By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
Carole Townsend

(Not So) Common Sense
Bullying is nothing new, but what’s to be done?
By Carole Townsend

I read an article recently, about a local student who killed herself as a result of relentless bullying by her peers. I imagine that there were other factors at work as well, but bullying no doubt contributed to the young woman’s desperation.

It’s a terrible thing, bullying. It highlights the worst in human character and saddest of all, it rears its ugly head when we are mere children.

There is a lot of information about bullying circulating out there on the Internet, both news articles and opinion pieces. It’s nothing new. We all know that. We all dealt with it when we were children, in one way or another. Either we were being bullied, or we were the ones doing the bullying. I was on the receiving end when I was in school. I was not cool. I was not pretty. I was an introverted, book-reading, nerd. I may as well have had a target drawn on my forehead. Every mean-spirited girl in DeKalb County, it seemed, was gunning for me.

It’s not easy being bullied. It isolates children. It makes them feel like they’re worth less than they actually are. I lived through it though, despite parents who were a whole lot more removed from their children’s everyday lives than parents are today. Does that mean I was tougher? Maybe stronger than the poor girl who recently took her own life? Hardly. The difference between bullying way back then and today is the appearance of smart phones, computers and social media on the scene. Kids can now bully at the speed of light, and they are relentless with it.

Our youngest daughter was the target of a bully in high school. This girl was horrible, probably the meanest young woman I’ve ever encountered. It was a family thing, apparently. Her siblings were the same way, all awful. She singled out my daughter (who was my exact opposite in school – pretty and popular) for the simple reason that my daughter did not bow to her will as most of the other girls did. It was a painful thing to watch and as her mom, “watch” was all I could do. And I could talk to our daughter about why the bullying was happening, reassuring her of her worth as a human being and as our daughter. Any interference on my part would just bring down this little witch’s wrath all the harder. This girl had minions (not the cute, one-eyed yellow kind, mind you), not friends. They were girls who aligned themselves with her just to avoid her ire.

With smart phones, texting and social media at the fingertips of these awful kids, bullying is a constant form of entertainment for them, and they bring in as many others as they can to join in the fun. No wonder so many young people today are driven to the desperate act of suicide. They can’t escape a bully, because they too have smart phones, texting and social media.  What are we to do, then?

If it were up to me, I would have liked just ten minutes alone in a room with the vicious witch that made it her business to bully my daughter. But it wasn’t up to me. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s not up to teachers, either. Your kid’s teacher didn’t raise your kid. You did. Therefore, it’s my opinion that as parents, we need to make it our business to be aware of what our children are doing. It’s tough, I know, because kids that age are secretive, and they are way ahead of us with respect to the ability to use apps such as SnapChat. When a kid can send a nasty message to another kid, and that message disappears in a few seconds, that’s a problem. But it’s not a social media problem; it’s a character problem.

When I was bullied in school, the problem was not me. Of course, I didn’t know that then. The problem was the girls who did the bullying. When my daughter was bullied in school, she wasn’t the problem; it was the horrid kid that did the bullying. She was (is) spoiled and indulged. Her parents backed her every move, no matter how many times she caused problems at school. It wasn’t their little darling that was causing the problems; it had to be the other kids. When your kid has several restraining orders filed against other girls her age, that’s probably a red flag, Mom and Dad. There’s a common denominator there, and you raised it.

Where am I going with this? I am simply suggesting that bullying is a problem that will never disappear. We can legislate and try to control. We can blame teachers and administrators for their lack of parenting. The problem will not be addressed by anyone but parents, or in any place but the home. That may sound like an antiquated opinion to some, and maybe it is, but I believe it’s true. A child who is taught that she is never wrong and that everyone else is the problem, is a problem. A child who is spoiled, whose parents are afraid to cross her, is a problem. Bullying is a character problem.

Human nature is not always pretty. It can, however, be molded and formed into something that is good. Kindness and empathy can be taught. They’re taught by example. Sticking up for a child who is being bullied can be taught, as well. Strength of character is taught; it’s no accident. Decency can be taught. Compassion can be taught. They are not taught in a classroom, but around the dinner table. At the soccer field. In church. At sleepovers. They’re all taught at home.

To the girls who bullied me in school, well, I hope everything turned out well for you in life. I hope that you outgrew the need to make others feel like less so that you felt like more. To the vile young woman who bullied my child in school, I hope all the same things for you. I also hope that once, just once, you experience the same thing you put my child and so many others through in school. Sometimes, empathy is only learned when the buillier is bullied.

I also hope that you sprouted a big wart on the side of your nose. That would make up for all the times I wanted to step in on my daughter’s behalf and didn’t, because she asked me not to. 

Don’t miss Carole and other Georgia authors at the Milton Literary Festival, November 14. Enjoy author panels, hear speakers, participate in workshops and enter to win the chance to have dinner Friday night with four fabulous local authors! Visit https://www.cityofmiltonga.us/events/348/milton-literary-festival/ for details!

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.