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Linda Ocejo, MA, CPRP, CLC
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I personally believe that, unfortunately, many adults believe that bullying throughout one's school years is a normal, to-be-expected, rite of passage, so to speak, and that everyone goes through it at one time or another. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth. It is unbelievable how many wonderful, loving, and intelligent people have been severely damaged, psychologically, because they were allowed to be bullied during their school years, severely damaging their overall self-esteem.

I personally believe that if a child is being bullied in school for any reason whatsoever, it should be the school's responsibility to stop the bullying immediately. As an example, it is my opinion that today in most schools, if a child is being bullied because of race, religion, or ethnicity, the faculty and staff immediately stop the bullying behaviors because it is not tolerated at all; and I personally agree 100%. However, unfortunately, other types of bullying are, very often, not addressed, and pretty much ignored by the faculty and staff.

As an example, children are being bullied, relentlessly for being too tall, being too short, being too large, being too small, wearing glasses, wearing braces, wearing old clothing, being too smart, not being smart enough, being shy, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., You get the general idea. However, it is my opinion that there is no reason that a child should be allowed to be bullied in school, or on the playground, or even if staff or faculty see such horrendous behaviors off of school property. Bullying is not a rite of passage, nor should we all be expected to go through it at one time or another. Bullying is the problem of the bullies; it is not the problem of the person being bullied. It also is the responsibility of adults to immediately stop the bullying. After all, they may very well be saving a life, whether it be a physical life, or a psychological life.

Many years ago, I worked in a school system and I witnessed, firsthand, "tolerated bullying." I was in the courtyard one day with a group of school employees as the ninth and tenth graders were having lunch/recess. I was new to the school at the time, so what I witnessed was surprising to me. I noticed that there were approximately nine to ten ninth graders in a circle and one of their classmates was in the center of the circle. Because I was at a distance from the boys, I could not hear what was going on, but I did suspect that it wasn't positive. So, I asked one of the other adults if she happened to know what was going on. Now, please note that the adult that I asked was a long time employee of the school, and she was a loving person, and was really devoted to the children and her job. Nonetheless, this was her response, "Oh it's okay, they have been teasing that kid since kindergarten; they don't mean any harm by it."

Personally, I could not believe what I just heard. My response was, "You're kidding. It certainly does not look as if the young boy is having fun; it looks as if he is being harassed and tormented. I can't just stand here and do nothing. This is ridiculous that this has been allowed to happen for years. He is in ninth grade now, and you said that this has been happening since kindergarten." I immediately went over to the group of boys and asked them what they were doing. At first the self-appointed leader of the group just looked at me in an almost challenging manner, and said, "It's nothing. He loves it. We're his buddies. He can take it." Then, he looked at the student in the middle of his tormentors and said, "Isn't that right, you love it?" "Sure," said the boy who was being bullied, "Sure."

All of the others in the group began laughing and joking, and they began bullying the poor boy in the center of the circle. I immediately asked them to be silent for a moment because I had a question I would like to ask them. They slowly began to stop talking , pushing each other in a joking way, while still making inappropriate comments to the boy who was the object of their abuse. I asked a simple question to the group, "If your buddy, so to speak, is having so much fun, and if he loves it so much, then I personally believe that you should all have the chance of being treated so well; don't you think that that is only fair?" Suddenly, I had twenty to twenty-two eyes directly looking at me as if I said something that was completely incomprehensible to them.

 "What do you mean--what do you mean,?" one of the bullies loudly asked. I calmly, but firmly repeated the question. I then continued by suggesting to the group that each day instead of just the one boy having so much fun, and being put in the center of all of the others, while they teased and bullied him, maybe it would be good if each member of the group took a turn at being in the center of the group. Their faces immediately changed. I also advised that this type of behavior is completely unacceptable and that this type of behavior will no longer be tolerated . Additionally, I advised the group that the principle will be notified, as well as, their parents if the behavior continued.

Of course, after checking with the principle, I took the group aside and spoke to them as a group, and then individually, regarding the inappropriateness of what they were doing. The point of awareness seemed to have come, for each boy, when they pictured themselves being bullied, and how they would feel. I also spoke to the boy who was being bullied, and by the end of our conversation, he appeared to realize that even though this had been going on forever, it was not normal, was not a rite of passage, and could not be tolerated any longer.

All of the bullies apologized to the boy who was being bullied, and as unbelievable as it seemed, for the rest of the school year their behavior changed. The bullying stopped. I am not certain exactly what changed the behavior--- whether it was concern about going to the principle, concern about their parents being notified, concern about getting detention, or concern about one day being the victim of a bully/bullies. If I had to guess, I would think that it was concern about one day being the victim of a bully/bullies. The only thing that I knew for sure was that they were now 100% aware of the fact that bullying was no longer going to be tolerated and that there were going to be consequences if anyone participated in bullying.

Let's face it, so much of the time when you see a group of bullies, there is usually one leader of the group, and most of the others are just joining in on the bullying because they believe that if they join in on the bullying, they will not become a victim of the bullying themselves! The other adults in the courtyard were astonished at the change in the behavior of that particular group of boys. As I said before, these were good, decent, caring, responsible adults who had just been misguided in some way by thinking that bullying was harmless and that we all go through it at one time or another. However, they too, never allowed any child to be bullied again while on their watch, and because the result was so positive with the intervention that I had put into place, the entire school system incorporated the "no bullying for any reason whatsoever policy."

There are many adults walking around today still holding onto the negative repercussions of being bullied (tormented) as children.... This is very unfortunate, and should not be the case. I believe that the adults need to take the lead, and the responsibility regarding bullying in our schools. I have no doubt that if bullying "of any kind" is not tolerated in our schools, it will stop in our schools.

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