INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK
20 MARCH 2001
"Sticks, Stones and Bullies"
Bullies, like the poor – like teenage angst and zits –
have been with us always. But we hear more about bullies these days because the
incidents are bloodier and the consequences more terrifying. No more is it just
a bloodied nose or black eye at recess; now we hear of guns, knives, murders and
The most recent case of high-profile bullying and its consequences happened this month at a high school in California when a 15-year-old Grade 9 student reportedly shot and killed two students and wounded 13 others. There is no Young Offenders Act in the United States, so we can use the boy's name. He is Charles (Andy) Williams, a boy often taunted for his "scrawny" size.
Jason Lang Taber shooting victim
In Canada, in April 1999, a 14-year-old boy entered W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, shot and killed a 17-year-old student and badly wounded his 17-year-old friend. The shooter had been an "at home" student. He did his schoolwork at home because he feared school.
In a series of columns on the tragedy in Taber, CBC News Online learned from classmates that the boy was "everybody's best punching bag." Ron Henry, a 15-year-old student, said: "He'd sometimes get body-checked into the lockers. They'd try to pick fights with him and he'd just take it. They knew he wouldn't fight back."
The Taber incident received wide coverage in Canada and around the world because the week before two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves. Classmates said the two students who did the killing often were ridiculed at school.
A ghastly instance of bullying happened in Canada on Nov. 14, 1997 in Victoria, B.C., when six teenaged girls and a teenaged boy – schoolmates – attacked, brutalized and beat 14-year-old Reena Virk unconscious, leaving her to drown.
Yasmin Jiwani, executive co-ordinator of Vancouver's FREDA Centre for Research on Violence against Women and Children, said in an essay on the tragedy that Virk desperately tried to fit in but she failed. "She was brown in a predominately white society," Dr. Jiwani writes. "She was supposedly overweight in a society which values slimness to the point of anorexia, and she was different in a society which values 'sameness' and uniformity."
Something about the bullying we hear about these days feels different. It's not always the mean big kid beating up the scared little kid. It's often six, seven kids beating up one scared little kid. Or extorting lunch money. Or stealing jackets. Or six, seven girls "swarming" and beating the girl who doesn't "fit in."
Today's youth are Internet-savvy, and there are many resources online that deal with bullies and victims, but the problem seems to be getting worse.
Kelly Ellard Convicted of killing Virk
On BullyOnline, a Web site of the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line, there is a "child guidance page" applicable for schools. BullyOnline says 10 to 12 children kill themselves every year in Great Britain because they are being bullied in school. Contrary* to what Dr. Jiwani said of the reasons for the bullying of Reena Virk, BullyOnline advises:
"Reasons for being picked on include being fat, thin, tall, short, hair or skin colour, being quiet, wearing glasses, having big ears, small ears, sticky-out ears, crooked teeth, being from a different culture, having different likes or dislikes, the 'wrong' clothes, unwillingness to use strength to defend him or herself, or any perceived or fabricated 'excuse.' These excuses have one thing in common: They are all irrelevant. Each reason is a deceptive justification for the bully to indulge in a predictable pattern of violent (physical or psychological) behaviour against another child who is smaller, younger or less strong than the bully. The target is simply a useful object onto whom the bully can displace his or her aggression. In other words, if a child is picked on because they are allegedly 'fat,' then losing weight will make no difference; the bully simply invents another justification."
New studies indicate that childhood bullying leads to
workplace bullying, that children who are victims of bullies often become
victims as adults. Studies show bullies tend to be aggressive, unimaginative,
insecure, and controlling.
Bullies themselves also tend to be unpopular, both in schools and later in the workplace. They maintain relationships (if not friendships) by displays of strength, by inducing fear to gain respect. When childhood bullies become adults they are more likely to have criminal records.
A recent victim of bullying in Canada was Hamed Nastoh, 14, who killed himself in March 2000 by jumping off the Pattullo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey, B.C. He left a seven-page suicide note for his family, who had no idea of Hamed's troubles at school.
Another victim was Dawn-Marie Wesley, 14, of Mission, B.C., just east of Vancouver. After constant bullying by three girls at school, she left a suicide note in November 2000 that said, "If I try to get help it will get worse. They are always looking for a new person to beat up and they are the toughest girls. If I ratted they would get suspended and there would be no stopping them. I love you all so much." Dawn-Marie's young brother found her in her bedroom where she had hanged herself with a dog leash.
Cindi Seddon, principal of Seaview Community School in Port Moody, B.C. has written two books on bullying. She is an advocate of better communication, between parents and teachers, between teachers and students, between home and school. Seddon has written, "We say to parents that if you think there's something wrong with your child, you're dead right."
by Martin O'Malley and Amina Ali
* CYC-NET Editors: Dr
Jiwani has written to correct an impression
in this story: "Just to let you know that in your reference to my article
pertaining to Kelly Ellard and Reena Virk, my findings do not contradict
(as you have stated) the quote from BullyOnline. Instead, they affirm
the latter. I would appreciate your correction of this."
Thank you kindly.
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