Battling A Bully

By Ron Ciancutti

From the moment he was born, he was a gentle kid. He was the first child for his mom and dad, so he was extra coddled; he was pretty much the star of the show at every holiday and event—passed around for hugs from grandparent to grandparent, uncle to aunt. He had a million toys and stuffed animals from everyone who came through the door. Sure, he was spoiled but he was surrounded by love—how could that be wrong?

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When his sister showed up a few years later, everyone made sure he wasn’t feeling any animosity towards her, so if she had a birthday, he received a few gifts too. Grandma was especially adept at this. Since the younger sibling firmly believed in Santa Claus, it was best that the older brother still did, too, so as not to ruin it for her. This meant that when she was two and he was five, they both believed. It also meant that when she was five and he was eight, and she still believed, he did too. So, he might tell his friends that the Tooth Fairy left him $5 last night.

The Dividing Line
And then things started getting difficult. Many of the boys at school stopped “believing” in such things by the time they were eight, so in order to boast their emerging prowess, they needed to mock and tease those who had not stepped up to their level of maturity. A dividing line develops at that age—those who hold on to more childish things and those who don’t.

Typically, the kids who “don’t believe” tend to be the “alpha” types, the opinion leaders who develop a following early. Those boys are typically adept at trick bikes, skateboards, or roller blades. They kick home runs at kick ball, have a baseball cap they are rarely without, and chew a lot of gum. Those girls might be some of the first to wear a bit of make-up or at least have some lip “gloss” to give that appearance.

Oh, yes—there are oceans of socialization standards well in place at these tender ages. They extend into many tributaries of judgment:

  • The look and color of a lunch box
  • The food in a lunch box (you still carry juice boxes?)
  • The fact that a kid has a lunch box
  • Whether a kid carries money
  • Whether a kid has athletic skills
  • A kid’s haircut
  • A kid’s clothes
  • Whether a kid’s mom and dad dropped him or her off at the door or they just walked in, making everyone uncertain as to whether they were dropped off or walked over on their own.

The bottom line is how independent a kid can appear, and, quite simply, kids who wait for Santa every year or put teeth under their pillow are simply unwelcome with the cooler, more grown-up kids. And when one or two of the non-believing types join forces and seek out a believer (also known as an innocent), that believer is mocked, teased, and ridiculed mercilessly. This is the foundation of the bully vs. the bullied. The bullied may later in life be known as a victim.

This sudden awakening of the innocent is usually followed by a parent-child confrontation where the tear-filled child demands to know if it’s Mom and Dad who hide colorful Easter eggs every year or a giant magical bunny. Even at eight years old, it does sounds kind of “fishy,” but the child wants so badly to keep believing. It’s such a sad moment for parents as a big wave of childhood rushes through the room and flows out the window, taking the last bits of true innocence from their baby.

Hitting The Target
But as bad as that is, I’m not done. It gets worse. With the older child’s new awareness comes the inevitable message delivered to the younger one (who has to share the misery) who, having learned the truth, now appears tougher, smarter, and more prepared for life than the older child, who is saddened to the bone.

Knowing begins a trend of maturity that presents things in a very stark, grown-up, unanimated way. Knowing enables truth. Truth is raw, but it is the shark jaws of the bully.

The bully says things that others have said, but when he throws a rock, it hits the target:

  • You’re fat.
  • You stink at sports.
  • Your mom dresses you like a baby.
  • Is that your grandma’s bike?
  • Nice haircut.
  • Four eyes.

And no matter how many “bully” programs a school has, no matter how many videos kids see on doing the right thing, no matter how many posters hang in the halls about non-bullying policies, all the bully has to do to rattle his victims is snicker or whisper one word or phrase like the examples above.

The tip-toed victim’s ears are always open wide. And yes, the victim did go with his mom over the weekend to buy new tennis shoes and he thought they looked pretty cool; and he is hoping that the bully in gym class thinks so, too. Maybe he won’t say anything as the innocent walks past him the following Monday, but sure enough the bully audibly snickers and says, just loud enough for you and anyone near you to hear, “Did you get a Mickey Mouse lunch box with those shoes, butthead?” And it all falls apart right there. The bullied again is saddened, disheartened, and not really interested in coming to school tomorrow.

The bully is drawn by a force he almost can’t control. The situation presents itself, and it seems almost criminal for him to ignore the opportunity to insult someone. It is such low-hanging fruit, and he knows he will get away with it. What rules? The dork must suffer! It’s the bully’s job!

Behold the life of the bully; his needs don’t heed the warnings. He’s selfishly going forward. This has been a learned behavior practically equal to the timidity of the innocent.

Protection From The Pain
So, if the parents of the innocent child bear some responsibility for that innocence and the price the child pays—how come the parents of the bully are not held accountable?

Yeah, yeah—I know the parents of the bully are sometimes called out because of such behavior, but before the situation gets to the point where teachers/principals are involved, the victim has to endure a lot of insults and tears before finally speaking up. The parents say to their bullied kids, “Let me call his parents,” but the kid frantically refuses, knowing it will make things worse. Dad usually encourages the kid to fight back, assuring the child that if he gets in trouble, Dad will back him 100 percent, but the typical victim isn’t equipped with that type of instinct or attitude, and he has been conditioned to being abused.

The bottom line is a lot of sweet, innocent kids get hurt by other kids who are already ruthless, edgy, and just plain mean beyond their years. The bullied dread going to school and their whole day is clouded by what might happen or might come out of the bully’s mouth.

These trends may continue for both the bully and the bullied unless something happens to significantly change their thinking. Schools are trying very hard these days to change these habits early and show children how to make better choices in their feelings and attitude. I send my prayers and support to all of them and my thanks to the many who are attempting to change the culture.

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.