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Cruel Children

Cruel Children

Shaking off our indifference to bullying.


Too many times I have picked up a recent paper to find a sad or even tragic article describing the ordeal of a child who has been bullied. The New York Times recently told the story about a 15 year old boy who was just beginning his sophomore year in Greenwich High School:

Boys picked on Bart Palosz almost from the moment his family moved to this affluent town seven years ago. They taunted him for his accent – he was born in Poland – pushed him into the bushes or down stairs and smashed his new Droid cellphone, his sister said. After the first day of school, Bart killed himself with the family shotgun. Ms. Palosz said the family had pleaded with school officials to intervene. “Every time there is an incident, there is a meeting and nothing is done afterwards. We asked for help over and over.”

Of course we feel badly when we hear about bullying. There are workshops given on recognizing the signs and articles written about why children bully. But a eulogy given at the funeral of Bart by a family friend urged adults to take more responsibility:

“His death can only have meaning if the bullying and indifference that led to his feelings of isolation and despair are confronted. The simple observation that kids can be cruel is not action. It is an excuse, an inequitable pardon for those whose actions led us being here today and an excuse for not teaching our children well.”

From Indifference to Responsibility

Have we grown indifferent to these stories of exclusion and taunting? Have we lost our sensitivity and come to expect that some children will be extraordinarily mean? Maybe that is just the way our children are today, we wonder. If this is true then what does this say about us, the parents who have forged a path for this generation? Have we grown used to crass behavior, kids who maim with their tongues and young adults who use social media to mock and isolate their peers? If we remain silent, are we not failing to teach our children well?

If your child is fortunate enough to be blessed with a gift of popularity, skilled at sports, or finds school work easy, you have an obligation to teach your child well. These gifts are given by God and we have a responsibility to make this world brighter through our talents. A captain of a team can choose a child who is feeling badly about himself and is usually standing on the side, unnoticed. A popular girl can make room for another at lunch or on the bus and make a classmate feel as if they are a human being instead of an overlooked piece of old furniture. A child who is a math whiz can help a struggling student gain confidence and skills.

Instead of growing up in a bubble, we can help children reach out and grow kinder and more sensitive. How can we possibly allow our children to have a party knowing that they will be celebrating while another child is home crying?

Shrugging our shoulders and saying that this is just how kids are these days is simply unacceptable. We are responsible.

Kindness of Children

I still believe in the kindness of children. I still have faith in the spark that lies within every child. It is up to us adults to seek out that light and ignite a flame of compassion within the heart and soul of every child.

A few years ago, a Special Olympics took place in Seattle, Washington. A group of Down’s syndrome children stood at the starting line. The signal sounded and the kids began to run. Each step was a personal triumph. Just a few minutes into the race, though, a little girl fell down. She sat on the track and began to cry. The children who were running ahead heard her cries. Together they turned around. They extended their hands and helped this child stand up on her feet. They then all linked their arms and together walked proudly to the finish line.

Think about it. Who really is the disabled one here? These children teach us the greatest lesson of all. When we can stop what we are doing and feel the pain of another; when we find within ourselves the ability to extend our hands to one who has fallen – physically or emotionally – we prove that we are complete. It is our obligation to teach our children well.   

October 13, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 42

(27) Annie, January 12, 2018 3:11 AM

I was bullied at various ttimes at school-and did my share of being nasty to others in return (excluding X or Y, whispering about them, name-calling)

At my first high school, I was the chosen victim for some reason. One thing that I remember was that if I went to the lavatory, two of the bullies (it was a well-thought of girls' school) would go into the next cubicle or cubicles, stand on the seat and look over,laughing. This may not sound much, but it was terribly humiliating. Girls don't always need to use physical bullying to make the victim wretched. After a while the bullies must have moved on to someone else and I was acceptable again.

My next school was much better-my family moved, it had nothing to do with me, as, like many victims, I didn't tell,

We had a girl in a wheelchair and there was never a shortage of volunteers to push it and do things for her,

Bullying is nothing new, There was a ghost at my uncle's school in the UK-a boy who hanged himself hundreds of years ago.

(26) Joseph Feld, October 17, 2017 5:10 PM

correcting children ?

Do we have figures on whether the rate of bullying is going up or down ? Has the fashion of avoiding correcting children's bad behaviour conributed to the rate of bullying ? Should schools be training pupils to counteract bullying ? In Bart's case, should he have had easy access to a family shot gun ?

(25) Leah, October 21, 2013 3:03 AM

Teaching inclusiveness

I was bullied relentlessly as a child because. I had a speech impediment. Once it starts it never stops. I grew more and more isolated. I remember well the few times I was included in activities and games and how much difference it made in my life. Kids should learn early to include, not exclude. This is how we gain acceptance among our peers. Taking children out to the homeless shelters to serve a meal teaches compassion. Talking about it on the way home, asking them to think of how these people might have ended up homeless and what might they do in someones life to help them along the way.. Teach kids to make a difference in the lives around them.

(24) Josh, October 18, 2013 12:59 PM

What can i do as a parent?

My wife and I read these horrific stories and shudder. I have two young children and I worry about two things: 1. what would I do if they are bullied when they get older? 2. what would I do if they themselves are bullies?

It's very easy for me to be judgmental of bullies and their parents but that accomplishes nothing. Was I not also guilty of this when I was a child? Had I not also bullied some kids myself? Did I always speak up when I should have? How did it feel when I myself was bullied for a while?

Don't get me wrong, my parents were wonderful and taught all of these values to me, and I still failed multiple times. Also, let's not pretend that all of these bullies have terrible upbringings; many of my friends who were bullies had loving, caring parents who really let them have it when they did it (and not through abuse). I've known Roshei Yeshivas' kids to be bullies. Simply promoting people to intervene when bullying occurs is like building a dam during a flood, it might stop some of the flood but you're way too late. As the article says, we need to start from the very beginning of our children's upbringing.

To that extent, I ask you all, how do I instill the values in my kids to be strong when they are bullied? How do I teach my kids courage to stand up for what's right? And how do I show my kids compassion so they don't do it themselves? In essence, does anyone know of parenting classes that teach how to deal with bullying from both ends of it. My kids are still young, I have a chance. What should I do?

Eilon Even-Esh, December 27, 2013 5:30 AM

W have a responsibility to teach our children to defend themselves.

I specialize in teaching bullied children in the Frum Community to defend themselves. You ask: "How do I instill the values in my kids to be strong when they are bullied? How do I teach my kids courage to stand up for what's right? And how do I show my kids compassion so they don't do it themselves? The answer is to teach them in a Torah observant framework. Self defense is addressed in the Torah. All of my students fight back to protect themselves and it works. None of my students bully others. Please give your children a chance to succeed.

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