Sometimes in our lives, we encounter people who are not nice to us, people who don’t wish us well and would prefer not to see us succeed. These people go to great lengths to rip us down, calling us names and stepping on our accomplishments, building themselves up by tearing us down. Is it a thing that can be dealt with, as others often advise us to do? In general, yes.
But sometimes, kids are too young to understand how to deal with it, or do not feel as if they can. Here, they turn to their school and their teachers as “trusted adults," looking for a source of safety, security and aid. And what do these schools do? Absolutely nothing.
Often, bullying begins as early as elementary school. I remember in third and fourth grade listening to people’s harsh words, usually played off like a joke but becoming more serious as more and more people laughed. People called others worthless, stupid and lame, told them to stop talking because nobody was listening anyway and called on others to isolate and ignore them. At age 11.
Countless friends and people close to me have experienced the same. Mean kids using words they don't understand with impacts they can't imagine lash out at others, looking for a reaction from peers and acceptance, willing to take their friends' social places for themselves. It seems so often that prettier people, more athletic guys are the ones that everyone loves - the middle school teachers play favorites and the more "outgoing" and "fun" crowd, the one that usually, even if not directly unkind, is exclusive and arrogant.
And yes, it gets better in high school when people stop caring both about other people's opinions in general and gain the confidence to stand up for themselves, but what happens before then? Well, not much.
Yet another news story about a kid who killed themselves flashed across the news screen about a week ago, this one a twelve-year-old girl who apparently had been bullied for years. Her family is filing a lawsuit against the school district in New Jersey because they had known about it and done nothing. This is a news headline that pops up almost monthly, with someone who has been picked on and told they are worthless, stupid, future-less, ugly, uncool, boring, unloved, uncared about, ignorant or just laughed at so many times that they have believed it.
This isn't something that you can just tell kids to ignore and then leave them behind to "deal with it themselves."
Especially since, once somebody stands up for themselves and retaliates with even a fraction of what was given to them, they receive equal punishment.
How about schools start answering their own call to action; since they display posters reading, "tell a trusted adult," they owe it to their students to be that trusted adult. Requiring students to submit proof in video or picture form of harassment (and refusing to acknowledge an issue without said proof), and handling even proven situations mildly makes students feel unsafe and as if they don't matter.
Students are expecting to feel safe in their school, or, at the very least, they are expecting their schools to try. As bullying takes new forms, it is difficult to contain - nobody expects schools to monitor text conversations, and nobody is asking the schools to mediate between catty girl drama or boys fighting to simply resolve a quick dispute. What everyone expects is for schools to handle situations that are handed to them; when a child, sibling, friend or parent comes to them and says, "somebody is bullying me/my son/my brother/my friend, they have been for months and they are ignoring all messages to stop," it is their job to handle this.
Perhaps it is also time to stop blaming the victim - it is not "their job to get thicker skin" or "their job to let it roll off their shoulders." A ten-year-old has a much more fragile sense of self and much lower confidence levels than a fifty-year-old administrator or even their parents. You have got to help kids when they come to you- they are trusting you to fix the situation, not tell them to grow up and ignore it.
And besides, okay, ultimately, it doesn't matter what you think or how you feel towards the situation, because when kids are repeatedly feeling so ignored, so uncared about, so hopeless and helpless and worthless that they are ending their lives before they even hit puberty, there is a problem. And it is not going away by "ignoring" it.