Every day, a new celebrity steps forward to suddenly share their story of “bullying.” They wax on about how they were called some names, ignored, excluded or otherwise teased and picked on. Some cry, others grab the reporter’s hand or stare sadly at the camera, slowly shaking their head while reminiscing about the horrors of their past.
I’m not buying it and it’s time to get real about bullying.
Let’s face it. Most of us are picked on at some point in our lives. We may get called fat, ugly, a nerd, stupid, whatever the word, and it may happen more than once. We may get left out of gatherings that the ‘popular’ kids have and we may not get those invites that we covet. We may even find ourselves the victim of a prank. But newsflash: that’s not necessarily bullying.
Sometimes it is just what it is – being picked on. That’s not okay either, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a far cry from legitimate bullying and we need to maintain the line between the two in honor of all the real bullying victims out there.
Real victims of bullying are growing in numbers, kids who can’t make it through a day of school without the same kid or group of kids mercilessly teasing, throwing things or following him around with the pure focus of making his/her day miserable. They may try to trip them, hit them or throw things at them. Then there’s the mental abuse caused by spreading rumors, turning friends against him/her or distracting him so much that homework suffers. It may even escalate to the point where the victim can’t even leave the house to meet with another friend without the bully hiding behind a tree or a fence, usually with a big stick in his hand, following him from play to place or just showing up because he’s talked someone else into luring the victim somewhere he can suddenly appear. They spend more time in the school office than in class because some people still think victims need to suck it up and deal while they dodge thrown items and lose friends and they lose interest in attending activities, either in school or out. Whether the bullying happens at school, online, at work or in the neighborhood, there is no ‘away’ from it.
That, folks, is real bullying. Incessant, non-stop harassment. Mental anguish. Physical threats. Vandalism. Illness. Depression. Suicide.
Bullies don’t listen to authority figures, other parents, school admin, and sometimes not even the police. To stop them, sometimes it may even involve the court system, and that may not even work.
How do I know this? My son was bullied. He was a real, true victim of bullying, and every time a celebrity cries over being told they were fat or that dancing makes them dumb, I get a little angrier, because each time we make bullying a little less serious, we dismiss those who are suffering through real bullying, making it that much harder to do something. They make what happened to my son something far less than what it is. When I say he was bullied, people think he was teased for a facial tic or called a name; they think what they see in the recent celebrity news pieces, which isn’t anywhere near the same thing. And that needs to stop.
We can’t fix every situation out there. Sometimes our kids, or us, are going to need to learn to deal with someone calling us a name. It happens. We need to teach our kids that not everyone is going to like us, or what we say, or what we do. And that’s okay. We can’t go around calling everyone who disagrees with us or tries to persuade us or doesn’t like us a bully. But if we know what bullying is, we can make strides to make it stop.
Let’s look at the definition of bullying according to Stopbullying.gov: “intentionally aggressive, usually repeated” verbal, social, or physical behavior aimed at a specific person or group of people.
Dictionary.com’s definition is similar except it adds the word “habitually.” Repeated and habitually don’t mean just a couple of times, but a lot. Frequently. Repeatedly. Dictionary.com also uses the word “intimidates.” I don’t know about you, but I was picked on heavily in high school for being a nerd whose clothing wasn’t fashionable. I was picked on habitually, usually by the same couple of girls who were just trying to keep a step above me by thinking that if they teased me, the “popular” girls would accept them. Not sure if it worked or not because I learned to tune it out. I didn’t like being teased, but it certainly didn’t intimidate me – why? Because it wasn’t bullying. It was namecalling and teasing from some mean girls who probably still are mean girls. Big deal. I wouldn’t diminish what my son dealt with by even beginning to refer to it as bullying. It also taught me that people can be mean and you have to develop your own sense of self-worth; we have to be sure to teach our children that. One more definition reiterating it’s a repeated problem and that it’s not every case of someone being called a name or teased can be found here.
When your child is being truly bullied – as there are SO many kids out there who are real victims of bullying – it’s hard to help them keep that sense of self-worth if it’s not already there, and even if it is, bullying chips away at them. It erodes their confidence in themselves and being out amongst the world. It makes them fearful of trusting people and sharing themselves.
Celebrities, especially you, Monica Lewinski, need to stop watering down the real meaning of bullying. You may think you’re helping by sharing your story, but in reality, you’re making it harder for us to resolve, because we can’t focus on the real cases of bullying where someone is considering suicide because it’s really that bad. We need to have time and resources to deal with those kids being chased with sticks on their way home from school, and we need to let law enforcement and our court system have time for the real cases of injury and mental stress. Those cases are real, and they aren’t as mild as being teased a couple of times because you have a big nose or because you’re a reporter, admittedly overweight, who doesn’t like being told that you’re “fat.” (And to be clear, that’s bad, but not because it’s bullying.)
And Monica, to get back to you. You did something wrong. Dare I say stupid? Me telling you that is not bullying. It’s opinion, and I’m saying it once. When you put yourself in the public eye by doing something so blatantly wrong, expect the negative commentary. You were not Patient Zero in cyberbullying. Sorry, you do not get my sympathy. The girl mercilessly teased because she’s disabled gets my sympathy. The boy picked on daily because of his intelligence level gets my sympathy. Those followed and harassed, all the time, because of their sexual orientation, impaired social skills, fashion style, limp, lisp or Tourette’s – those kids get my sympathy. Why are we allowing these celebrities to do this to those real bully victims?
Cyberbullying and bullying is real – it doesn’t matter WHY someone is bullied, but just that they are and that it’s a lot more dangerous and serious than what celebrities would have you believe. My focus and effort is towards what is going on now, what is happening now, and what we can do about it, along with the gaps in the system. I don’t care why someone is bullied, because ALL real bully victims deserve equal attention and help. Here’s an interesting list of statistics about the effects of bullying – if this doesn’t scare you, nothing will.
Did you know that if your child is bullied by a fellow student and you don’t know the students address because this child was never a friend whose home your child visited, you have ZERO way of getting that address so you can get a restraining order served once you get it? Hours and hundreds of dollars spent on getting a TRO that sits because the system has nothing in place to help you serve that restraining order. (Same thing goes in California for the victim of stalking or domestic abuse. If you don’t know the person’s address, no one’s going to help you.) That’s a pretty big gap. That’s a real problem. Why aren’t we doing more about that? Why aren’t we trying to enforce the court system or someone to deliver an order of protection for us? We don’t even need to know the address, but we can’t protect our children with a useless piece of paper. How many people die because someone in the system knows the person’s address but is unable to serve it? Why is this okay?
Did you also know that bullying itself isn’t illegal? The more we let celebrities change the real meaning of bullying, the harder it’s going to be to make it illegal, too. We can’t arrest people for calling someone a name but if we water down bullying so much that every little thing is bullying, how do we know where to draw the line?
We need to stop diluting it into something that we “all” experience, because we don’t. Once you’ve seen a real victim of bullying, you’ll see what I mean. The fear, the shakes, the anxiety, the headaches, the depression, the lack of interest – the DANGER that real bullying puts our children, friends or family members in, that is bullying, not this watered-down fluff celebrities continue to share. Maybe we learn something from their insight, but what I’d rather see hit the mainstream media reports are stories of what my son went through and others like him, so people can see what really happens. So people can see what we really need to address and prevent. So parents of “perfect little children” (who are frequently children of larger-than-average size, kids whose parents don’t supervise their online activity or kids who are insecure and have few friends) can believe it when the school tells them that their child is a problem, so they believe it when they see stacks of witness statements that their child is mean to someone else, so that parents don’t instantly try to blame someone else but look at the big picture before lying or covering. Bullies often get that way because their parents are bullies, or their parents allow it.
We have the power to stop bullying, but continuing to cry with celebrities isn’t the way to do it. Approach bullying at the most basic level is – right in front of our faces. Our neighbors. The friends of our kids. The kids in your child’s school who have no friends. These kids aren’t on TV but we’re passing them daily and it’s not a big deal because bullying “happens to everyone.” That’s not true – it doesn’t, but when it does happen to you or your kids, you’ll know it, and it’s a lot more than what a celebrity is sharing.
Want to learn more about bullying? Here are some great resources:
- StopBullying.gov: The U.S. Department of Health and Services anti-bullying site
- DoSomething.org: a group for social change
Together, we can help the real victims of bullies by learning what bullying really is and addressing it early on with our kids to ensure they aren’t the bully AND that they know what to do if they become the victim.
And in case you were wondering, my son’s fine now. He’s got friends. He’s got party invitations and he’s back to living a normal life and not just because we had a wonderful school admin team, helpful police and a fair judge. It’s because he did his part to move beyond it. He is the hero of this story.