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The Silent Majority

Don’t let bullies get the best of your kids

By Ron Ciancutti

My daughter was pulled over once for running a red light and the officer asked to see the title and registration. She simply said, “Oh, that’s in a shoebox under my dad’s bed, but just give him a call.” Her reply resonated with the officer (also a father, fortunately), who suggested the documents might be in the glove box. When she discovered they were, indeed, in the glove box, her response was something like, “Well, look at that.”

Yes, I have spoiled my children. Guilty as charged, but with the best of intentions, I promise you. However, in perpetuating that type of coddling, I have extended the myth that someone, somehow, somewhere, and in some way, ensures things are always fair. The fact is, they are not, and we as humans are often ill-equipped when things go wrong.

For example, you are standing before an ATM terminal aftermidnightand the machine eats your card.  There’s no one to complain to, no one to yell at, no one to provide instruction, no way to pass the problem onto the next person. Should you leave? What if the next person pushes the button and your card pops out? Should you stay? It’s late and you are alone in the dark. What are you supposed to do?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / mandygodbehear

That’s the moment I am trying to capture here, but with even more desperation.

Singled Out

What about the kid who looks different than the other kids? Maybe he or she is shorter, taller, thinner, or even fatter than others? What if they have thick glasses or a speech impediment? Perhaps they walk funny or have a runny nose that makes them snort or cough all the time. Any of these irregularities or oddities can ostracize a kid as he or she climbs aboard the school bus every day and heads to the halls of K-12 education.

In nature, the runt of the litter, the weakest of the group, the one most unlike the others, is singled out and usually forced to the back of the herd. There, he is prime fodder for the predators that attack, seeking the weakest link, the easy kill, the one least capable of defending itself. This is the survival of the fittest.

So too with human beings. The school bus is a prime environment for a predator. He finds his target--the aforementioned “easy prey”--and the provoking begins. As the prey becomes totally defenseless, others pile on. As time passes, the abuse becomes a habit, and the victim suffers even more. In theU.S.this year, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, more than 18 million kids will be bullied in one way or another. Isn’t there some law, some rule to protect children? For a kid to take that much torture and abuse is not right. Somebody must be doing something about this, right? Wrong.

Not until recently, anyway.

Stand For The Silent

In the wake of the public outcry over this matter and the premiere of the movie Bully , a number of well-intentioned groups have been established. A particular one was started in May 2010 after Kirk and Laura Smalley lost their 11-year-old son to suicide. “A naturally happy, energetic young boy, Ty took his own life to escape years of constant bullying at school,” their website states. From this unimaginable tragedy and the parents’ anguish, Stand for the Silent was born. The Smalleys don't ever want another child to feel that hopeless, or another parent to lose a child to bullying.

The organization's message has now reached almost 600,000 youth and community members across the country, and soon, around the world. The Smalleys have met with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, and are also featured in the Weinstein Company's documentary, which opened in theatersMarch 30, 2012.

Ty’s story and the others shown in Bully are heart-wrenching profiles, but more than that they allow the victims’ parents the opportunity to be sure their child’s suffering was not in vain.

Talk To Your Children

The optimistic premise, “When something is wrong, there should always be a solution,” is probably rooted in the American desire to do what’s best for our children. If I have learned anything from raising children, it’s that we can never love them too much, unless we become unreasonably obsessive or attached. But if we “have their back” and teach them to be capable and humble, they will grow up trusting in the strength and support of family, and eventually strike out on their own with confidence. With that commitment, there are few problems that cannot be overcome with time and understanding.

My 15-year-old and I went to see Bully , and I watched his face as some of the more heart-breaking scenes played out. On the way home, he and I discussed some of the similar challenges he faced only a few years ago before he became six feet tall and had developed some confidence. The memories were painful. He said the key for his getting through that rough time was that he always felt there was no problem too big to bring home; the willingness to listen that my wife and I showed during those times allowed him to think things through and find the best solutions. “I just remember thinking when I got home, we would find a way to work it out,” he told me. “It seems when you can just talk it out honestly, without being judged, eventually you find answers.”

I’m proud to say my son Sam belongs to an anti-bullying group at his school, and he takes his role as “ambassador” very seriously.

I am reminded of the line from the original Karate Kid movie series when Mr. Miyagi is complimented by his life-long friend about his young protégé: “Your student becomes my teacher.”

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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