There was an episode of ‘King of the Hill” where Bobby Hill joined a youth group at their church. The youth group seemed to be more about making Christianity cool than anything substantive. At the end of the episode, Hank told Bobby that he didn’t want God to wind up in the box of junk they kept in the garage. This was the same box that had the “Members Only” Jacket that went away with the 1980s.
It’s hard to go anywhere these days without hearing about a bullying story. The latest involves Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins. Apparently, he “bullied” fellow teammate Jonathan Martin with several texts, voice mails, and other confrontations that really can’t be repeated in polite company. Incognito is now suspended indefinitely and Martin left the team to check into a hospital. From there, the rest is purely conjecture.
The bullying phenomenon doesn’t end there. My wife and saw a program at the Alley Theatre that offered to go to schools to teach kids about bullying. We see news reports about unfortunate victims that commit suicide due to cyber bullying and a deranged parent that claimed a football coach bullied their kid because their son’s team lost 91-0. Cartoon Network has a whole commercial campaign about bullying.
It’s easy to figure out when the whole thing got started. We know the two disturbed teens at Columbine were supposedly bullied by their classmates. Suddenly, it became a priority to reach out to kids that were being disenfranchised. Like most movements, the anti-bullying movement sprang up from noble roots. We want kids to feel safe. Those of us that work with kids have always wanted kids to feel safe.
Unfortunately, the anti-bullying movement threatens to go off the rails for a couple of important reasons. First, we are having a hard time differentiating between real bullying (like what happened in Jonathan Martin’s case) and trumped up bullying like in what happened in the football game in Fort Worth. Like any other crime, real cases are cheapened by those cases which are false on their face.
I’d say my daughter comes home at least once a week and says she was bullied at school or at daycare. Probe a little deeper and you find out that there may have been some teasing involved, but it hardly goes beyond that. Teasing is certainly bad, but it doesn’t rise to the same level as the very legitimate cases we read about in the news. Yet, when a child says they have been bullied we must begin at the same point. Sooner or later this whole bullying craze will collapse under its own weight.
The second reason why the bullying craze is destined to go off the rails is because it focuses almost entirely on the victim. As a counselor, I saw numerous resources and strategies to help victims of bullying, but very few for the bully themselves. We want to help Jonathan Martin and people in the world like Jonathan Martin, but what about Richie Incognito? Is he redeemable?
I’m not saying he should ever play in the NFL again. Sometimes people don’t deserve second chances. As educators, we see literally hundreds of kids like him in our schools. It is very easy to fall into the pattern of seeing some kids as bad kids and the others as their victims. It’s not so easy to keep an open mind and find a way to turn that kid around.
The present anti-bullying culture seems to funnel all bad behavior into bullying and then does little to redeem the bully. The day I truly believe that a kid can’t be redeemed is the day I need to get out of education. I certainly hope the anti-bullying culture evolves to the point where we have a better handle on what constitutes bullying and we have a better idea of how to help the bully and those being bullied. Otherwise, it will go into the same box as the Members Only jackets.