Monday, March 17, 2014

Boy gets bullied for carrying a My Little Pony bag...

I read an article this morning about a boy in Asheville, North Carolina who is being bullied because he carried a My Little Pony backpack to school.  Nine year old Greyson Bruce is a fan of the show and wanted to show off how much he enjoys My Little Pony.  The first time he brought the bag to school, people laughed at him.  The second time, he was punched to the ground.  School officials have asked Greyson not to bring the bag back to school because it's causing a disruption.

Greyson's mother, Noreen, thinks this is a bullying situation that needs to be dealt with appropriately.  She makes the point that if her son's bag is a trigger for bullying, you might as well say a short skirt is a trigger for rape.  I think that's an interesting comparison.  Rape is about power, not sex.  Likewise, bullying is about power and trying to take it from someone who is perceived to be weaker.  Greyson now says he wants to be home schooled, claiming he was picked on even when he didn't carry the bag.

The comments on this story are pretty interesting.  A lot of people think the school needs to do something about the bullying.  Some others think that Greyson should just bring a different bag to school.  I think Greyson's comments about being bullied even when he didn't have that bag indicate that the bag is not the problem.  For some reason, he's been singled out as different and other kids are giving him a hard time.  If he doesn't bring the bag to school, they'll pick on him for something else and put him through hell.  Kids can be merciless.

I'm of a mixed mind about how this situation should be handled.  On one hand, I really empathize with Greyson.  I remember being eight years old and picked on by kids at my school.  It made my school days very difficult and painful.  My parents were not very helpful.  They basically tasked me to deal with it myself.  It went on for months until the kids finally moved on.  Once they did, I was mostly left alone.  But for many weeks, I came home crying most days.  It was hard.

It's certainly not healthy for Greyson to endure harassment every day because he's different.  And there's nothing wrong with My Little Pony.  If other kids can bring bags with graphics on them, why shouldn't Greyson?  As long as there's nothing obscene or inappropriate on the bags, why can't he bring whatever he wants to school?  Why should he be the one to modify his behavior when he's not really doing anything wrong?

On the other hand, I'm not sure it's the best solution to pull Greyson out of school.  If his mother takes him out of school, he will not have solved the core issue.  The kids will have succeeded in driving him out of school and it will have taught them that being bullies will get the "different" kids to go away.  If he comes back to school when he's older, he may still be faced with bullies.  As his life progresses, he may end up removing himself from every difficult situation rather than learning how to overcome adversity.

Perhaps the simplest thing to do is ban bags with graphics on them.  But if the school adopts that policy, it may cause even more harassment and resentment.  And besides, as Greyson said, the bag only made things worse.  His classmates were picking on him even before he brought the bag to school.

Bullying is an age old problem.  While we do have a lot of zero tolerance policies in place that attempt to regulate kids' behaviors, bullies are still very common on the school playground.  And they are common among adults, too.  Bullying is not good behavior, but no number of zero tolerance policies are going to make that behavior disappear completely.  There are always going to be bullies among us, no matter how many rules there are.  So my thought is that kids should be taught effective ways to handle bullies, rather than having adults try to enforce policies that may not be very enforceable.

One commenter on this article is a guy whose answers aren't very popular.  He says that Greyson should learn how to overcome bullying while others say the adults should handle it.  I think, on the whole, I kind of agree with that guy.  It sounds heartless-- and the way he puts it is kind of heartless-- but learning how to deal with jerks is part of life.  Today's kids have to deal with a lot of things that my generation didn't.  One thing that my generation and today's kids have to deal with is coping with crappy people.  While I do think it's reasonable to remove a child whose life is being made a living hell by bullies, I really think it should be a last resort.  The trick is to determine when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em before something really bad happens.

Learning how to handle bullying is an important life skill.  Yes, I do think that adults should do something about kids who harass other kids to the point that it disrupts their learning.  But I also think kids who are being bullied need to learn what they can do to minimize bullying and cope with it when they encounter it.  In my case, I learned how to be quick with comebacks.  I developed a sharp tongue and quick wit that other people thought was funny.  That may not be the best solution for every kid, but it did work for me.

Whatever happens, I hope Greyson finds some peace soon.  Growing up is hard.  I'm glad his mother is supportive, at the very least.


  1. I fully agree with your points. I was bullied in 8th and 9th grades, and it made me stronger. I worry sometimes that my own kids, who are not bullied, won't know what to do when they have to deal with assholes when they're older.

    1. Obviously, if the bullying is extreme and people are being physically hurt, something needs to be done by the adults. But I do think that learning to deal with assholes is a life skill that is rapidly eroding among young people.


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