What do bullies look like? Most people would picture the burliest, toughest kid in the class, who has issues at home and who openly preys on the smallest and the weakest kids, harassing their victims both physically and emotionally. But actually, bullies comes in all shapes and their tactics can vary widely. Unfortunately, most bullying is not obvious. It typically does not look like what is portrayed in the media. Often, bullying starts with words and seemingly small actions, such as excluding someone from joining in at the lunch table. Then, leaving them out of a big play date. Then a birthday party. I clearly remember the awful feeling of being left out, myself. And what little social media we had at the time (My Space and then Facebook) made it worse because I could see when people would go out without me, and I knew exactly what I was missing out on. That sting I felt is still with me through adulthood. Unfortunately, the lasting effects of bullying and/or social exclusion are not magically erased on your 18th birthday.
I imagine being left out feels far worse for kids nowadays, as they have endless amounts of apps and technology at their fingertips, which allow them to see just what everyone else is doing.
Parents, I call on you to increase your awareness and to take a strong stand against bullying in all its forms. If your child usually has a group of friends over from time to time, pay attention if one of the kids who used to come around suddenly does not. Ask your kid how that kid is doing. We should always teach our kids to seek out the child that has no one to talk to at lunch, or who is playing alone at recess. These kids will not ask for help, so it is our job to teach our own kids to look out for kids who do not seem to be included in a social group, and to befriend them and show them special consideration. Our aim is not only to teach our kids to not be bullies. We need to teach them to reach out to kids who are being bullied or simply excluded (a form of bullying in itself). Let’s hear from community members what they have to say about this important subject. Some names and details of the personal stories below have been changed to protect the parties involved.
In elementary school there was a girl in my class who was actually a nice, normal girl. For whatever reason my friends used to call her a loser, so I went along with it . I took the initiative to tell everyone not to invite her or include her in any of our plans. It got to the point where I became the leader of the pack, and got my friends to behave badly towards this one girl, too. I didn’t even have a reason. I think my friends just called her names and I went along with it, but ultimately, I took it too far. Once in middle school we were all at one girl’s house for a sleepover party and I said out loud, “Omg what is she doing here?!” While she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed, I started making fun of her and calling her names, knowing she could probably hear me. I was saying such mean things even though I knew she was listening. My friends even thought I took it too far. She came out of the bathroom crying. Every year after that I wrote her a letter before Yom Kippur asking for forgiveness. Years later she told someone that she was traumatized from the experience, and it got back to me. She recovered and we’re friendly now when we see each other, but it definitely affected her in her life. When I think about why I was so awful to her, I think it was most likely just me trying to be cool and fit in. The reason why I share this experience is to present a realistic depiction of what bullying looks like and how it can impact someone, especially at an impressionable young age.
I’ve dealt with my child being bullied and so have my friends. It can be difficult to pin down from the start because sometimes it starts at such a young age and happens so subtly that you may not even realize it’s an issue until it escalates. And at that point it’s like, what can you do? Avoiding playing with a certain child deliberately and in a mean way is one of the subtle ways bullying can rear its ugly head. I think the schools really have to get a handle on it. I’ve seen it, a mean comment here and there gets ignored and eventually it can get physical and only then is the bully penalized. It’s absurd that it has to get to such an extreme situation before anything is addressed. Children should feel safe in school. During lunch and on the bus there are large gaps in supervision and kids take advantage of this. Parents and teachers should be teaching kids to be sensitive and to be inclusive. I feel as though we have enough resources in this community to nail down this issue and make it a thing of the past.
I went to yeshiva from K-8th grade. Then I went to a public high school. I had three kids in my 8th grade yeshiva. Going from a tiny school to a huge high school was very intimating. I knew no one. I was bullied by upperclassmen. They called me “ugly” and made fun of my eye that looked different. Then they started to make fun of me for being Jewish. The school did nothing… I let them know and got them to listen to voicemails that bullies would leave me, but still nothing was done.
My son was bullied at school. It was really bad. At one point he didn’t want to go to school because one kid was extremely mean to him. Fortunately, he had an amazing principal whom we called and he really took care of it all the way. He made an announcement that any form of bullying will not be tolerated, and I guess they were young enough that they still feared authority and they listened. My child is only six now. I’m sure it’s more complicated the older they get. If the teacher is really good and truly cares about the kids I would recommend calling her/him. I always tell my kids how important it is to accept everyone and not push anyone away. The last thing I want is for my kids to be the bully. I’m sure most parents feel this way, too.
The bullying started out in first grade. It was so confusing to me. I really truly did not understand why no one wanted to be my friend all of a sudden! I told my mom what had been going on and she was devastated. I still remember her face. She couldn’t believe other six-year-old kids were capable of doing this to another child. She was horrified. Little did either of us know this was just the beginning. My school life first through eighth grade was consumed with physical and emotional abuse. Name calling, pushing, shoving, spitting, punching, and more. I was not safe and there wasn’t anything any adult at school was doing to stop it.
My mother tried several things to get it to stop, but to no avail. First, she tried calling the parents of my tormentors, but they truly could not have cared less. They dismissed her and me. They treated it like a joke. Their children continued to break me down. My mother tried talking to the principal, but unfortunately these families had money and power and it was clear they weren’t going to have consequences. When it got really obvious that it wasn’t resolving itself the principal came up with an idea. We were to have team building workshops to try and bring us together as friends.
Good intentions, bad idea. This made things 20 times worse for me. I was getting threatening notes in my locker saying I’d better lie and say things got better with them, although they had no intention of backing down or leaving me alone. I gave in and told the principal that all was well, I insisted, in fact, and I guess it seemed fishy. They brought in a therapist to try to get a handle on things, but once again, it made matters worse. These girls told the entire school there was something wrong with me and that I needed a therapist.
Finally, my mom pulled me out of that school and into a safe haven. I came to my new school a broken down shell of the girl I once was. The new principal saw that I was lacking confidence and self-esteem and suggested a specific therapist. At first, I was hurt and opposed to the idea, thinking that therapy was a punishment and would only make things worse.
I was wrong on both accounts. The therapist and I worked together for years. It used to be that I’d hardly ever leave my house and when I did get up the nerve to go out and I saw my old tormentors out in the community I would have almost a physical reaction. I was suddenly a small helpless child again and just wanted to throw up. It made me hardly go out at all. Now I can even walk up to them at a wedding or social gathering and catch up and make small talk as if it never happened. Although I’ll never forget, I have healed. I understand that I’m lucky and not everyone will have the same fortunate outcome as I did. My heart breaks for the kids and parents that are still going through this.
I wish bullying was a cause we could all rally against. Let’s together fight to make sure every child is safe at school and no one goes through half the abuse I had to take.
Liat Dahan, Director of Community Education of Project SAFE
The SAFE organization via Project SAFE has recently begun an anti-bullying initiative in our communities’ schools. SAFE is aware of what a huge problem bullying is and is determined to help students, parents, and schools to make a change for the better. Project SAFE is out to help the community reimagine how we approach bullying prevention in schools. Some of this initiative includes anti-bullying units for middle school SAFE classes. SAFE teachers must go through a full day of training on the subject of bullying. Participating middle schools held assemblies with special guest speaker Debbie Nahmad, and a parent program as well. SAFE understands that the parent portion of this is extremely important. No change in students’ perspective, understanding, and behavior could ever be complete without the active involvement and participation of their most important influencers, their parents. SAFE is enthusiastic about the change that has already begun, addressing the issue in a new way.
Isaac Setton, LMHC,CASAC of Flow Therapy NYC
When people hear that bullying is going on, they will typically focus their attention on the person being bullied. However, studies have shown that bullying can have negative effects on all involved, including the bully, the person being bullied, and those who witness the bullying. The “bully” is typically found to engage in risky behaviors as they grow up. The “bullied” face many social, emotional, academic, and mental health issues. And the “witnesses” are more likely to face similar issues as the bully and the bullied, but to a lesser degree. It is vital that we address bullying from all aspects and focus on each individual involved in the situation in order to produce the best outcomes.
Some of the main points to know about bullies is that they typically struggle with low self-esteem, have trauma from past events, and may have been, or continue to be, neglected.
Some ways to address bullying include talking to those being bullied to empower them to stand up for themselves. It is important to also talk to the bully and learn more about what may be triggering their bullying behaviors. We must teach the “witnesses” to take a stand and push back against the bully along with the ones being bullied. It is crucial that parents, schools, rabbis, and community leaders take a strong stance against any form of bullying. That includes verbal, physical, and cyber.
I’d like to mention that cyber bullying, although it was not mentioned much above, is possibly the most sneaky and harmful type of bullying, and parents and teachers must be aware of it. WhatsApp chats can get out of hand as well as other platforms that have private group conversations. I would also like to note that children are not the only ones who can be bullies or get bullied. We adults should take stock of how we treat one another. We must lead by example. It is nice to tell your children to be kind to others, but actions speak louder than words. We must set the example for to the next generations to emulate.
Frieda Schweky is a full-time photographer and part-time freelance writer. If you’d like to message her with questions and comments about the above topic or if you need a photographer for your upcoming simha or photoshoot she can be reached via Instagram @friedaschwekyphoto or email firstname.lastname@example.org