THE BLOG
02/17/2011 11:52 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

There Have Always Been Bullies

Bullying is in the news again, or should I say still in the news. The awful cruelties inflicted on children by other children is disturbing and sickening; it never really goes away.

Remembering what a bully has done to you is reminiscent of the scene in the movie "Jaws" where the characters played by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw, are sitting on Quint's (Shaw's character), boat. To pass the time, they start comparing the scars on their bodies. It was comic relief in a macabre sort of way, especially when Quint describes a scar with horrific clarity and is able to describe exactly when and how he got it. The camera pans in on him and he relives the hellish experience as if it had happened just yesterday and not years ago.

My husband and I were doing something along the same order one warm Spring night, sitting out on our deck. It was the kind of silly, intimate thing couples do, a sort of show and tell of our respective childhood histories. His scars were from playing sports, a scar on his hand from a metal fence that got in the way of his jumping up to catch a fly ball during a baseball game, a deep cut on the leg that left its mark during a hockey match, a cut elbow sliding into third. He was proud of them all, even the small scar on his nose from trying to run up a playground slide during some forgotten game when he was 10 years old.

Not to be outdone I happily showed him mine. See this one on my on my elbow? Tennis camp when I was 13. The tiny one here near my lip? A fall during ice-skating lessons.

Then there were my knees. He was surprised at the amount of scarring on my knees. I looked at them and sighed. Some of the scars, I told him, were from falling on a newly graveled street when I was learning to ride my bike.

He made a comment about me having fallen off my bike a lot. As he touched one long scar, he teased, "How long did it take you to learn to ride a bike?"

"Oh, that one isn't from falling, at least not off my bike. I was pushed off the steps a few times at school by some kids." I said it off-handedly but he looked surprised.

He shook his head at the cruelty of children and said, "Those damn bullies."

His remark made me think about the definition of the word bully. He was right of course. I couldn't help think about all the cruel things kids do to each other. Kids, usually in groups, picking on other children unable or too afraid to defend themselves. Whether it is a case of actual physical abuse, name-calling, or electronic harassment, the stories of these bullies seems to be a weekly news item in the media.

The authorities in education seem to feel it is an epidemic and "indicative of the violent times in which we live." They make it sound as if bullying is some new byproduct of the 21st century. It isn't. Bullying has been around as long as the human race.

Anyone who is truthful about their childhood remembers instances of bullying in one of two ways. They were either the victims of violence themselves or they had been unwilling witnesses to a bullying incident. The fact is, bullying has been an unfortunate fact of life for too many generations of children.

You might wonder where the teachers were when bullying instances took place in years past and, why, if they knew about it, they never stepped in to stop it. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, educators chose to ignore these problems under the heading of "it's all a part of growing up." There were even some parents and other adults who felt the same way; it was just something that all children had to go through as a part of life. It is a startling fact, but this attitude still prevails in a few adults and educators today.

In the past 10 years, schools and after-school programs have begun themes and discussions on stopping the harassment of children by other children. They role-play bullying in school assemblies, teach tactics for defusing situations, and stress respect for everyone. Educators say that it is working, but is it really? There are too many instances that say it is not.

The teens, like Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi, who chose suicide as a way to end their abuse are the most tragic victims. Boys who were hazed at football camp certainly were bullied in the most horrific way, both physically and emotionally. A video of a little boy being beaten by several older children on a school bus while others, including the bus driver, chose to look the other way is a horror we've seen on newscasts. With cruel intent, these people bullied, harassed, and cowed their victims. It is so bad that some parents whose children have been victims have resorted to hiring anti-bullying coaches to teach their children how to handle a bully.

Times are no different than they have ever been. Boys and girls on sports teams always bullied younger teammates, younger children have been subjected to cruelty on school buses by bigger kids; bullying has always been around. We need some radical changes.

As adults we tend to want our childhoods to have been free and happy and not shadowed by pain. The scars on my knees are pretty faded and most of the time I see only the ones that were caused by falling off my bike.

Bullying needs to be treated like the crime it is. I'd like to see bullies under the age of 18 punished by the same laws as adults. Any physical violence, any threats should be dealt with swiftly and hard. They should be made to understand that society cannot and will not tolerate their actions. No child should have to fear going to school or away to camp.

The law should not coddle these bullies under the guise that they are still children themselves. They are acting in a cruel manner, deliberately inflicting physical and emotional pain. They need to be made aware of the seriousness of their behavior. Bullies are, at heart, cowards, who only torment those whom they feel cannot fight back. Let these cowards tangle with law enforcement and judges. Make them as scared as they made their victims. Let there be no more childhood scars, visible or emotional.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen Houghton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. Also, take a look inside her book, "And Then I'll Be Happy!" You may e-mail her at
kch@kristenhoughton.com.

Read the book that's sweeping the country, "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First"