The advice for young people when they are bullied is well-established. Even Cartoon Network runs a PSA telling kids to make sure that they let an adult know when they are either bullied or see someone being bullied. Recently, in Lincoln, Nebraska, an elementary school sent students home with guidelines that looked like they were written by bullies. The language of the advice simply flies in the face of what most people agree are the best ways to handle such a situation.
When the information sheet got home, many parents were appalled. In particular, by piece of advice #7. It essentially told kids to not report any bullying incidents to an adult or authority figure. The reason being, this just makes bullies madder. When many of the parents got on Facebook and filed complaints with the school and district, the principal at Zeman Elementary, Donna Williams, apologized. Apparently, the wrong flier got sent out with the students. An apology was also placed on the Facebook page for the school district.
The wrong flier indeed. Not only is #7 terrible advice, the whole document is riddled with the kind of things an authoritarian parent would tell their children. It is as if a committee of bullies sat down and put together some of their own sage advice.
Rule #4 (yes, the advice was listed as rules) advises students to not verbally defend themselves. The reasoning behind this one is challenging. Basically, when we defend ourselves, we are defending ourselves against an enemy. If we are defending ourselves against an enemy than we are not treating our attacker as a friend. When there is an attacker and a defender, the attacker is always the stronger party and so the defender will always lose…something like that.
Rule # 2 has some mind-warping qualities. It says that students need to treat a person who is being mean to them as if they are trying to help them. They should be grateful, apparently, for the way they are being treated. Although, in parentheses, the reader is told that they need not actually believe what the bully is telling them. The school psychologist could have fun with the fallout from that advice.
Other rules suggest that students not be sore losers, that they learn to laugh at themselves, and to not get angry when a bully physically hurts them. This all sounds like the advice that was likely given to that 9-year-old boy in North Carolina who liked to carry a My Little Pony backpack. In that incident, the boy’s mother was told, by the principal, that when he uses that backpack, he is basically asking to be bullied. This sounds like more bullying guidelines written by bullies. It is that sort of reasoning that leads to dangerous “rules” like the ones sent home in Lincoln.
The big question on the minds of the parents of Zeman Elementary students is where did the information come from? No one at the school is stepping up and saying that they had anything to do with the compilation of information for the flier. However, there is “The Golden Rule System, Bullies 2 Buddies.” A man named Israel Kalman is responsible for that website, and the information there is exactly what is found in the Nebraska flier. Kalman is a certified school psychologist. His advice is meant to inspire kids to make friends with their tormentors. While this is an interesting idea that may deserve some investigation, it is unfortunate that out in the real world his advice will not work in most cases.
In a culture that glamorizes violence, selfishness and victimization, bullying will always find a niche, particularly among young people. Bullies are visible in schools, politics, entertainment and traffic jams. As long as the guidelines to dealing with the bullying issue is written by the bullies themselves, the problem will never go away.
By Stacy Lamy