By Handle With Care President and Founder Bruce Chapman
If you’ve ever been bullied, raise your hand. As one of the original “hippies” in high school, I was jumped by four kids and had my two front teeth knocked out for being different. On another occasion I was jumped from behind while using a urinal. (He gave me a sincere and totally unexpected apology a couple years later). A third guy started a fight with me in front of a hundred other students lounging out on the lawn at lunch. At least he didn’t jump me from behind. I hit him with a solid front kick in the bladder with my boot. He quit. If you’re keeping score, my high school record was: 1 win and 2 losses growing up.
Then there was Lloyd. Lloyd was a very sweet special ed kid who was systematically tortured in grammar and middle school. There is no other word to describe what Lloyd went through. His beating was entirely emotional. My most disturbing memory is of Lloyd being swooped on by an entire pack of middle school predators who ran at him in waves; agitating him, tormenting him and then running away laughing as he frenetically tried to chase them away. I’ll never forget the look on his face. The most cowardly thing I ever did was to watch this feeding frenzy – never raising a hand or even a voice to help him. I’ll regret it until the day I die.
During the decade that I had my karate school, many of the kids were being bullied and enrolled to gain the confidence and social skills they needed to handle it. To this day, I consider the work that I did with those kids the most important thing I did as a martial artist.
So, how can we stop bullying?
- Elementary schools need to begin identifying children who are socially predatory and intervene before the damage is done. While there is an emotional cost for the victim and the bully alike, kids like Lloyd should never have to suffer that long and that hard because adults are turning a blind eye to it.
- Most schools are currently suspending both kids engaged in a fight. If it is mutual, that’s appropriate. However, when one of the kids is clearly the victim of bullying, he is being victimized twice; once by the bully and, again, by school authorities who lack the intestinal fortitude to make a judgment.
- Assault and battery is against the law. Schools need to start filing criminal complaints against middle and high school students who seriously assault other kids or teachers. If the same kid assaults another kid in the mall on a Saturday, he’ll be charged for it. Being on school property shouldn’t mean a free pass from assault charges.
Finally, parents need to be honest with themselves about the conduct of their progeny and stop making excuses or covering for them. Take the time to help your kids develop empathy early and a real sense of responsibility for speaking up when another kid is being victimized.