When I hear the word “bully,” I think of the scenes in “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie Parker is being harassed by Scut Farcus, the mean redhead at school (he had yellow eyes!). After months of bullying, he finally, with the encouragement of his classmates, beats up Scut in the schoolyard. The comedy is set in the 1940s, but we all have a similar story or two. Today, it doesn't seem so simple.
Bullying has left the playground and moved on to places people could not have imagined. Case in point: Lori Drew, the St. Charles County, Mo., parent who allegedly created a fake MySpace account to convince a 13-year-old neighbor girl that a boy was interested in her. After a few weeks, the “relationship” took a bad turn and the girl started receiving hate posts from other users. The girl, Megan Meier, committed suicide in October 2006. Drew has been indicted on conspiracy and computer-hacking charges, and will be arraigned this month. She claims the profile was the work of her daughter and a teenage employee of hers.
A member of our staff got a call the other day from a mom whose 11-year-old son had been cuffed and arrested at school for writing graffiti on a bathroom wall. Turns out, he had written something in response to being called “fat and ugly” by some school bullies. The parent thought the punishment was excessive.
My first thoughts: “What steps would I take as a parent to protect my child, and what steps would I take to help ensure the bullying stopped?”
This brings up a plethora of open-ended questions: To whom does the burden of protecting our children fall? What is the proper punishment for the response to bullying, and at what point should schools step in? Perhaps most important: What can be done to help ensure that something like graffiti doesn't escalate to actions such as bringing weapons to school or actually carrying out violence?
The burden falls on everyone: parents, the school, the community, the student, his or her friends. One incident can set a student off, but one good influence also may help prevent violent behavior.
Lustig is executive editor of AS&U.