Parent Pathways: Will we ever get to the root of bullying?

April 7, 2014 

I read a story recently that mesmerized me. Josh Shaffer of The News & Observer wrote a piece about a Harnett County dad arrested for boarding a school bus to confront his stepson’s bullies after repeatedly trying to deal with the issue through the proper school system channels.

The dad, Chris Eichele, said the bullying had been going on all year and included taunting, hitting and, finally, a few bullies smearing hand sanitizer in his stepson’s eyes.

What fascinated me about the story was not that Eichele did what he did or that charges were pressed; I applaud the former and lament the latter. What surprised me was that we still don’t “get” bullying.

If these kids were a few years older and smeared hand sanitizer in someone’s eyes, the police would be called and each one could be arrested for assault, booked and charged, and brought before a magistrate. Anyone trying to intervene to help the victim would be lauded, not arrested.

But since these are kids, none of that applies. And I don’t buy the “kids will be kids” mentality.

You can’t openly abuse others, physically or mentally, and expect to have any modicum of success in the world, outside of prison or on the streets. And in a public school, isn’t that what we’re trying to do – teach kids how to live successfully in the world?

There are several real-world charges that align with bullying: stalking, harassment, assault, slander, etc. We protect our adults, but not our children.

I just don’t get it.

Maybe it’s time for public school systems to start looking at interventions surrounding why a child is bullying, the same way we intervene with learning disabilities and speech issues.

Bullies aren’t happy kids. There’s something going on, at the very least emotionally, and possibly mentally.

As a nation, we already have a dismal record of looking after our mentally ill. More than half of our prison and jail inmates have mental health issues, according to a 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

How amazing would it be if we could identify issues years before they spiral out of control? Or identify hazardous home situations that kids don’t know how to handle?

It would be an overwhelming mountain to climb, but shouldn’t we at least try? Not only for the bullies but for those who are bullied, who quit school or commit suicide because they can’t face another day knowing the treatment will continue.

One more related news item caught my eye.

Southeast Raleigh High School senior Selina Garcia, 17, was held in the Wake County Detention Center for three weeks after a school resource officer arrested her for punching a 15-year-old girl on a school bus.

The other teen was not seriously injured. Garcia had a prior arrest record of three other charges from 2012 and 2013.

Garcia, a ward of the Wake County foster system, couldn’t be released until a parent or guardian picked her up, and her foster family refused, so there she stayed.

Garcia was released at the end of March, a new placement found for her in Raleigh. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and communicating threats.

Her situation was heartbreaking, but it illustrates the importance of getting to the “why” behind bullying.

Why was Garcia punching another kid in the face to begin with? Why has no one asked about that?

The N&O reported that Garcia told the judge at her hearing that she wants to try to find ways to manage her anger.

But with Garcia soon aging out of the foster care system, is it too late? Have we done her a disservice?

The sad irony is that, a year from now, if Garcia punches someone else, she’ll be back in jail, this time as a legal adult.

Meanwhile, charges against Eichele have not been dropped; he’s basically in a holding pattern.

“All of the kids involved still ride the bus with the same bus driver,” Eichele wrote to me. “I have no regrets at all; I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Of course he would. So would I. No kid should be collateral damage.

cwgala@gmail.com

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