Bystanders share the blame for bullying: Regina Brett — (The Plain Dealer)

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The Plain Dealer

by Regina Brett

Published: Thursday, October 07, 2010, 7:00 AM

But it isn’t just the bullies who are at fault. The bystanders share some of the guilt.

Most mean kids thrive on an audience. So much of the bullying that goes on happens with a crowd watching.

Lately, the news has been full of stories about mean kids.

A Findlay, Ohio, boy had his arm broken last month after he joined the cheerleading squad for the youth football program. Tyler Wilson is 11. He was called a sissy, a queer and beaten until his arm broke.

At least he’s still alive. Seth Walsh was 13 when he hanged himself on a tree in the backyard at his home in Tehachapi, Calif. in September. He’d been teased for being gay. His grandmother told a reporter from Time magazine that kids started taunting Seth in grade school.

“By sixth grade, the kids were starting to get mean,” she said. “By the seventh grade, he was afraid to walk home from school because he was afraid he would get harassed. It was eye to eye, over the telephone, personal, over the Internet. He spent a lot of his life frightened.”

The boy’s funeral was so crowded that mourners had to sit on the floor in the middle aisle of the church. Where were all those kids when the poor boy was taunted?

Closer to home, Mentor High School student Sladjana Vidovic hanged herself two years ago after enduring constant teasing and bullying. Her suicide note described the torment of being pushed down the stairs and hiding in the bathroom to eat lunch.

Eric Mohat was a skinny Mentor High kid who was teased and taunted as a “fag” during class. One day a student said, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself? No one would miss you.” That day Eric shot himself. He was 17.

Another Mentor student, Jennifer Eyring died in 2006 after taking an overdose of anti-depressants. She was 16. She had been constantly teased for being different and for having a learning disability.

That same year Andy Lehman took his life at 17. He was the quiet boy on the bus to Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin High. The kids taunted him, calling him Polar Bear because of his size.

Bullying doesn’t end in high school. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York City in September after his roommate used a hidden webcam to run live streaming video of Tyler’s romantic encounter with a man. The roommate announced the video to his Twitter followers.

Again, there was an audience.

If you think back on your own days in school, you might be horrified to realize you were in the audience. When I look back to grade school, I see Elaine in tears. Kids singled her out to torment. One day she didn’t wear enough deodorant, so from then on kids called her stinky. They said she had cooties and ran from her on the playground. She spent most every recess and lunch alone.

I wasn’t a bully, but I was a bystander.

In high school, the football players tormented Larry. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know if he was gay or not, but the jocks determined he was. They called him a fag and shoved him into lockers as they walked to class. We all saw it.

I wasn’t a bully, but I was a bystander.

Then there was Jeannie. She was prettier and more confident than the rest of the girls, so someone labeled her a slut. One day someone baked cookies and put Ex-Lax chocolate pieces inside. They gave them to her as a treat. I didn’t do it, but I didn’t warn her either. Jeannie wasn’t at school for the next two days. She was home sick.

I wasn’t a bully, but I was a bystander.

Maybe we’re just as guilty.

Your kid is either one of those three: a bully, a victim or a bystander.

It’s time to find out which and do something before another child becomes an obituary that makes us all cry.