A while back the press reported that a half century ago Mitt Romney and some boys at his prep school forcibly cut another student’s hair, thereby engaging in “bullying”. Leave aside that the victim of this heinous tonsorial act is no longer alive to dispute or confirm the story. And leave aside as well that his family has publicly complained that this is blatant exploitation for political purposes, and that the story they read in the paper is inaccurate.
Instead, let’s imagine that the boy is alive today and, having been bullied repeatedly, has asked the government for help in ending his torment. Here is what he would learn:
According to the federal government’s official guidelines on bullying, he should, “Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice.”
Good luck with that, but should it not work, the government suggests, “You can also try to laugh it off … This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard.”
Or, much more likely, it could make the kid bullying you even angrier and more belligerent.
If these responses don’t work, the government advises you to, “Stay away from places where bullying happens.”
Good advice, except that most bullying happens at school—usually the playground or locker room—or along the journey to and from school. So is the government suggesting that those who fear they will be bullied don’t have to go to school? If so, I’m guessing there will be a dramatic rise in the number of students who claim they fear being bullied.
If pervasive school absenteeism isn’t the answer, the government next suggests that you “Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.” Why? Because, “Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around.”
That makes perfect sense. Adults are generally bigger and stronger than kids in 5th or 6th grade, even kids who are bullies. But what if the bullies bullying you won’t let you go find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot? Seems to me that if they are bullying you, then they are the ones who will decide whether you can take leave of their bullying to go find an adult to stop their bullying. I don’t think that’s likely, especially given that this adult will almost certainly ensure that those bullies are punished for that bullying.
Of course, you can always ignore the government’s advice and fight back. But, alas, that has its own problems. Most schools now have a “zero tolerance” policy on violence, so if a bully physically assaults you and you defend yourself, you both wind up in trouble.