Concerned that he was being perceived as a bully, TV Host David Letterman recently volunteered to stop his persistent fat jokes about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Letterman’s biting humor is nothing new, but when the charge of bullying was raised he backed off.
To be fair, Letterman has not been alone in targeting Christie. Other comedians, political pundits, and average Americans have also derided Christie’s size.
Politicians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes – Christie even mentioned it when he announced Tuesday his decision not to run for president — but did the Christie fat bashing cross the line?
The criticism has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a supporter of Gov. Christie. And let’s be real, Chris Christie is a tough, centered guy, who can withstand whatever is dished out. But what do these fat jokes say about us – about our tastes, our values, our society?
As we observe National Bullying Awareness Month, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes? Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it? Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?
We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?
Most children who are bullied are not as resilient as Chris Christie. When asked about his weight, his standard answer is: “I eat too much.” And few doubt that he is fully capable of destroying the bullies – if he wanted to. Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer recently did.
Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.
Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.
There was national outrage last week over the suicide of Buffalo, N.Y., teen Jamey Rodemeyer, who took his life after more than a year of relentless anti-gay cyber-bullying. Even Lady Gaga weighed in by initiating a campaign, Make A Law for Jamey, that would make bullying a hate crime.
Police have opened a criminal investigation into the case, even though there are no anti-bullying laws in New York State. That may change with the announcement this week by State Senator Jeffrey Klein that he plans to introduce legislation to make cyber-bullying a crime. Recently, New Jersey joined several other states in enacting an anti-bullying law. .
Coincidentally, last week the U.S. Department of Education hosted a two-day Second Annual Bullying Prevention Summit to Stop Bullying, demonstrating that bullying is a widespread concern throughout the country.
As an educator and a parent, my heart goes out to the Rodemeyer family and to all who are bullied. It’s a fact that for students to succeed in school, they must feel safe and supported. But bullying happens, even though school officials certainly do not sanction it.
When I dealt with bullying incidents, I remember how painful and frightening it was for the victims. Their main fear was retaliation if they reported that they were bullied.
There are school district policies, administrative regulations and guidelines that spell out the consequences for bullying. But because bullying often takes place during less structured times of the school day – lunch, recess, going to and from class, and on the bus – it is incumbent upon students to report it. Principals, teachers and other school personnel typically take bullying reports very seriously.
Not so long ago, schools took the position that they were only responsible for what happened at school. If a fight took place on Friday night at the mall, school districts used to say it was not their concern. Now if the impact spills over into the school day and affects students, school districts will take action.
Another game changer has been cyber-bullying. In the last several years, social media has created and enabled a new platform for bullying, and cases are proliferating. As a result, schools must now investigate and impose consequences for cyber-bullying, in addition to face-to-face bullying.
According to cyber-bullying statistics from the i-SAFE Foundation, more than one in three young people have experienced cyber-bullying. Unfortunately, more than half of these students do not tell their parents. Thus, it is crucial for students who are bullied or cyber-bullied to immediately report it to an adult – parent, teacher, administrator or guidance counselor. When bullying is reported, the school will act on it.
Parents should speak with their children about bullying and cyber-bullying to make sure they are not engaging in it. Discuss how hurtful it is, and emphasize that what is online stays online forever. Emphasize that online misbehavior could affect your child’s future. It’s equally important to encourage your children to tell you if they are bullied off or online. Reassure your child and make sure to remind school personnel that retaliation cannot be condoned. Be sure to discuss Internet safety with your children, and monitor what they are doing online.
By all means, parents should inform schools if there is bullying, and join with schools to promote bullying awareness and prevention programs. Remember October is National Bullying Awareness Month.
Here are some resources on bullying from the Learning First Alliance:
- National Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) Connect for Respect initiative
- National Education Association’s (NEA) Bully Free: It Starts With Me
- American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) “See a Bully, Stop a Bully” initiative
- American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) Special Edition on Bullying at School and Online initiative
- NASSP’s Bullying Prevention Initiative
- National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Students on Board initiative
- National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) resource on State Bullying Laws.