Education / Schools, Kids, Suicide, Tort Reform, Violence

Bullying Shouldn’t Be A Crime, No Matter How Many Kids Kill Themselves Because of It

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They had to set the Karate Kid remake in China. If they had set it in modern-day America, Daniel-san would have been mercilessly bullied by the kids from Cobra Kai, he would have killed himself, and the rest of the movie would have been a courtroom drama where Daniel’s parents sought to bring the evil sensei to justice in the form of a multi-million dollar civil suit.

You see, American children apparently have become so fragile, and Americans parents so litigious, that schoolyard bullying is as likely to be settled in a court of law as it is behind a dumpster out back where boys used to handle their disagreements. I used to tell my mother that nobody ever died from embarrassment, but apparently I was wrong. The ABA Journal reports that there’s been a veritable outbreak of children committing suicide in Ohio because they were hounded by mean kids. And that story doesn’t even take into account the Tyler Clementi situation.

And when kids kill themselves, parents are increasingly turning to the courts to stand up to the bullies in a way that used to be accomplished via a flush crane-kick to the face.

It needs to stop. No, not the bullying — which is unavoidable when more than one male competes for whatever status/prestige/sex is on offer — but the tragic overreactions to the bullying, and the accompanying rush to the courthouse steps.

I say this not as an alpha-male with a caviler attitude towards the feelings of others. I say this as a former omega-male who got the crap beat out of me like I stole something from the age of 7 through the point I realized that no girl would ever mate with a guy who couldn’t basically stand up for himself….

I wasn’t always this big or this strong. As a kid, I was a polite, articulate little boy who did well in school. Or “Oreo fa**ot,” as my friends liked to call me. I’ve shared some of my childhood scrapes before — and I still hate Halloween.

My best story (it’s funny now, I think) involves me trying to walk a girl home from school when I was 12. She was walking, I was walking and rolling my bike, and then the bullies spotted us. As they approached, she said, “It’s okay, you can run.” And I did — I hopped on my bike and booked out of there. They were on foot, so I easily put some distance between us. I looked back and flipped the head bully (we’ll call him “Lewis” because his name is Lewis and he’s in jail now so he can’t read this) the finger. But that took my eyes off the road — and the tree branch in front of me. Bad times. I tumbled, they caught up, and then five kids proceeded to twist my flimsy bike around me. They got both wheels around me, and I had to waddle the rest of the way home. I was a latchkey kid, and I couldn’t reach my keys since my arms were effectively pinned to my body and I couldn’t reach my pockets. I had to sit on my stoop for hours (which felt like days), until my parents came home to let me inside (and take me to the bike shop to free me).

What did I learn from all this? Well, nothing. Not really. Don’t take your eyes off the road? Yeah, already pretty much aware of that one buddy, didn’t need to be beaten and humiliated for the lesson to stick. People who used to get beat up in school always try to find some character-building value from their experience. But usually, it’s total BS. Sure, much of my what I call “wit” was forged in the crucible of trying to come up with something biting to say because I couldn’t defend myself. But I’m confident I could have learned an appropriate amount of snark without getting bikes wrapped around me.

The only thing I learned from getting beat up all the time that I couldn’t have learned had I not constantly gotten my ass kicked was that it sucks to get beat up all the time. And once I grew into my body a little bit more, the beatings stopped. Or was it that my parents finally, mercifully moved me to a private school, so that instead of facing my demons I could just graduate to a better socioeconomic class where it would be harder for them to find me?

The point is, I’m happy to say, I never killed myself. Beaten and humiliated? Yes. Taking my own life? No. Even at the time, killing myself felt like an overreaction. I didn’t want to kill myself; I wanted to kill them. And boy, did I have plans for making that happen. Hell… I still have a plan for what happens when Lewis gets out of jail. Because that’s what men do. They defend themselves, or they make plans for defending themselves sometime in the future.

I learned that from my parents, who (to their credit) did not overreact. Did they ever take one of my tormentors to court? Hell no. They never even brought up my bullying to any of my tormentors’ parents. I’ll never forget the Christmas party my parents threw where Lewis showed up to my house. Later, when he was beating me in the head with a Nintendo cartridge, his parents yelled at him… and my parents yelled at me, for “starting some s**t with a bigger kid when you can’t defend yourself.”

What my parents knew, and what I’ve learned over the years, is that in life there will always be bullies — and there will always be people who are being bullied. And you are not going to be very successful in life if you don’t know how to handle both roles because you’ll have to play one or the other from time to time. It’s the job of parents to teach their kids how to handle being bullied, being embarrassed, and being humiliated. It happens to all of us, and if it hasn’t happened to you yet you are lying, just wait. You think it’s not humiliating to go to law school and then get shut out from the job market? You think it’s not embarrassing to get way too drunk at a firm event and end up on Above the Law? These things happen to people everyday. What are you going to do when it happens to you — run to court?

And there are a lot of people out there who say “yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do, I’ll run to court the minute anything bad happens to me.” That’s your right, but it doesn’t make it right. If nothing else, it sets a terrible example for your children. It tells them that at the slightest provocation you’ll run to the system to help you out of trouble. So what will they do if they don’t feel the system can help them? Have you given them the sense that they can and should be able to handle certain things on their own?

If we did charge every bully with the crime of being a bully, how far are we willing to take this thing? Are we going to charge every little girl who says “that backpack is sooo last year”? Are we going to charge every boss who gives overly strong handshakes and talks loudly around weak men? I don’t like slippery slope arguments, but people get bullied in one form or another everyday. We can’t charge all of them, so why should we charge just the ones who happen to have a victim who takes the extraordinary step of ending his or her own life? Look at the scope of bullying captured in the Ohio cases:

Two other youths at the high school committed suicide and a third died after taking an overdose of antidepressants. One was bullied for being gay, another for having a learning disability, and a third for being a boy who liked to wear pink.

Yes, parents: boys are going to make fun of the effeminate kid. They’re also going to make fun of the slow kid. And I’ve been making fun of the professional football players who have been wearing pink all month — even though they’re only wearing it to support breast cancer awareness.

In other news, boys will also torment the fat kid, the thin kid, the kid with a bad haircut, the kid with the lisp, the kid who gets all the math problems right, the kid who gets all the math problems wrong, the kid with the ugly mom, hot mom, or two moms. Children torment other children. At what point in history has this not been the case?

Not every torment is not a crime, and not every bully is a criminal. You could say that I was a victim of bullying; you could say that I was a victim of repeated physical assaults. Both are true. But you can’t say that the bullies tried to make me kill myself.

We’re talking about tormentors, not torturers.

Ohio School Plagued by Suicides Faces Two Lawsuits Over Bullying Response [ABA Journal]

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