Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Mark Des Cotes, we had our first snowfall of the year yesterday and I believe if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday I talk about bullying.

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Today’s Fun Fact of the Day:
Did you know that There are 18.6 million vacant homes in America. There are 3.1 million homeless people. That just doesn’t seem right?

Here’s What I leaned yesterday.
According to stopbullying.gov the definition of bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

I’m no stranger to bullying. In high school I was a tall, gangly, long haired kid who wore Motley Crüe, Ratt and Iron Maiden T-shirts but also did well in my classes. I obviously didn’t fit in with the preppy kids. Nor did I fit in with the brainiacs. I was uncoordinated so I was shunned by the jocks. And even though I considered myself a head banger, I didn’t do drugs like most of the others, so I avoided the stoners. That left me in the vast minority at my school and a prime target for all the other kids.

Now I wasn’t beat up, or hit or anything like that. But it wasn’t uncommon for people call me names, to trip me, to knock my books out of my hands or throw things at me.

I just learned to put up with it. This was the 80s, back then there were no anti bullying campaigns. No mandated school programs. No special committees.

If I mentioned anything to a teacher or guidance counsellor I was just told to toughen up and get over it. That’s how bullying was handled back then.

Today things are different. There are school programs, municipal programs, and federal programs all to deal with the issue of bullying. There are pamphlets, books, websites, podcasts all dedicated to helping people understand and deal with the subject of bullying. Even Kids cartoons these days deal with the issue. The education process starts at a very young age.

Even with all of this awareness and prevention measures, the problem persists.

I want to re-read the definition of bullying.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

It’s this last part I want to touch on today. “Excluding someone from a group on purpose.” This part is a bit of a grey area. How exactly does it work?

What If I, out of the blue, I decide to go to a movie tonight and I call my friends Bill and John to join me, but I purposely decide not to call my friend Fred. Does that mean I’m bullying Fred? I can understand that Fred may feel a bit hurt for being excluded, but am I really bullying him?

What if on the other hand, I’m out with Bill, John and Fred during the week and I casually mention that I’d like to go see a movie on the weekend. Then on Saturday I invite only Bill and John to go with me that evening. Because Fred was there when I first brought up the topic but I purposely don’t call him, does that constitute bullying him?

As I said, grey area.

Third scenario. I tell Bill, John and Fred. Hey, let’s go to the movies on Saturday and we pick a show and time. Then on the weekend I swing by to pick up Bill and John and proceed to the movie without bothering to pick up Fred, leaving him at home wondering where we are. Now this one I can see as bullying. Fred was under the impression that he was coming with us but I decided to exclude him on purpose.

All three scenarios are somewhat similar. Bill, John and I go to the movie and Fred is left out. In the third scenario I asked all three to come with me and then left Fred out, which is pretty clear cut. However, in the first two scenarios I never actually invited Fred, but I did purposely exclude him from my plans just the same.

So because I purposely excluded Fred in all three cases do they all qualify as bullying?

This is what our youth are dealing with today. They’re being taught that bullying is wrong and will not be tolerated. But the actual definition of what does and doesn’t constitute bullying isn’t always black and white.

My daughter has school volleyball practice on Mondays after class. Practice finishes at 4:30 and then she has one hour to get to another school where she has yet another volleyball practice for her competitive league team.

Because we live 30 minutes from the school. On volleyball Mondays I usually pick her up after the school practice and either take her out for dinner or have her eat something I packed for her from home before dropping her off at the other school.

There are two other girls on her school team that are also on the competitive team. One is a year older and drives. A couple of times this year Joelle has called me saying not to bother picking her up. She and the two other girls would pick something up to eat before heading to the next practice.

This is what happened on Monday. I got a call from her saying she had asked the girls if she could go with them and they agreed. At 4:50 I got a call from Joelle in tears telling me she’s at the other school but she’s hungry and is wondering if I could bring her something to eat. It turns out the girls had ditched her after practice. When the coach blew the final whistle they raced to their lockers and then took off. A few kids that were still at school overheard one of them tell the other to hurry up before Joelle came. When Joelle went looking for them she was told what had happened and one of the other kids offered to drive her to her next practice.

When I arrived at the school with food for Joelle I could tell she had been crying. Her coach was also there consoling her but she didn’t know why. Joelle didn’t want to tattle on her friends. I finally told her that if she didn’t tell her coach what had happened I would. Eventually the three of us went into an office and Joelle told her coach what had happened.

Her coach is also a primary school teacher and she’s very familiar with what constitutes bullying. She was very upset about what had happened. Not just because of the bullying but for safety reasons as well. The two girls had not only ditched Joelle but had left her to fend for herself and find her own way across town to the other school. They were lucky that there was still someone at their school that offered to drive Joelle. Otherwise she would have been forced to walk, by herself in the dark. The coach told me she would have a word with the girls.

After practice, when I picked Joelle up her coach asked to talk to me. She had talked to the two girls. She told them their behaviour was unacceptable and she threatened to kick them off the team if anything like this happens again.

She told me the two girls apologized to Joelle. Although wether they meant it or not is anyone’s guess. They thought it would be funny to leave her behind and didn’t think it was that big a deal. They never considered it was a form of bullying.

Here’s what I learned.
In all the years since I went to high school. With all the progress, programs, committees, training and everything else that the schools and government are doing. Kids today are still not much better than they were in my days.

With everything they’ve been taught, children still have trouble identifying bullying. Joelle didn’t realized she had been bullied until her coach and I told her. She knew her friends had been mean to her but the idea of it being bullying had never crossed her mind.

We teach our kids to stand up, respond to and report bullying. But how are they supposed to when they still have trouble identifying it.

Even those doing the bullying don’t always realize what they’re doing. Either that or some just don’t care.

Add with the internet and social media and there’s a whole new frontier available today that wasn’t around in my days. It’s become so easy to anonymously talk negatively about someone with little fear of discovery.

You would think with all the awareness campaigns, the message would sink in.

Bullying is wrong.

I encourage you. Don’t be afraid to talk about bullying with today’s youth. And once isn’t enough. These lessons are an ongoing thing. I thought I had done a good job teaching my kids but obviously I was wrong. Joelle is 16 years old and still has trouble identifying bullying. I’m sure she’s not the only one. Just look at my movie example from earlier. The indicators are so subtle sometimes it’s hard to tell what is and what isn’t bullying.

Either way, Bullying and how to prevent it is something we should never stop teaching, or stop learning for that matter.

We’re never too old.

I’m Mark Des Cotes and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

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