Kids can be so cruel.
Sitting in a Catholic-school parents training session for the new diocesan Olweus Bullying-Prevention Program, I found my mind flitting back to countless bus rides years before where I was a witness to repeated bullying.
A vulnerable classmate was relentlessly teased day in and day out. Fellow bus riders taunted him with hurtful inanities, such as telling him he was talking to himself or "to the window." They would not let up until they had provoked him into lashing out. Their goal was to get him to express his hurt.
The bus driver was oblivious.
I remember staring out the window, trying to ignore the cruelty I was overhearing, hoping they wouldn’t turn on me. At various points in my life, I was bullied, and, sadly, sometimes I was a bully. Predator or prey: None of it ever felt good.
Years later, I realized I should have spoken up or stepped in to protect my friend. The Olweus program aims to teach kids how to do that. They learn how to become defenders of the bullied, rather than disengaged bystanders, by helping students who are bullied and telling a trusted adult of the bullying behavior.
The goal is to create an environment in which bullying is not tacitly tolerated. Only in that setting can children feel safe and respected at school and in the community.
By the way, my friend who was bullied is now a successful — and compassionate — adult, no thanks to his tormentors. Years later, I still owe him a giant apology for the thing I failed to do.
And I promise to not allow it to happen again on my watch.