Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mary's In Trouble. What Should She Do?

This is a story about Mary.

Almost every day for a few years, Mary has spent many hours with Peter and his friends, who are very cruel to Mary. They call her terrible names, throw things at her, spit at her, destroy things that are valuable to her. She has started to eat meals in the bathroom when Peter is around, because it is the only place she can escape his torment. She believes she is worthless and has thought about killing herself. Peter has warned her not to tell anyone about the things he does to her or else he will only make it worse for her. He is much bigger than she is, so she has not said anything until now. Mary has finally come to you and shared her story, and she is afraid.

How do you feel about Mary? About Peter? What should Mary do? Do your answers depend on who Mary is, and what is her relationship to Peter? Let's think about some of the possibilities...

1. Mary is 17 years old, and Peter is her boyfriend.
2. Mary is 27 years old, and Peter is her boss.
3. Mary is 37 years old, and Peter is her husband.

In each of these situations, I think the ideal outcome would be for Mary to be able to be removed from the abusive environment. I would encourage and help Mary to remove herself. As quickly as possible. I would give her a hug and tell her that no one deserves to be treated that way. I would reassure her that she would not have to face her abuser again.

Now let's add a fourth case.
4. Mary is 13 years old, and Peter is a classmate.

Do you feel different about this one? I don't. But I know a lot of people who do. People who would tell this Mary that it's probably not as bad as she thinks. That she should try ignoring it. That she shouldn't be so sensitive. That being tormented is part of life.

Some would tell her to fight back against Peter and his friends. Maybe they would advise her to tell a teacher about the abuse. They are certain that the teacher should and can stop whatever is going on. But until it all gets sorted out, she should keep going to the abusive environment (school) every day.

I can't imagine any sane person telling any of the first three Marys any of these things. Why is the fourth case any different?

I don't know if there is a way to "end bullying" in schools. I have a feeling that harsher punishments will not do the trick. But I do know that no one should have to put up with bullying or abuse. No one should have to dread waking up in the morning, when she knows that the day will be filled with torment and harassment. No one should have to feel like the only way to stop the hurt is to kill herself.

You might know someone like Mary in one of the first three situations. You might wonder why she would have so much trouble getting out of it. Why she keeps subjecting herself to the terrible treatment. Or why she has allowed it to go on for so long already. Maybe it's because so many people told her as a child to stop being so sensitive. It's just a part of life. And she tells herself it's probably not as bad as she thinks.

Here is a follow-up post about bullying.


  1. The fact that this happens -- and often! -- is completely heartbreaking. I so wish stuff like that weren't true. But I've seen it myself, so I know it is.

    I've known people to say something like, "But if we just let our child stay home, away from school, then the problem doesn't get solved, and the bully wins!" But, no. If you let the child stay home, then one problem does get solved: the victim will not be terrorized by the bully anymore! And, there's no shame in leaving a bad situation (call it "running away" if you like, sometimes that is the best and sanest option!). And, I happen to think caring for the child must come first. Reforming the educational system (perhaps using one's child as a front-line soldier in the fight) is a distant second!

    :) Christa

  2. Exactly. Maybe you can't put a stop to bullying in general, but you absolutely don't have to subject your child to it. I think it's the victim who "wins" if heno longer has to face the bully!

  3. What happens when the bully turns out to be the kid's teacher, who incites the rest of the kids to join in? This happened to me when I was about 7, in an "accelerated" class for gifted kids. Parents tried talking to her, but that didn't help and I stayed in her class.

    She finally got married and quit, finished out the year with a substitute who was a little nicer, but the kids never let up with the bulling.

    I tracked her down on Google. She's now a grandmother living in Texas, a pillar of her religious community. I hope she's at peace with how she treated me 50 years ago, and I'm glad she never worked as a teacher again.

  4. @Anonymous, What a terrible experience! Teachers bullying children is something I cannot wrap my mind around. People like that shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children. :(

  5. It is awfull situation. The girl need to talk to somebody about this situation and to look for help to solve the problem.


  6. I cannot for the life of me understand WHY kids who are being mercilessly tortured and bullied are sent back into that situation day after day. It shows how much we worship school and its merits. Can we seriously see NOT OTHER OPTION than to keep sending our kids into the lions den? When I say "we" I mean "as a society." I don't send my kids to school to begin with and if I did, I would NEVER tolerate that kind of treatment. If we are to believe our own cultural stories about school being the ONLY training ground for life in the "real world" then I expect that we are training a slew of emotional (and physical in many cases) terrorists AND their victims - by indicating to them that bullying is status quo and will generally be tolerated and anyone being subjected to bullying should probably just toughen up. And tougher punishments just make the perpetrators feel sorry for THEMSELVES, certainly NOT for their victims. Bullying is just another check mark on my list of good reasons NOT to send my kids to school but it truly makes me sad to see the value of school or "education" be placed above the value of a child's life. Thanks for the post Vickie.

  7. @JenO, Thanks for all of your comments this morning. I love all of them! It is so nice to find out that there are other people out there who agree with me. It helps me not to feel so lonely in the world! :)

  8. Hey Vickie! Thanks for responding to my responses. lol. As I mentioned, I don't often get lost in blogs as I have in yours this morning... Must return to life now! lol Thanks for all the great reading :)

  9. I went to a convent in Malta , then a primary school in the UK , but passed my 11+ to a direct grant and the bullying started . My second teeth were big ...I was called Gus Honeybun(a rabbit) and cried myself to sleep ,sleeping face down with my front teeth on my small radio I used to listen to at night (Radio Luxembourg).I hated school and only had one good friend.My parents felt I didn't need a brace and felt that people should accept you for what you are.My daughter went to a convent nursery, then a pre prep.Due to finances we put her in a state village primary.The first day a boy punched her in the stomach .I was mortified and like an enraged mother lioness. We left the UK. She never was teased in her school abroad , and we paid thousands of euros for a brace.

  10. @Anonymous, How awful for you and for your daughter. :(

    I am glad you were able to get your daughter to a place where she did not have to endure the bullying.

    @Flo, Thank you!

  11. I really like how you wrote this article, Vickie. To show the direct correlation between the tolerance of bullying in the different age ranges was really powerful.

    I've read a lot about bullying, boys and girls, why people tolerate it, how hard it is to stop the bullies. I've raised 3 kids, helped with 2 stepkids, and several grandchildren. More and more, I've come to think that the key lies with one thing...the belief that you can leave. It's that feeling of "trapped-ness" that pushes the child to endure the bully, and that compels the bully to continue. So every time someone is bullied, a piece of that belief that they can leave is chipped away. Until it is no longer a strong enough belief to support them and their decision to leave. That is why it is SO important to give people options of leaving bullying situations. They will need that belief in their self, later in life. As parents, it's our job to protect that little growing belief/concept.
    In the end, I think the reason we have such a problem with bullying in America is because it is a byproduct of being "trapped" in a school system.

  12. Bullying is the main reason I originally planned to homeschool. And I was truly shocked to find out so many people believe that learning to deal with bullies is a good thing.
    I am 27 now, and I still get upset when I think back to when I was in school. I remember being bullied in Kindergarten. It never stopped. After Grade 6 I begged to be held back or taken out so I wouldn't have to be around certain people. I was put in a class with the same people the next year. That year I very nearly committed suicide.

    I never want my kids to experience the daily fear and agony. Or to have their self esteem squashed on a daily basis. I will never understand why anyone would want to do that.

  13. @Sue, Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge. I agree with you completely. I think the fact that children are trapped in school is at the root of many of the problems kids face. It's such a shame that it has to be that way.

    @TSN84, Thanks for sharing. Sorry you had such a tough time in school, but glad you made it through. Your kids are lucky that you won't be subjecting them to the same situation. I don't understand why we as a society have convinced ourselves that being bullied builds character. It makes no sense at all. :(

  14. I too faced bullying from both fellow students and teachers. Of course many students join in when seeing that the teachers obviously enjoy targeting a specific student. In the mainstream schooling system, kids are essentially peons, treated with extreme disrespect by the teachers and forced to endure a model of "learning" that is, well, forced upon them in a quasi-military style, rather than making it fun and interesting so that the students naturally enjoy it and gravitate to it of their own volition. They are literally captive audiences.

    Seeing teachers being part of such an authoritarian hierarchy that is above student criticism or feedback obviously teaches students that "might makes right." So, is it any wonder that many students mirror this behavior by forming pecking orders of their own? That they, too, seek power over others in a similar fashion to how they see the teachers do it within those walls? This same environment also exacerbates personal issues of students that may cause them to lash out at weaker, less popular kids as a way of venting, much as they see some of the teachers doing this if they had a bad day in their personal lives.

    Secondly, there is another option for our hypothetical Mary -- remove Peter from the environment where he enjoys going on his power-trips. Students with a known propensity for seriously bullying certain other students should be ousted from such environments and offered alternative means of education, to which there should be many offered to kids in this day and age.

    Also, Mary herself should be offered alternative means of education. This can include, depending upon her personal preference and which type of environment she finds most conducive to learning as an individual: 1) Home tutoring; 2) Distance learning; 3) Online classes; 4) Use of educational software; 5) Democratized schooling systems like the Sudbury model (Google it if unfamiliar!).

    A major source of bullying is the authoritarian, mandatory nature of the present schooling system. It's an environment ripe for bringing the worst type of behavior out of some students and subjecting others to the worst forms of treatment. With the communications technology of today, many options should be available, as a one-size-fits-all method of education cannot effectively serve all students.