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.
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.
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.
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 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.