Bullies have always been around. There were bullies in the stories of Rome and Egypt I read in Ancient History classes. There were bullies in the Middle Ages. There were bullies in my grandfather’s day and there were bullies when I was a kid. There was none of the insidious cyber bullying that goes on today, just verbal and physical abuse on a variety of levels.
When I was in my first year at school, I encountered my first bully. I was hanging upside down on the climbing frame with my red pigtails dangling around my face, when another child shouted at me to get off and make way for him. I refused. He pulled my hair. I cried. He laughed at me. I told the playground duty teacher. She said, ‘He’s just being a bully. Don’t play with him anymore.’
Over dinner that evening, I told my parents what had happened. My dad said, ‘If anyone hits you, you hit them back. If he pulls your hair, you pull his. Do not let him think he can do that to you and get away with it. Bullies don’t like people who fight back.’ So, when my bully approached me the next day and tried to push me off the swing, I punched him in the stomach. He started yelling and the teacher hauled us both off to sit on the verandah. She asked me why I had punched the boy. I told her he had started it and I had hit him back. ‘Deserved it then, didn’t you?‘ she said to him and left us at opposite ends of the verandah to contemplate our dispute. I was smiling. He wasn’t.
As a teacher myself for many years, I had to toe the education board’s line and tell children that if they were bullied to walk away and tell the teacher on duty. I found this very difficult because I really don’t think that works. The bully will simply deny he has done anything wrong and nothing changes. The victim has established himself and will be targeted again and again.
I told my own children to hit back and then go to the teacher and tell them what they had done and why. Yes, they had to accept whatever punishment the teacher was bound to hand out, but, in the process, they had achieved two things.
1. They had shown the bully that they were not going to meekly accept his behaviour.
2. They had drawn the teacher’s attention to the issue.
Each of my children was bullied once and once only.
I am not saying that hitting back will eradicate all bullying…of course it won’t, but it will, in my opinion, cut back on the opportunistic type of bullying that is rife in our schoolyards. You teach people how to treat you.
A child at the tutoring centre where I work told me yesterday that a boy had tried to steal her hat at lunchtime. He was pulling at the hat and, because the hat had a cord attached to hold it on, was choking her. I asked what she did. The red mark from the cord was still evident on her throat. ‘I stomped on his foot until he ran away crying,‘ she said. ‘The teacher saw me do it so I didn’t get into trouble.’
I cheered inwardly.
If you show that you are an easy target, then you will indeed be targeted. I think you need to at least make a show of standing up for yourself even if you are shivering inside. If someone calls you a name, call them something. My brother’s favourite retort was, ‘Yeah Fart Face, what would you know?’
How you deal with cyber bullying, other than turning off the device, I have no clue. This is the most cowardly form of bullying because it can be anonymous and can come in barrages of ego-shattering comments and rumours designed to break the spirit of the victim.
I know that my Hit ‘Em Back approach to will draw the ire of many. All I can say is that it has worked for me and for my kids.
I chose not to be a victim. I chose to stand as tall as I could, arrange my red pigtails appropriately and give back as good as I got.
Bullying is disgraceful, unacceptable and unnecessary but, it seems, bullies are a fixture in our world.