So, Gordon Brown promises to take a tougher stance on bullying, huh?
Right. Let's see your best shot, then, tough guy.
I can't even remember how many times I've heard this now. It honestly makes me wonder if they have any idea what bullying is, or how it happens. From the way they talk about stopping it, you'd think bullying was a teacher formally witnessing one pupil punching another pupil squarely in the face. VOICE OF EXPERIENCE: Not how it happens.
This, just for the record, Mr Brown, is how it goes down:
It starts with one little thing. One teeny, tiny thing, that probably doesn't seem like a big deal at all. Perhaps you wear something odd; perhaps (God forbid!) you do well on a test, or get your homework in on time. Perhaps you are seen conversing with another kid who - GASP! - is not top rung on the popularity ladder. Perhaps you like books, or computers, or video games. Not an issue, you would think, young and naive as you are.
Because somebody notices. And somebody says something; one snidey little comment, one nickname, one quiet, mean-spirited little laugh. And you think, that's odd. They were probably joking. I'll just get on with it.
They weren't joking.
And before you know it, barely anyone calls you by your actual name. Not a single class passes without some kind of jibe; not a single walk through the corridor is unmarred by name-calling or tripping or hair-pulling. You simply would not believe the scarring power of the evil looks a group of fourteen year old girls caked in foundation and mascara will give you if you dare to intrude on their private gang time in the school toilets because you actually need to use the facilities. That's not what toilets are for, you idiot! Clearly they are for smoking and gossiping and vandalism. Jeez.
Balls thrown at you in PE. People pushing in front of you in queues. Getting pushed around so often that eventually, if someone told you it was actually possible to walk down a corridor in a straight line, you'd laugh at them. Constantly being laughed at. Constantly being subjected to a stream of criticism, regarding everything about you. You don't straighten your hair? What a freak. Not wearing make-up? Slob. Uniform doesn't even bend the regulations? What are you, retarded?
Of course, there's no point trying to change any of these things. Try to adapt yourself to their apparent idea of what you should be like, and you'll be met with even more scorn. You'll be a laughing stock by the middle of the day. Wearing eyeshadow? Oh look, she wants to be like us! Let's push her around.
And that's not even to start on the physical abuse, which, yes, you can probably do something about - but it'll be locking the door after the horse has bolted. It would be nice to see someone being punished for all the physical abuse they so generously dole out - but by the time they've received their punishment, well, you already got pushed over on the concrete, didn't you? You already had a full-size regulation basketball thrown at your face. You already got slapped for no reason with no warning. You already got your bra pinged (not to mention the insult regarding the size or apparent absence of your breasts). You already got a slice of pizza, fresh from Home Ec, rubbed into your hair on the bus.
There is only so much comfort that punishment of the offenders can offer the victims. They got a detention, or a warning, or a letter home. Brilliant. You know what that will do, though? That will make the whole affair personal. They were just having their fun; YOU got them in trouble. They didn't get themselves into it - let me reiterate that - it was YOU. This is YOUR fault, and now YOU are going to get punished. And if they think you'll get them in trouble again, they'll make it subtle, and you know what? Not quite being able to tell if it's you they're laughing at in the corridor; knowing that they're still calling you that name behind your back instead of to your face; that lasting, niggling feeling that perhaps, wow, they might be right about you being ugly; those things hurt one holy hell of a lot more than a quick basketball smash to the nose, I can tell you.
Complain to the teachers! you cry. Ok. Complain to the teacher, who will either tell you to ignore it, or organise the most horrific meeting you can imagine between you and the offender, who will claim they know nothing of it, and are sorry for any offence caused. As far as the teacher is concerned, there is no problem, they have done their job. Ok, well done. Now off you go home to work on your lesson plans while I head for the bus, knowing I'm going to get the biggest bollocking known to man the second they lay eyes on me. Cheers.
Fight back? Right. You know who gets punished?
The person who started it, right?
Besides, it doesn't seem to have crossed the minds of a lot of the 'teach your kids to hit them back' crowd that although in principle it's a good idea (let's face it, it kind of is), the majority of kids who are the type to get bullied are not the type of kids who relish the idea of physical violence - whether because they are just not that way inclined, or because they are afraid of receiving an incredibly savage beating in response to their attempts to defend themselves.
On the other hand, if you lose your temper and go off on one at them, you will most likely get a telling off for your language. Give yourself the satisfaction of thumping them one, see where that gets you. Exactly the same place. Loserville: population, you. Doesn't matter if the bully gets the same treatment; they will still consider it a victory to laugh at you, being punished for your efforts to be treated like a human being. What right do you have, after all? You are worthless. Nothing. A nobody. You are a laughing stock; a walking entertainment centre. You are a punching bag. A clown to be taunted. A puppet to be toyed with.
I just don't see how you think you're going to make that better by allowing teachers to give punishments - which they probably won't do for fear of a fabricated accusation of abuse, followed by a hefty lawsuit brought on by the parents of the little shit who thinks they have the right to make someone else's life a misery for no reason - and introducing community police support. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but can schools not already call the police if something worthy of the police's time is going on? Or are schools banned from contacting the emergency services in such cases? Do you think a headteacher is going to waste the precious time of policemen or women who, let's be honest, have other things to be getting on with, because someone pulled someone's hair, or 'accidentally' pushed them down a small flight of stairs, or called them a nasty name? I don't think so, somehow.
And yes, ok, very often it ends when your school career ends. But even if you're lucky, and it does, you'll find parts of yourself that you really don't like lingering for years afterwards. Do you know, I still laugh when people tell me I'm pretty? And I don't consider myself a mean-spirited person by any stretch of the imagination, but I cannot tell you how wonderful it is, how vindicated I feel, whenever I hear that one of the people who made my life so miserable at times is now a single mother of two, or addicted to drugs, or living in a hovel, or working as a stripper. And those are horrible things, no matter who they happen to. And I don't like myself for feeling glad they've happened to these people - but still, deep inside, there is that little voice that says, "Look at what they did to you. They deserve that, and worse."
It's not like I have any better ideas. I mean, you know, of course it wouldn't hurt for parents to at least TRY to raise their kids to understand that torturing people is not really a very nice thing to do - and no, I'm not saying it's all the parents' fault, but to some extent it's a perfectly reasonable explanation - I just think, fine, if you want to introduce these measures, I'm sure they will be at least some help in some cases. But please stop acting as if you can make a real difference without far and away more drastic action. Stop holding out false hope to kids who are really, truly miserable. You do know people kill themselves over non-physical bullying, don't you? These are people's lives at stake here, in a very real sense.
I know you're trying to help. But you could at least take a closer look at what you're trying to stamp out - and recognise that it goes a lot deeper, and is a lot harder to catch, than you seem to think.