It’s probably been 20 years since I happened upon an essay written by my daughter, who is now a 38-year-old mother of two. The essay was about the importance of her sense of humor in dealing with bullying.
Specifically, she wrote in that high school paper that her sense of humor helped her deflect the taunts and harassment she received from pre-teen girls who made her a target when she showed up as the new kid at an Edina elementary school. During a transient stage of my career, I had moved my wife and children five times in six years through five states, ending up in Edina. Years later, I found out that one of the consequences of my moves was setting my children up for bullies who pick on the new arrivals.
My older son, likewise, was bullied — punched and pushed at the bus stop outside our Edina home by a troubled boy who lived next door and acted out his frustrations by tormenting my son.
My younger son, whose anxiety disorder frustrated a physical education teacher into provoking one of my boy’s meltdowns, painted for me a picture of the bullied child. As we were driving away from the Lakeville school I was summoned to after his meltdown, my son asked me to stop the car. He pointed to another young boy who stood on the periphery of where other boys were playing.
“He’s like I am,” my son said of the kid who watched, rather than played, because he wasn’t one of them.
I am reminded of these experiences from my own parenting life by the stories appearing regularly in our newspapers concerning the problem of bullying. Jon Tatting, reporter for The Post Review in North Branch, wrote in the July 4 paper that a survey of parents, students and staff revealed that bullying is a major concern in the Rush City schools. Jon wrote about the testimony of a parent who took her complaints about the bullying of her child to the school board and the superintendent.
That superintendent, Vern Koepp, said the school district plans to develop a bullying-prevention plan. High school counselor Heidi Larson said it’s important that the plan will be student-driven. She said: “Students have a big influence on each other. We need kids to want to be kind.”
The story of bullies is one of the most important of our time.
The staff of the papers we publish in Anoka County was recognized by the Minnesota Newspaper Association for its coverage of what became a national story about a lawsuit settled in March by the Anoka-Hennepin School District over allegations of persistent bullying based on sexual orientation.
More recently in Lakeville, the Sun Thisweek papers have written about the cyber-bullying that took the form of junior high students posting locker-room photos of classmates on Internet sites. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom filed charges against four teenagers in that incident.
A state task force on bullying issued a report July 18 calling for a stronger state anti-bullying law after conducting listening sessions around the state. A national anti-bullying organization gave Minnesota the lowest grade given to any state when it graded state laws dealing with the issue.
The state Task Force for the Prevention of School Bullying appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton takes issue with the position of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who vetoed an anti-bullying law in 2009, saying the current law was sufficient.
The issue of bullying is of great interest to many of us who have endured with our children the hurt bullies inflict. And we are thankful for the educators, social workers and public officials who are bringing attention to the issue.
Rush City school counselor Heidi Larson said bullying has become more prevalent and more complicated because of social media.
“The social media and cyber stuff is out of control,” Larson said. “Someone will put something on your Facebook page and the parent of the target will respond.”
Technology might be making the problem more complicated, she said, but the solution is simple.
“Can we just go back to the simplicity of being kind?” she asked. “The solutions are simple, but how do we get there?”
In the case of my children, we found in schools there are people like Larson who want to help the victims of bullies.
A school social worker met regularly with my daughter to help her through those difficult times and provide her with affirmations she wasn’t getting from the bullying peers. But all these years later, if I mention the name of the girl who took the lead in bullying my daughter, she talks with passion about how painful that time was for her.
The principal at my middle son’s school warned the mother of the bus-stop bully that he wouldn’t be allowed to ride the school bus if he continued his assaults.
And in the case of my youngest, we eventually found a charter school was a better place for him than the mainstream public school.
If you have stories you’d like to share about bullies and how you’ve dealt with this problem, e-mail me at the address below. — Larry Werner, ECM Publishers (Editor’s note: Werner is director of news for ECM Publishers. His e-mail is [email protected])