Dealing with bullies

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board February 08, 2013 08:12 am

We’ll never know, with absolute certainty, why Jadin Bell, a 15-year-old sophomore at La Grande High School, decided to end his life.

But we know that he had not hidden that he was gay.

More importantly, we know he complained that he had been bullied recently at school.

That bullying can play a role in pushing teenagers to attempt suicide is beyond dispute.

The risk is considerably greater for young men, who are six times more likely to die by suicide than young women are.

As we assess the terrible equation that sometimes results in a teen’s death, some elements will likely forever remain beyond our grasp.

But bullying we can do something about.

Which is not to say we can eliminate it.

That some people enjoy humiliating and intimidating others — in particular those who are “different” in some way — is a sad fact of human nature.

Yet we must not ignore bullies or even trivialize them, either of which response is tantamount to condoning their actions.

We must instead subject bullies to the same harsh light of unwanted attention which they cast on their victims.

We must punish bullies, both by disciplinary measures at school and through legal means if they commit crimes.

We must make them understand, as best we can, that what they think of as innocuous heckling can in fact have dire consequences.

Indeed, sometimes fatal ones.

And that, even if you ultimately decide you need to deliver a heartfelt apology to the person you demeaned, you might never get the chance.

And finally, we must recognize that bullies’ bravado often is bluster, an attempt by a person who feels powerless to exert control over others.

Multiple studies show that many bullies suffer from the same problems that make their targets vulnerable, chief among these being low self-esteem. 

Reducing the incidence of bullying by helping bullies see the error of their ways, in addition to punishing them, would be the ideal result.