Based on data supplied by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the CDC last week published online, in its ominously named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, statistical documentation of what weve long known: That both bullies and those most vulnerable to bullying are significantly more likely to be victims of and/or witnesses to physical abuse at home. And the group most likely (three times the average) to have been physically hurt by a family member or to have witnessed family violence at home, or both, are the ones the CDC calls bully-victims — the young people who both suffer bullying and inflict it on others.
As if educators needed to be handed yet another problem that is rooted in the home but bears its ugly fruit in halls and gyms and schoolyards.
Just as domestic violence is too often passed down through generations, so it seems is bullying, or at least the conditions that breed it.
You cant help wondering how often teachers and principals have seethed in helpless frustration as a school bullys parent or guardian shrugged off the abuse with some variation of theyre just kids or boys will be boys — and how many of those parents or guardians may have contributed more to the problem than just denial.
As might be expected, the CDC addresses the issue in an overview: A comprehensive approach that encompasses school officials, students and their families is needed to prevent bullying among middle school and high school students, the report concludes.
Of course. But while were waiting for the funding, planning, implementation and long-term payoff of that comprehensive approach, educators, parents and terrified adolescents are trying to deal with the day-to-day reality of bullying, and the sometimes permanent — even tragic — toll it can take in the here and now.
Part of the conundrum is that the humiliation bullying inflicts, along with the threat of even worse abuse in the form of retaliation, keeps victims from reporting it, even to their own families. So bullied adolescents suffer in silence — or vent their rage by bullying somebody else even more vulnerable.
Educators cant fix dysfunctional families. All they can do is punish the abuse they know about, communicate to parents how serious it is, try to protect the victims from further abuse, and intervene to stop the cycle as best they can. Too often, thats not enough.