It's not as if they ever went away, but bullies are back in the news again. Again, we're reminded that, for many kids, going to school is a fearful experience.
Whether it's incessant name-calling, teasing, and verbal torment or outright violence and theft, a huge number of children will experience bullying during their school years.
Adults tend to forget the cruelty they and other children were capable of. Homophobic and racist slurs, sudden punches and kicks, and harassment by social media are all possible for children who aren't even out of middle school yet. The worst part of bullying isn't one single attack or incident: it's the pattern of repeated incidents, which wear down the chosen victim or victims, day after day.
School can start to look a lot like prison to a child who's been bullied incessantly.
A recent Harris/Decima poll, sponsored by the Big Sisters and Big Brothers organization, found that 50 per cent of Canadian adults felt they had been bullied as children or teenagers.
Nearly a third believed it had a lasting or harmful effect, and a huge majority of adults believe we need to do something about it.
Having zero-tolerance for abuse in schools is certainly important. Supporting school clubs that encourage students to share their own stories, listen to others' experiences, and learn more about all kinds of diversity can make a huge difference in how students view others. Accurate information can dispel stereotypes and broaden students' views of the world around them. Encouraging students to be advocates and allies for others, through such activities as Pink Shirt Days, is also good.
Making the bullied stronger seems to generally be a better avenue than trying to change bullies. There is no single solution for bullying. Not every child can take self-defense courses, and there is no physical solution to ending taunts.
For the worst torments, the old saw about telling a teacher isn't enough. For kids being physically attacked, we recommend skipping straight to calling 911.