School is starting again this week
With it comes the fear some kids have of being bullied.
It's sad that some of the cruelest times can be as a kid. Even in high school, kids can be brutally cruel to classmates. Probably all of us, when we were in school, experienced the teasing, hazing, the insults and perhaps physical assault.
I managed to never get bullied while at school. There was one time, however, when I fought from being dragged into the girls' bathroom at Oakdale Junior High School, like that was the worst thing that could befall a boy.
Time on the school bus was a different story. That's where the worst of student behavior seemed to occur. It was as if the bus created monsters out of the watchful eye of school authority. And don't call a bus driver a school authority; they couldn't safely drive a 10,000-pound missile with 7,000 pounds of children on a winding country road and catch all the acts of hooligans aboard.
I rode the bus for four miles to my rural home between Oakdale and Escalon. It took about 30 minutes because of all of the stops. The first years of riding the bus were relatively calm with the no-nonsense Mr. Van Norman behind the wheel. His large and commanding presence kept most kids in line. When he retired, the route fell to Mrs. Tweety (I swear that was her name). She was a small mousy lady who could bark but didn't have the bite. If she gave anyone the death stare in the mirror for acting up nobody could see it through those huge sunglasses that made her look like Fly Lady. She didn't have the commanding presence of Mr. Van Norman.
Two incidents on the bus stand out in my memory. The bus stopped at the trailer park (now the 4 H Mobile Home Park) on the frontage road to Highway 120 northwest of Oakdale. Keith Crawford would get on and off there. The kid an ugly bus brute. Years later I heard my pastor profoundly say that "hurting people hurt people." Well, it was apparent that Keith was hurting. I don't know if he was a victim of abuse at home but I suspect he didn't feel good about life or his self and he wanted everybody else to share in that misery. Keith was younger than me but he decided I would be the next scab that he would pick. When I told him to back off, Keith rose out of his seat and issued this challenge: "Make me!"
"I'm not going to fight you, Keith."
I was a pacifist and besides, as a sophomore I bet I weighed 120 pounds. If I remember he put his hands on me.
If I had to do it all over again, wearing my 54-year-old eyeballs, I think I would have slugged him to issue a decree before Bus 9 kingdom that his days of bullying were over. Instead my younger brother Kevin stepped in - without my prompting - and got into a shoving match with him, Miss Tweety yelling for them to sit down. Have you any idea how humiliating it is to have your younger brother step in and fight your battle for you?
The second incident couldn't be classified as "bullying" per se because I wasn't a target but was a random victim. Richard Pimentel, who was a neighborhood friend, fell under the spell of some rabble rousers on back bench of the bus. Richard was a follower and he got some attention for lobbying missiles from the back of the bus at the backs of our heads. We're riding along when all of a sudden I feel something smack me hard in the back of the head. I reached to feel the newly created wound in my scalp and felt two plastic teeth of a hard comb broken off in my hair. This was the 1970s and it wasn't a lightweight barber shop comb, more like one of those larger, thick and heavy combs. My fingers had blood on them.
I looked back to see who threw it and the look on Pimentel's face gave away his guilt.
Those two experiences occurred in high school. When I was much younger an incident happened at Vacation Bible School at a church on Sherwood Avenue in Modesto. The little demon next to me once dug his fingernails into the tender part of my forearm, leaving burning wounds and tears rolling down my face.
I suppose I was lucky that that's all that happened to me.
Every year it seems that I get a call from a parent in Ceres who explains how the kid is being bullied in class and the teacher or the principal or the superintendent doesn't seem to resolve the situation to their satisfaction.
Bullying is nothing new in American schools. Nobody goes through school unscathed without being verbally or physically assailed. But it can be a serious problem. Sixty percent of fourth- through eighth-graders say they are bullied. An estimated 86 percent of all school kids say they are picked on or made fun of. An estimated 160,000 American kids stay home each day to escape bullying at school.
Folks, we are not powerless in dealing with bullying. According to Kidpower, the Donald Trump "knock the crap out of them" approach is last on the list.
These are suggestions:
• Students need to exude assertiveness and confidence to become less of a target. The week are easier targets.
• Being aware to strategically stay away from trouble makers.
• Set boundaries about disrespectful behavior;
• Yelling and speaking up loudly calls attention to a bullying problem;
• Try to ignore the name calling;
• Speak up for positive inclusion if you're being left out.
• Children who are being bullied need to be able to tell teachers, parents, and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment clearly and calmly and persistently even if these adults are very distracted or rude - and even if asking for help has not worked before. Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.
• Use physical self-defense as a last resort. Let your child practice a self-defense move like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone's leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest. You can practice in the air or by holding a sofa cushion.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org