“Dude, don’t you think you’re riding this bullying pony a little hard? It’s a shame what happened, but it’s not worth all this energy you’re putting into it,” a friend told me recently. I can see what he’s talking about to an extent. My last two columns have been about bullying, and with this one, we can call it three straight. However, I’m going to say it is worth all of this energy and then some.
Dustin Hammonds is now the face of bullying victims in Southwest Georgia, but the problem didn’t start with him. It won’t end with him either. He is a manifestation of what can happen when bullying isn’t dealt with.
Thirty percent of all students are involved in bullying, either as a victim, a bully, or both. Many victims of bullying lash out at others in an effort to deflect attention from themselves. They hurt another, and suddenly look “cool” to their bullies, which gives them some much desired relief.
An estimated 77 percent of those bullied are the victims of verbal bullying or verbal abuse. This includes behavior like spreading rumors about the victim, yelling obscenities, or derogatory terms about the victim’s race, gender, orperceivedsexual orientation. Whether a child is gay or not is irrelevant, calling a boy a “fag” or a girl a “dyke” is damaging to a young person.
Out of those 77 percent, 14 percent have what is called a “bad reaction” to the bullying. This includes anxiety about going to school, depression, poor self esteem and, unfortunately, suicide. All of these negatively impact the learning experience for a large number of students.
To many people, this might seem like a small minority of students are impacted negatively by bullying. They’re wrong. Bullies often use controlling behavior against other students, students who want to avoid the bully’s wrath. Other students are forced to endure watching good kids be the victim of horrible actions, often with little recourse.
“Tell a teacher,” some will say, but it’s not that easy. First, kids naturally view teachers and school administrators as “them”. They’re not comfortable talking with teachers and administrators about much of anything, even if they like the adult. It’s not an easy thing for them to walk into the office and tell the principal that Joe is getting bullied.
In addition, bullying keeps many kids from speaking up in regular classes. Rather than be made fun of, they stay quiet rather than participate in class discussions. That means these kids aren’t getting the most out of their education. Not only that, but patterns are being established in high school that will follow them into college, where class discussion is often part of their grade.
Am I putting too much attention on this bullying thing? Hardly.
I’m ashamed I hadn’t put this much energy into it sooner. Maybe then, Dustin Hammonds would just be another kid at Worth County Middle School that most of us would never have heard about.