I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a classroom of Manitoba teens about bullying. I had read my students the memoir of a young woman from India who immigrated to Canada and experienced ongoing race-related bullying in a Quebec high school. It didn’t stop even after she reported incidents to teachers.
I asked my students if they’d ever been bullied. It was quiet for a long time and then one boy said he was often teased about his speech impediment. This opened the floodgates. Some students had been bullied because of their size. Others teased because they couldn’t speak English well. Some had been harassed about their clothing or hairstyle or had their sexual orientation questioned sarcastically. There were students whose family background had been ridiculed and others had been the butt of jokes because of their unique physical characteristics. But the most common kind of unfair treatment surprisingly had come from adults who bullied them because of their age.
One boy said he’d been browsing in a store when the business owner approached him and asked if he had stolen something. The young man said he hadn’t and turned to leave. The owner refused to let him go until he had searched him for stolen merchandise. “He didn’t even apologize for falsely accusing me”, said the student.
Other kids had seen people cross the road rather than walk by a group of teenagers. Teens had been the recipients of dirty looks for no apparent reason other than their age. Some felt discriminated against in the workplace where they believed employers felt freer to get angry with teenage workers.
My students reminded me of how important it is for adults to be good role models when it comes to bullying behavior. We need to display a non-judgmental attitude and accord, everyone, a full measure of respect. Bullying is not just a problem for schools to address. All adult members of the community have a responsibility to treat everyone including teens with tolerance and dignity.
This post has been updated here.