"My child is being bullied and I don't know what to do." It's extremely disturbing to report that I have heard this lament more than once from parents with children in Jewish schools. The complaints range from verbal badgering to physical abuse. The dilemma is all the more painful for the somewhat blase attitude with which this account is met in some educational quarters. A number of--but certainly not all--parents, teachers and administrators, especially when it comes to younger males engaged in such activity, will pass it off as a "boys will be boys" situation. Children on the wrong end of this harassment are counselled not to be so "sensitive."
Since when did the word sensitive develop such a negative connotation? The actual etymology of the word suggests the reverse of this patronizing dismissal, deriving from the Latin "sentire", meaning "to feel." Apparently, children who have a highly developed sense of feeling are bad news for our school system. Would we prefer them to be wooden automatons or simply immune to compassion or even sensation? Down that road a maladjusted adult lies, and worse.
But all of this misses the point entirely. It is not "sensitivity" that rejects being mauled by some insecure and hence bullying child. It is an acute awareness of the right to freedom from teasing and torment. In other words, just a matter of simple justice and human rights. "Playground tyranny" is the source of tears, bad dreams, diminished academic performance, deep, visceral unhappiness. How can this possibly be ignored?
Quite easily in truth. It comes down to the vaunted self-image that some parents and schools wish to maintain of themselves, even if the face of their child/student tormenting others. On a deep, often unacknowledged level, they do not wish to think of how their child's clearly unethical and troubling behaviour reflects on their parenting or teaching. It is easier to blame the victim as overly touchy or too thin-skinned, as if a child, especially in grade school, should have to worry about developing their own armour plated response to the world.
In their book, Bullycide: Death at Playtime , Neil Marr and Tim Field present a poignant and utterly devastating picture of the dark end of this spectrum, exploring child suicide that is caused by bullying. The predictable rejoinder to the suicide scenario--that is overly alarmist and very rare--again evades the core of the issue. If one child becomes depressed; if one boy or girl consistently does not want to wake up on school mornings with the knowledge of what awaits them; if one student approaches the schoolyard with trepidation and fright - then that is one child too many.
We know this problem exists. It is incumbent on parents to be proactive in taking up their child's cause and tenaciously pursuing the root of the bullying, even if it means an uncomfortable series of phone calls to another parent or a school principal. And to those who laugh off the matter, I have a question. How would you feel if your child woke up in the middle of the night, their body shaking with anxiety and panic at the spectre of the coming day? How would you feel if it was you?