Bullying – Stamp It Out!

Barack Obama admitted at a conference recently that he was bullied as a child. Addressing a bullying-prevention conference at the White House, the US President said that he was picked on as a child mostly because of his big ears and unorthodox name. “I didn’t emerge unscathed. But because it’s something that happens a lot, and it’s something that’s always been around, sometimes we’ve turned a blind eye to the problem,” he said.

Parents have different ways of dealing with bullying. Some take a blasé attitude, “kids will be kids,” and ignore the seriousness of the plight of their child. Others will do their duty by reporting the matter and shifting responsibility onto the school. Neither of these approaches is correct. Having to confront torment on a daily basis can have serious consequences on the emotional wellbeing of any child. We’ve all read in the press how far bullying can drive kids, even to the point of suicide. Parents need to keep an eye out for any change in the behaviour and/or demeanour of their child and never hesitate to confront the problem head on.

I recall as a child being targeted by one rather portly student. I can only assume he was a victim himself because of his rather large figure, and sought empowerment by seeking out someone else to pick on. I remember my parent’s approaching me while I was sitting by the piano and asking me what was wrong. Apparently, I was blinking rapidly, an obvious sign of nervousness. I don’t remember how they pried it out of me, but I can still see this guy approaching me the next day and apologising.

It was only by chance a number of years ago that I walked in on my then fourteen year old son having a hushed yet agitated conversation with a friend on the phone. I questioned him about it and he burst into tears. He was being picked on by some kid who was jealous of his popularity. My wife called his teacher. The conversation went something like this: “Rabbi O, do you have a minute?” “I’m really rather busy now if you don’t mind to call me later. But can I ask what it’s regarding?” “It’s about a bullying situation.” “I’m not busy anymore. You have my undivided attention.” That problem was nipped in the bud very quickly.

As the US President stressed to his audience of parents, teachers, students and community leaders, “sometimes we overlook the real damage that bullying can do, especially when young people face harassment day after day, week after week.” More parents and more teachers need to follow the lead of my parents and my son’s teacher. There’s a lot at stake, not least the future of your child, and sometimes life itself.