I am hearing on the news that there are several pieces of legislation being proposed to combat bullying. Most of them seem to be focused on the schools, which is reasonable, I suppose. While bullying has spread from the school, playground and bus stop to the World Wide Web, generally it starts at school.
I haven't had a chance to read any of the proposed Bills. A snippet quoted on the TV news states that at least one of the Bills provides for a bullied student to transfer to another school. In my opinion, this reveals a total lack of understanding of the causes and results of bullying.
When you transfer the bullied child to a different school, he or she has to start over again, making a place for him- or herself in an environment that is similar, if not identical to the one from which he is being removed. Never mind that the kid is yanked away from any friends and supporters he or she might have found in the original school. The child will be required to start over with her self-esteem battered by the bullying that has caused the transfer. The possibility of being forced to begin anew will cause some victims to be reluctant to report being bullied.
Here's a thought: why not transfer the bully to a different school? Let's punish the offender, not the victim. Speaking as a person who changed schools a lot, as a child (I attended eight different schools in two different countries), starting over is terrifying. Changing schools is not an "opportunity," it's a sentence.
Most victims of bullying have no idea how to change the situation, so starting over in new schools will generally cause them to exhibit more of whatever behaviour caught the attention of the bullies in their present schools.
I know. I've been there.
I used to spend time pondering my situation. I was small, and looked younger than I really was. I actually was a year younger than my classmates. My mother really did dress me funny. I had no athletic skills, and no skills at all, really, that would give me something to be confident about. My English teacher said I "read eloquently," but, as 90% of my classmates didn't know what "eloquently" meant, that didn't give me much. As far as most of the other students at Chemainus Secondary (and the other schools I attended) knew, I was a nobody. On top of that, I was a nobody who never, ever stood up for herself.
My parents counselled ignoring the bullies. "They are just jealous," my mother said. I wasted hours trying to figure out what I had that anyone would be jealous of. I wasn't particularly ugly, but I wasn't pretty, either. I certainly wasn't attractive to any of the boys in the class. I didn't have lovely clothes. My grades were above average, but not particularly excellent.
I never did figure out that the problem was that I never stood up for myself. I was scared of getting hurt or getting in trouble. "Scared" is the operative word.
Transferring a bullied child to a different school is going to exacerbate the problem. Let's find ways to get the bullies out of the schools. Let's educate them, counsel them and throw the book at them. Let's fine their parents...let's punish the guilty and not the victims.