Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Kathleen Parker: Making Sense of Things

Murderous teens missing spiritual, parental base - III

Spiritual base helps counter bullies

By Kathleen Parker

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on May 9, 1999.

The bullies made them do it. So goes one of the more curious observations in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre. Some seem to believe that bullies have never been worse, and that tragedies such as Columbine never would have happened were it not for bullies.

Bull.

Bullies are -- and always have been -- as much a part of life as sidewalk scrapes. It's a jungle thing. Who hasn't met a bully sometime in his life?

My first bully encounter was on my first day at a new school. I was 9 and looked like a baby giraffe -- all legs and knobby knees. Breathless with fear, I was on the playground trying to be invisible when two "girls" -- Brutus to my Olive Oyl -- swaggered up. I didn't fail to notice the huge, purple gum bubbles they clearly planned to pop in my face.

They came up on either side of me and both rested an elbow on each of my shoulders. "You're gonna be our PLP," they smacked happily. "Uh, what's that?" I heard my pitiful voice say. "Private Leaning Post." Pop, pop.

I realize that this isn't on the same level as being slammed against a locker, as Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold reportedly were. Nevertheless, in that moment, I was scared to death. Almost instantaneously, I also was determined not to let those girls get to me.

Suddenly, something I didn't know I had kicked in -- confidence. I took a deep breath, shrugged the girls off my shoulders and said in a voice and tone I had never heard before: "Got any more of that gum?"

It was a small thing, but I learned in that instant to survive among my peers, as most people eventually do. But how? Why?

Why do some children survive the taunts and goads of bigger, meaner kids and others go off the deep end? Where do children get that survival confidence?

The answer may be in a handful of letters from young people who wrote me about their punishing days at the hands of bullies. To my discomfort, all said they sympathized with the Columbine killers. They admitted fantasizing about killing the peers who had tormented them and the teachers who failed to protect them.

One writer said she had been an overweight child, "the focal point of some rather painful jokes . . . I never really fit in." Another described himself as a small, introverted boy who was picked on by bigger, more aggressive boys who called him "sissy," hit him and humiliated him.

Their attacks, he said, "filled me with a hatred that would have made me happy if some of my tormentors would have been killed somehow."

But neither of these two letter-writers acted on their revenge fantasies. The how and why of their survival is instructive:

"My loving Christian parents," said the overweight girl.

"Parents who loved and appreciated me" said the small, sensitive boy. "Home was my refuge. Religion was a vital part of my home."

Bingo. Loving, attentive parents and a spiritual base. Children simply can't survive without them.

The writers' words caused me to reflect back on my early experience and that sudden surge of confidence. It could have come from only one source -- the tough, unwavering love of my father with his constant refrain: "You can do it, you can do it." And the spiritual guidance of my mother, who, though dead, was always with me in a way I can't describe.

Bullies evolve for many reasons, but bullied children survive on the strength of their homes.

Only by examining what happens there can we begin to understand what happened at Columbine.


Kathleen Parker's column is distributed by Tribune Media Services. Her column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. She can bereached at Kparker@Kparker.com on the Internet.

[Posted 05/07/1999 6:42 PM EST]

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