It’s been a long time since I was in school. We had chalkboards and erasers. No one knew what a computer was. Or an overhead projecter. Or a VCR. If we watched a movie it involved film with two big reels. We took recess very seriously. We played dodge ball and Red Rover. Trophies were given to those who won – I don’t think we knew what a “participation award” was. I played my first video game (Pong) my senior year of high school, and I became quite good. No one wore shorts to school – it just wasn’t done, even though there were no air-conditioned schools. And yes, I walked to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.
And I got bullied. I remember a guy named Vic threatening to beat the *)^&%$# out of me because I did something I never did before or after in high school – I took a stand for Christ. Once. I got bullied by a pretty little blond girl named Patti because I wouldn’t let her cheat off my test. Well, I’m not sure it was bullying, but she gave me the finger and called me some names. Back then, all us high school guys showered together after gym, and I was publicly ridiculed as a 9th grader who was, and I will spare you the details, the last to hit puberty in modern civilization. I know what bullying was like. I was trying to think if I ever bullied anyone else back in those days and I honestly don’t remember doing it. I was a skinny runt (it’s true) and bullying was counterproductive for guys my size. But it’s possible that there is someone somewhere who tells stories about that mouthy brat Dave Miller who picked on him. I don’t think so, but who knows?
Back then, bullying was considered part of growing up. Kids sometimes got in fights (I think I had one when I was kid – short and sweet, not counting my brother, of course) and parents just assumed we’d work them out. It was supposed to toughen us up and help us learn how to work out problems.
Things are different today. Bullying is considered to be an unthinkable menace that needs to be banned from society (not sure you can ban bullying any more than you can ban lying, cheating, stealing, or any other fleshly wickedness). It is widely believed that children cannot endure bullying and that it deeply damages them, leaving lasting, indelible scars which result in suicide, self-destructive behavior, or other emotional and psychological damage in the future.
What happened? What changed? Were we just unthinking back then, willing to accept cruelty that we should have fought? Has bullying changed? Have kids changed? This post is not a finished product but an attempt to start discussion. I heard something today and it started me thinking, and so I thought I’d just throw it out there. Maybe we are all so wrapped up in counting votes we don’t want to talk about anything else, but maybe we can discuss something else as well. Here are some random, disorganized thoughts and questions about bullying.
1. The biggest question is whether bullying has grown worse since “back in my day?” Has it changed that much or are kids today just softer than we were? I’m sure we all have opinions on that. I’d posit several factors.
2. The internet and online bullying has certainly changed the game. If I was being bullied at school, I could go home and find a safe spot. Now, cyberbullies can invade home and hearth to wreak havoc on children. The addition of the internet certainly changes the nature of bullying.
3. The breakdown of the home plays a huge role in this. Home was a safe place for me – oh, my brother might have picked on me some (I was ALWAYS the innocent one and he the aggressor, I promise you) but ours was not an abusive home by my estimation. Today, for many people, home is the battleground not the safe zone. That changes things.
4. I remember what my dad told me when I went to school. “Dave, if you get it at school, you will get it again when you get home.” Of course, “it” was corporal punishment. I only “got it” once in kindergarten and I actually stuffed blocks from the play area in my back pocket for protection – the ruse did not work. I don’t think dad found out and I’m hoping the statute of limitations has run out. But he made it clear he would stand behind discipline at school. In a similar sense, if I was in an argument with a kid at school, dad’s advice would have been, “work it out.” He told me never to start a fight but gave me permission to defend myself if I was attacked. If a couple of kids got into a scrape on the playground, the teacher scolded them, sent them to a corner (or they “got it”) and that was it. We didn’t hire lawyers to sue for assault and battery or complain about “safe spaces.” It’s a different world.
5. Kids raised in unstable, disfunctional homes may not have the same sense of limits kids back in my day did. A kid might tease and bully me, but he’d stop at a certain point because he knew it was wrong. Those boundaries seem to have faded today and the sense of what is acceptable and what is not is gone.
6. My “sense” is that bullying may be a bit worse today than it was “back in the day.” That is partially because of the changing world – primarily three influences. First, family breakdown. Second, the internet. Third, social policy that treats bullying as a nuclear offense.
7. Whatever the causes, the effect is that bullying is a real problem in churches today. We absolutely must have churches that are loving places and homes that are refuges from the harsh world. We need to love kids and realize that whether we think it’s the end of the world, to a child who hasn’t been given the resources, it really can be…literally. Some of you may have known kids who opted to kill themselves rather than deal with the effects of bullying.
8. It seems to me we need to work on giving kids the resources to deal with bullying because as much as we’d like to try, bullying probably won’t stop.
What do you think? I heard a story on bullying today and started thinking. I haven’t FINISHED thinking, just started.
What say you?