When I was in seventh grade, there was a set of twin girls in our class, Anna and Linda. I remember them being bigger and stouter than the rest of us – rather imposing.
Now, we all know how difficult seventh grade is: Some kids are still playing with Barbies, Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels, while others are dating ninth graders. My guess is that Anna and Linda spent their after-school hours blowing up G.I. Joes with firecrackers. It goes without saying that we were all a bit fearful of those two.
One day, in the locker room after PE class, Linda began to rant and rave about a perceived injustice. I don’t recall what it was – probably that she got nailed in dodge ball and demanded to know who was responsible. At one point I joked, “Aw, c’mon, Linda. You’re so loud they can hear you at Burleson’s (a local soda fountain downtown).”
I soon discovered that was the wrong thing to say. Linda marched my way from the other side of the lockers and slugged me in the arm. Ouch! I couldn’t imagine why someone would whack me; I was only joking.
I don’t recall what happened after that. I suppose the teacher, Miss Worl, intervened, and that was that. It was my first exposure to a bully, though. Even after all these years, I remember being terrified that I’d suffer more from Linda’s hand than just a sore arm.
As a result, I can totally empathize with kids today facing the bullies in their classrooms, neighborhoods, and hangouts. And I can see how frightening it is for bystanders to confront bullies. Let’s face it: They are downright mean.
There are many anti-bullying campaigns in effect these days. On their website, our local schools declare that “The administration, faculty, and staff at Park 6 are dedicated to making our schools bully-free zones.”
So, I wondered if there was more bullying today than in the past. Is it indeed more pervasive?
I also wondered if there were specific actions that a bullied student or a bystander can take to thwart a bully. I had heard all the “stand up to a bully,” or “tell an adult,” but as my arm aches simply thinking about Linda’s right hook, I know that it is scary to be vocal.
Thankfully, the anti-bullying organizations do have those specific strategies for bullies, bystanders, and victims, to defuse these situations – programs adopted by schools and cities to curb such incidents with long-term effects.
In a landmark report by Dr. James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Boston’s Northeastern University titled “Bullying Prevention Is Crime Prevention,” Fox reports that “Bullied boys are four times more likely to be suicidal; bullied girls are eight times more likely to be suicidal.
Nearly 60 percent of boys who researchers classified as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24. Even more dramatic, 40 percent of them had three or more convictions by age 24.”
There’s a lot at stake; more next week …