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Bullying: I’m Naming Names — Part 1

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Note: when Fearless Parent changed its URL in 2013, we inadvertently lost all the “likes” to this post. Read Part 2 here.

by Louise Kuo Habakus

Late Saturday, we buried our pet gerbil, with tears and sweet stories. My boys had taken very good care of him. I was moved by their compassion and deep sadness.

Yesterday, I woke up and read the lead story on CNN.com. Yet another young bullied person committed suicide.

The juxtaposition of these two events was shattering to me.

Are we a society that can exhibit tender feelings for the smallest creatures, and yet stand by and witness what is amounting to be an endless and numbing stream of children who are physically and verbally assaulted by bullying, many of whom are in such pain that they are killing themselves?

For the love of God and our children, for the kind of society we want to live in, for the violence and psychic damage that bullying wreaks on every single one of us…

This must stop.

We can do this. It is not beyond us. Where do we get the idea that this is already bigger than us? That we can’t stop this?

How dare we be passive about bullying?

There’s no denying the tragedies. We read the stories. We hear the admonishments to protect the vulnerable. We know what’s right and wrong. Like many of you, I, too, flinched and then cried while watching the movie Bully. We attend vigils. We see the anti-bullying legislation being passed. People cluck sympathetically. 

Bullying is another example of what I call “Public Problem, Private Solution.”

Home invasions and robberies are up. Get a security alarm.

Water quality is poor. Get a water filter.

It takes weeks to see my doctor. Sign up for a concierge physician.

Bullying is rampant. I must teach my child how not to be a victim.

Every child may get a trophy, but kids know that’s just a silly rule. Likewise, there may be bullying laws and guidelines, but we can’t legislate compassion. We know what’s in someone’s heart based on his actions.

What does it say about us when a child sits alone at lunch every single day or gets beaten up on the school bus, and people just… watch? Teachers and aides know. Children tell their parents.

Nothing happens and we know how the story often ends.

Our children are paying attention. They see what we see; an increasingly hostile, rage-filled society. They suffer and so do we. Bullying affects us all, including bystanders, with physical and emotional trauma.

Tell your stories.

I’m going to take a risk and tell you a couple of stories. The risk is not in the tale, but it’s in the naming of names. By this, I mean the schools and the administrators in charge. It’s time to gather as a community, share stories, and demand change. If school leadership won’t initiate the conversation, then the parents must.

Silence promotes bullying.

I really do understand why people sometimes remain silent. The victim’s family doesn’t want pity or scorn. It makes people uncomfortable. Maybe they are concerned it will harm their child in some other unnamed way.

But there are hard truths in the silence. Bullying is underestimated. Some bullying is subtle. Patterns can’t be identified. Other families think they are alone.

When we are silent, we actively participate in perpetuating a culture of bullying.

It becomes our reality, and we see it everywhereThe misery affects us long after school. Children aren’t the only victims. Bullied adults are also at risk for psychiatric problems.

Post-mortems and eulogies have their place. But the time to talk about the bullying is while it’s happening, when there is a chance to save the life of a child.

I was bullied.

Do you remember the names of people who bullied you as a young child? I do.

By bullying, I don’t mean isolated incidents of random unkindness. I am talking about hostile verbal and physical acts that escalate into a sustained, repeated pattern of abusive behavior initiated by the same people.

I spent most of my early childhood in Bedford, New York. Lots of famous people live there now, but the Bedford I knew was solidly middle class and homogenous.

When we moved there, I was the only Asian child in my grade. I went to Bedford Village Elementary School and then Fox Lane Middle School. I was quiet and shy. I was super skinny, with glasses and braces. I got straight As.

I was bullied relentlessly by a handful of kids who pulled my hair, pinched, and kicked me. They mocked my slanted eyes, called me “Orimental,” and made fun of my parents’ accent.

My friends looked on. The various adults at school did nothing. The bullying started at the bus stop, continued in the bus, during recess, and the walk home.

My parents spoke with teachers, the principal, and the other parents. I still remember the conversations:

“Kids will be kids.”

“We don’t allow it in the classroom but otherwise, there’s very little we can do.”

“We are God-fearing people. We go to church every Sunday. We are not bad people.”

Mom suggested that I invite the girls in my class to our house for a slumber party, thinking this would help. At the behest of the ringleader, all the girls slept on one side of the room and I slept on the other.

Mom started waiting for me on our front steps, so she could yell at the kids who were harassing me. At home, she would hold me tight, brush away my tears, and whisper the mantra of immigrant parents:

“Study hard, get into a good college, and have a good life. Success is the best revenge.”

But I was just 7. I used to pray for blond hair and blue eyes. I still remember their names; the ones who attacked, and the ones who stayed quiet. (I heard that one of them ended up working at the Bedford Hills prison.)

We moved overseas in the middle of my 8th grade year and I never looked back. I had exceptional experiences at the American School in Japan, Andover, and Stanford, where it wasn’t remotely an oddity to be Asian, and students aspired, not to blend in but to stand out.

***

I hope you will comment. Most of all, I hope you will share your stories, too.

The second story, about my son, will run tomorrow. And yes, I’m naming names.

 

Louise circle 8-7-14Louise Kuo Habakus is Executive Director of Fearless Parent and she really, really doesn’t like bullies. Most of this post was written by her inner 7 year-old self.

 

31 Comments

  • rebekah

    It is important to stand up to bullies, and your parents did the right thing by telling you how to get revenge. I believe that bullies learn the behavior at home, and so if as a young child they are bullies they are probably being bullied at home. I am not sure which is worse, to be bullied for eight hours at school, or to be bullied at home. Eitherway it is not okay.

    • Profile photo of admin2
      admin2

      Thanks, Rebekah! Yes, I believe bullies are often lashing out in response to what is going on at home. It was interesting to read this Psychology Today article that says it’s all about insecurity:

      “Bullies are always the weakest kid on the playground…

      When we confront the seeds of fear on a personal level – when we are bullied – the underlying ethos is something more subtle that speaks quite pointedly to an overall lack of sophistication and emotional intelligence on the part of the bully. This failing leads, subsequently, to that overarching need for, and exercise of, control that the bully, often much to our chagrin, plays out.

      All of which, then, begs the question, “Who’s more afraid – the bullied or the bully?” It’s the bully, of course, because the last gasp of anyone with a limited skill set – social, emotional, physical, or otherwise — is to lash out.”

      http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200911/ego-insecurity-and-the-destructive-narcissist

  • Vicki Pendergraft Taylor

    Great article Louise. You are right. We need this to stop. I am glad you are standing out and standing tall!! You are an inspiration for all of us to do the same. Thank You.

  • Linda Magnifico-Levy

    It’s awful to feel that as a child. And even more awful, when, as a parent you must see your child endure the cruel behavior of others. I was just addressing this on FB the other day. Bullying always existed. Almost everyone has experienced it at some time as a child. But it wasn’t as rampant or common then. And certainly not as killing. But it was hurtful and sad. It’s worse now because of technology and the fact that there are so many really angry kids out there, who don’t have mom at home monitoring their comings and goings and knowing who their children’s friends are. And schools that protect their rights of students whose behavior clearly stripped them of their rights. And yes, I am blaming the parents and teachers here for not halting this behavior dead in its tracks.

  • Jen D.

    Have you read Rosalind Wiseman’s books on this topic? I am in the middle of Queen Bees and Wannabees. I don’t agree with everything she has to say, but a lot of it is helpful. I was bullied and like you the teachers and admin at school were no help. My parents tried to help me, but they were little help at the time. With my daughter when she encountered some mean girl stuff in 4th grade her teacher was wonderful and helped her stand up to the girl that was hurting her. She arranged a time in the classroom with just the teacher, my daughter and the girl who was being mean. My daughter had the chance to speak her truth and basically in the end she said “you don’t have to like me or be my friend, but as long as we go to the same school I expect you to be nice to me.” The other girl had her chance to speak as well. My daughter still struggled with friendships and isolation to some extent, but the meanness stopped and she is friendly acquaintances with the former mean girl to this day. My daughter who is now in 7th grade recently wrote a paper about this experience and how while it was painful, she learned a lot from it. I wish a teacher had helped me speak up for myself like that when I was going through similar things.

  • Bridget McGuinness Paling

    I brought up an incident with the counselor at my child’s school today and was told that it wasn’t considered bullying what was happening to my child – it was age appropriate inappropriateness – WTH? Because that makes it any less hurtful to my daughter.

  • Linda Magnifico-Levy

    Once again, the rights of the victim are secondary to the rights of the offender. Just wrong. And October has been designated National Anti-Bullying Month. I would suspect that schools are addressing this issue this month. But, like everything else, it really must come from HOME first. I’ve said it on FB before, and I will say it again..there is NOTHING wrong with putting the fear of God into our children about some things. Bullying is one of them.

  • Pat Woodring

    Bullying is never okay from childhood on into adulthood and on the job. It comes from a lack of compassion, a lack of respect for self and others, and fear! Yes, I said fear. Fear of the unknown or the different. Fear that if I don’t get you first, you will get me. Fear of inferiority. Fear of being rejected, so I will reject you first. But I believe it is far greater than this…it goes to the condition of one’s heart! As individuals we are ignoring one of the last commands Jesus gave his apostles before His death: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” John 13:34-35. We claim to love Jesus, yet we fail to keep this most basic commandment. He said in John 14, “if you love Me, keep my commandments.” So as christians in this nation of mostly christians, what is wrong? We claim to love & serve the Lord, yet we don’t love one another as He commanded. As adults its our responsibility to teach our children that love is an action verb, not a noun! It requires action on our part, encompassing but not limited to empathy, compassion, & action on behalf of others, So, if we want to end bullying forever, we must love & respect others and teach others to love and respect one another! I don’t believe we can fully love without respecting those we say we love. We must also step up, get involved, and put a stop to bullying.

  • Laurie Thomas

    In my book Not Trivial, I explain that when we allow children to bully the good students in school, we are allowing bullies to teach the rest of the student body to disengage from their schoolwork. Thus, we create a cruel and stupid society.

  • Tina Olson

    Great blog! Your story brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing Louise.

  • Michelle Dueker Johnson

    Very well written! Louise, when were you at ASIJ? I was there 10th -12th, 1983 -1986! So glad I saw this! Bullying is definitely an issue that needs to be tackled head on!

  • Mary Romaniec

    I still remember the high school mean girl who seemed to delight in saying snide remarks to me and others. She was the one who left hickies on her boyfriend’s neck, used the F-bomb with regularity and in general found a way to demean her peers. So several years after graduation she came for a job interview at a gym that I worked at. I was the first to tell the boss the whole story on this girl. She didn’t get the job. Whew! Ran into her later and she completely blamed me for her not getting the job. It was a privilege to just walk away from her.

  • Mikel Lo

    Reading your article brought up a flood of emotions from long ago. I cried. My experience was remarkably similar growing up in Nebraska. But with boys back then, it usually escalated to fist fights. I’m sorry to hear your son having to experience it but what can we do? Carson is in a multicultural school now so he isn’t seen as different. But I think as he gets older, it will change as he has a larger class. I worry more for him because of my experiences but Tina not as much since she grew up in Honolulu (where the whites were bullied!). Thanks for all your posts!

  • Jacqueline Forsyth

    I love it Louise Kuo Habakus! Name names! Let them wear their shame…not their victims!

  • Mikel Lo

    Thinking about this more today, I remember even as a kindergartner, I was defending a Hispanic gal as the other kids were making fun of her as she was dark skinned and had black hair. I recall pushing through the group of kids circling her and pushed them away so they wouldn’t pull her hair. Isn’t that crazy having to do that at a young age? Kids can be so so cruel.

  • Pingback: Bullying: I’m Naming Names – Part 2 | Nurture Parenting

  • Ron Dirkse

    Well written, Louise—as expected. As you know, bullying is a big problem in Japanese schools–and yes, it also happens at ASIJ. Glad your years there were positive–and you, also, made very positive impressions on your fellow students and faculty

  • Een Tan

    Spoke to a friend last week whose high school aged son lost a classmate due to a bullying-induced suicide. Bullying was bad enough when we were in school, but social media has brought it to a whole new level. Can’t stand it. Thanks for writing this, Louise.

  • Robin Ramsey Hopkins

    Thank you for sharing. WOW! Great info!

  • Robert Jason Grant

    Thank you Louise Kuo Habakus for sharing this. I am so sick of the “everyone gets bullied line” that is thrown out as some kind of justification for this behavior. Being told you had an ugly shirt on one time in middle school is not the same as being subjected to daily relentless acts intended to harm you emotionally and physically. I hope everyone will read your post and start naming names!

  • Melanie Dragone

    Important blog post by a friend of mine, Louise Kuo Habakus, who inspires me everyday with her perseverance, extensive knowledge & unrelenting commitment to her family.

  • Carol Stott

    So much of this is going on, its just appalling. My 16 year old cousin Jessica Entwistle who is a member of Oldham Youth Council, is doing a lot of work on bullying awareness in her hometown. She will be reviewing books for Jessica Kingsley Publishers as part of a young team I am setting up to review books on Autism, Jessica will focus on anything relating to autism and bullying, so lets see what comes our way.

  • Jennifer Margulis

    This post about bullying (the first in a series) made me cry. The sad horrible thing is that bullying and discrimination is still going on. I was at a high school football game in my very “forward-thinking” towns and the teens sitting nearby were saying such racist things (anti Asian-American slurs, even though one of them was Asian-American.) I’m not part of the PC police but the things these young people were saying aloud, and the self hate, shocked me.

  • Verito Pascuzzi

    Amazing blogs… Something needs to be done…

  • Alison Fujito

    A compelling and absolutely brilliant article.

    • Siao Mei Shick

      Thanks for sharing . Just reading brings back ill feelings of how I was bullied . Very similar with the racist comment. Glad our kids live in a more diverse area than where I grew up.

  • eve kessner

    this brought a tear to my eye.
    good for you.
    fight the fight.
    thank you for sharing.

  • Knowledge is power

    If the bullying is going on at school, then reporting the problem and naming names – to the principal – is the most important step you can take. By law, the school has to take measures.

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