Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Bully and the Writer

For some time now, I've been thinking about bullying, and wondering if we, as writers, can do something about it.  The statistics on bullying in schools are appalling...more than that, they are frightening because we all know that in some cases, they lead to suicide, attempted suicide, rape, and even attempted murder.  Statistics show that teen suicide is the 3rd leading cause of teen deaths in the US, and the majority of those are due to bullying.

Everyone knows the story of the father of a girl with Cerebral Palsy, who was being bullied on the school bus every single day, and the bus driver did nothing about it.  Finally, the father boarded the bus and screamed at the kids, verbally abused the bus driver, and in return, was arrested.  HE was arrested, but the kids doing the bullying, and the driver who said nothing and did nothing, had no repercussions.  What kind of justice is that?

Then there is the case of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetes teen who hanged herself in February of this year, because of being bullied and sexually assaulted.  In this case, there are at least 6 teens who have been arrested and charged with bullying, criminal harassment and statutory rape.  Parents all over the state are now calling for the firing of the school administrators who knew this was going on, and did nothing to stop it.  As far as I'm concerned, they are as guilty as the other teens.

The stories and the cases go on and on, each one seemingly worse that the others.  I know what it is like.  I was teased unmercifully in elementary school because I wore glasses, and none of the other kids did.  I was teased because I was from a military family, and had lived in many states and foreign countries, and spoke three languages.  In junior hight ( middle school today) and high school, the teasing became bullying, mostly by girls but sometimes by boys.  I was singing professionally, and sometimes was gone from school on tour, yet I managed to keep a strong A average. When I would return to school, the girls would go from making nasty remarks about my singing and my clothes, to pushing me in the hall ways, to totally ignoring me. If I said anything to a teacher or my parents, it wa always tossed off as the girls being jealous of me.  HAH!

 Boys pretended to like me so I would help them with their studies, especially foreign languages, but would then tell their friends I was not someone to date.  Once I was invited to a school dance, got all ready, but the boy never came to pick me up.  The next day, the girl he actually took and her friends made sure everyone knew I was dumb enough to think I'd really been invited to a dance. Girls would encourage me to join their clubs or "sorority", then when it came time to pledge, would tell me they didn't want "someone like me" around them.   It wasn't the kind of bullying we see today, but it was hurtful and made a lasting impression on me. 

So, what, if anything, can we do as writers?  Does it help to write fictional stories about the bullies and their victims, and then have the bully given his "comeupance" in the end?  Should we write non-fictional articles about the true stories of bullying, and the lasting negative effects on both the bully and his or her victim?

I don't know.  If I had the answer to that question, I could probably make millions of dollars in selling the solution to schools and parents alike.  But something needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon.

I've done some research online, and found that there are a myriad of books already out on bullying...things like what parents should look for in their child's behavior to determine if they are bullying or being bullied; what to do if your child is being bullied, and so on.  But no one seems to write about what to do regarding the school teachers and administrators who often know about the bullying but do nothing about it.  For example, four teens have committed suicide within the last two years at Mentor High School in Mentor,Ohio, all complained to teachers and coaches, who did nothing, and the principal merely chalked the bullying up to "boys being boys."  What kind of stupidity, of sheer crass indifference is that?  Obviously no one at that school has read any of these books, nor, apparently, do they care to.

So what do we do as writers?  We are supposed to have a "great influence" upon society..."we" meaning writers in general.  Are we failing to reach the kids who do the bullying?  Or are we reaching them in our books and articles, but simply not saying what needs to be said...the kinds of things that will change their attitudes?  Or...worse case scenario...does it matter?  Are the kids who bully someone to the extent that he or she takes their life, already beyond the help of anything they could read in a book?  Is this bullying merely a forerunner of worse things to come?

Many times prosecuters will say that criminal behavior begins in the home, and when kids are young.  The behaviors and attitudes that they learn there stay with them for life, and if there is any kind of cruelty or bullying in the home, it will manifest itself in the child in later life.  From having taught Sociology of Criminal Behavior, I know this to be true.  But it is difficult to believe that nothing we can do, say, or write is ever of any help or benefit to a bullying teen.

I don't have the answers.  Do you?  I hope to hear from some of you.

Until next time,
that's a wrap.