bullying

  • Why the sudden interest in bullying? Kids picking on other kids is as old as the barnyard pecking order. The difference between children and chickens is that we human adults know better than roosters and hens.

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  • Why the sudden interest in bullying? Kids picking on other kids is as old as the barnyard pecking order. The difference between children and chickens is that we human adults know better than roosters and hens.
    Two faces from my elementary years haunt me — Johnny and Charles.
    Johnny, a big, quiet kid, wore the same baggy pants and plaid flannel shirt day after day. His underwear stuck out of the top — boxers. Same pair all week. Johnny smelled bad. He didn’t have a dad (most of us did, back then) and struggled in class. The kids left him alone.
    A teacher targeted Johnny. No public humiliation went unsaid in third grade. His smudgy papers were held up as examples of what not to dare turn in. He was paddled in front of the class for cheating and cried — a squeaky, pitiful cry.
    As an educator, I realize that copying somebody else’s paper was fueled by the purest of intentions. Johnny wanted a good grade. He craved his teacher’s approval.
    Charles was really smart. He carried an encyclopedia to school and took it out at recess, reading under a tree. The boys called him names and pushed him around. Charles never pushed back.
    FAMOUS FOR OUTBURSTS
    What really set Charles apart as somewhat of a celebrity were his outbursts. In the middle of any lesson, Charles might suddenly explode into a string of forbidden words. Even the big one! Back in the “Leave It to Beaver” years, the “F bomb” was simply not said in mixed company, let alone in class.
    Charles spent plenty of time in the office. The principal never looked angry when she came to get him. I’m betting some deep conversations took place behind closed doors. She must have recognized something special in Charles.
    Who, back then, had ever heard of Tourette Syndrome? Today’s knowledge of brain chemistry and the miracles of medication and counseling may have supported Charles’ natural curiosity and intelligence and helped him become more socially acceptable to the rest of us.
    Adults in positions of power over children must never misuse that power to victimize. It is our responsibility to teach our children to value the different and accept the unique.
    Teachers blend in when high school halls are crowded, so I’ve heard plenty. There are still more nice kids than mean ones, but I have detected something pervasive and troubling as well: Overt, in-your-face nastiness is pretty much accepted as normal. It becomes easy to throw around put-downs when everybody’s doing it.
    I call it the Culture of Mean. Loud and mean.
    Hurtful and insulting comments once were under the breath, for your ears only. Public insults are more common and accepted now, with an audience welcomed, even invited.
    Page 2 of 2 - The anonymity of technology has made bullying easier. Electronic media shield us from face-to-face encounters. Even nice kids can be mean from far away.
    INTERVENE NOW
    Adults who spend time with children need to step up — now — when they hear the Culture of Mean in the hallways, cafeteria or playground.
    “Hey, stop that!” or a simple “Be nice!” as I walk through crowded hallways always — every single time — have been received with “Oh, sorry” or a surprised “my bad” (translation: my fault), even from the Tough Guys.
    All children want to be accepted and deserve to feel safe. A child with an active conscience knows right from wrong. There are adult bullies raising their young — and those children must be taught what is acceptable. All children must be consistently reminded: Hey, there are grown-ups here, watching you. This is what we expect. This is what we will and will not accept.
    As old-fashioned as it sounds, mom’s advice was profound: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That aphorism flies in the face of the Culture of Mean.
    I believe that at their core, most kids want to be kind. Some just don’t know how. Others need grown-ups to set boundaries.
    The bully bandwagon will bring programs into schools. Headlines always do that, but policies and programs work only when people do. Responsible adults must recognize opportunities to teach the impressionable young every day lessons, on the spot.
    Johnny died young. His small private plane crashed in a rainstorm. How free he must have felt up there, looking down on the rest of us!
    Charles moved away after eighth grade. I’m pretty sure he’s a CEO someplace, using that colorful vocabulary and making the big bucks.
    Christine Haymond of Jackson Township is a behavior intervention specialist and co-founder of Teach*Lead*Connect, LLC. She teaches graduate courses for educators through Communicate Institute Training and Development.