You hear a lot of the schools talking about their stance on bullying but what exactly does it mean?
When I hear that, I expect that to mean that should someone bully, they will have to leave the school. There is no excuse for it, no allowance for it to happen, and the school will protect all the students by making sure none of them are ever bullied, BUT, if it should happen, they will take responsibility, learn from it, and remove the bullying child OR insist that child get professional help that results in a change of behaviour. One incident -warning with help offered, second incident – they are gone.
It is not about zero tolerance for a child. It is about zero tolerance for the act. Too often we disallow important discussion on subjects because we lose sight of that subtle distinction. We are not enacting discipline because of who did it, we are enacting it because of what was done. Anyone who chooses that action would receive the same treatment. It isn’t even about law or justice, it is the inherent right that every human being has to exist and participate and remain safe. Those who choose actions that takes away from that sense must be removed. And then, it is not up to the school to fix the offender or police their actions, it is up to the parents to get the child the help they need.
Instead, it often appears the “zero tolerance” is like a game of pretend where everyone excuses it as something else because there is no bullying in the school. You can either clean up the bullying or ignore it, call it something else, and present your pristine school with the effective policy.
Schools “pretend” by failing to see what is happening between students, by failing to recognize or label certain actions as bullying, by failing to respond to a child’s request for help when they feel bullied, and by blaming the victim for having caused or not handling the bullying properly.
When you fail to act on bullying, that is “zero tolerance” and remove the offender, you are only setting yourself up for layered problems to trickle down. We see this when we have a child, who was bullied, retaliating and bullying someone else. It is hard to ever find where the circle began and it is impossible to ever effect any meaningful solution. Suddenly it is not just one student, it is many. There is an acceptance of the behaviour that has made it part of the psyche of the school itself.
Noah returned to school. Another student took the opportunity to wipe their hands on him, hands covered with ranch dressing. Other students saw it and said something to the teacher. The teacher indicated to Noah’s mom that there had been a “small incident” at the school but that it had been handled and it was “cute” the way Noah’s classmates were speaking up and protecting him now.
As it turned out, it was not a small incident. It was bullying. Someone Noah was not friends with put their hands on him. Noah did not want the interaction. He did not participate. It was done TO him. Wiping your hands off on someone is not an act of friendship or teasing. It is an act of power. It says you are nothing more than an object that I can wipe the dirt off my hands on.
Noah did not die. He was not injured. As always, he said and did nothing to deserve it and he took the action as if he did. He didn’t cry or tell anyone. It was just one more incident to convince him that he does not matter and that people can do whatever they want to him and what people want to do to him is, to hurt him.
What concerns me is that he did not “tell” his mom about it. She had to ask him about it. He is still silent. He still believes this is the way things are. His breakdown, his hospitalization, his terrifying separation from his family has scarred him deeply, but it has not done anything to address the wound. Healing that wound is about what happens now, what happens to say to him that he is loved, he does not deserve what is happening, that the world is a safe place that welcomes him.
What concerns me is that information that may have frightened some children and caused them to stand up for Noah, had no impact on other children. There was no compassion, no concern with possible attention on them because of the recent incident, and no fear of being blatant about it.
This is not rocket science people. This is a scared child who needs the grown-ups around him to do what the grown-ups are supposed to do. Fix this. Take responsibility and take whatever part you can to make it better. This is only a tragedy if no-one uses it to make a difference. It is not about pointing fingers at anyone or finding a single person to shoulder all the blame. Ana, Josh, myself, everyone who knows Noah has to ask themselves how we missed this, what could we have done different? Some of you will have direct access to Noah and can say or do something, others will have access to other people in your professional endeavours, or children that you parent or are in contact with. Check on them. Talk about it. Do SOMETHING.
Just as in the previous situation with Noah, nothing was done because children who are bullied only get attention when they either break or fight back. THEN they will be targeted as the problem. Victim for being bullied and a further victim for not having been able to handle that victimization in a more acceptable way.
We don’t like people whose pain forces us to have to re-examine ourselves and take responsibility for the things we did not do, that we should have. It is easier to blame those victims than it is to accept our own inadequacies. But THAT is what it takes to solve the tough problems in life. It means that we get over ourselves and accept that our hair extensions, our fancy cars, and our large circle of Facebook Friends do not make us perfect.
Be real enough to do the right thing. Be brave enough to become part of the solution because if you continue to do nothing, you are part of the problem.
Noah’s life and pain is real. But Noah is also a metaphor for all the children who suffer with feelings of worth and are looking for somewhere, somehow to fit in and to belong.
The children of the world belong to all of us. They need our attention, our time, and our reassurance. Love is a verb and without action, it means absolutely nothing.
Read more about 10 year old Noah and his fight against bullying here:
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