My sister Kris kicked the tar out of Frankie Leper.
It happened in 1972 after Leper, a notorious neighborhood bully, busted up my handmade go-kart, then shoved me into the mud.
Sure, Leper was a big kid. But as he stood over me, taunting me, Kris tackled him and pounded on him so hard that he blubbered like a baby. That ended his bullying days. He never lived down getting whooped by a girl half his size.
I was lucky to be a kid in the 1970s, in that regard. Bullies have always existed, but in that era of big families, there were always older siblings and neighbors who protected us younger kids.
Bullying victims have it way worse today.
First, they cannot escape the torment – even in the safety of their own homes. Today’s bullying victims carry the torment around in their pockets – on their smartphones. They’re humiliated by bullies in front of many others online – and they have no escape.
“When bullying goes online, that safe refuge is lost,” reports WebWatcher. “The bullies enter the home via computers, tablets, and cell phones. Even if a child chooses to disengage by turning off their internet-connected devices, the bullies can continue sending harassing messages. The next time the child turns on their devices, the attacks are there waiting for them.”
Second, a new class of bully has emerged. Leper used his size to physically bully younger, weaker kids, but the contemporary bully need not be physically dominating. All he or she needs is a mean streak, a sharp tongue and internet access.
Hiding behind a computer screen, contemporary bullies can demonstrate levels of inhumanity and cruelty that they might not be capable of if they were looking a victim in the eyes.
Third, today’s bullying victims are increasingly isolated. The torment they carry around may affect their grades, their sleep and their health. Fortunately, we all can do something to help them, thanks to the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center.
Founded in 2006, PACER is working “to prevent childhood bullying, so that all youth are safe and supported in their schools, communities, and online.”
Each October, PACER conducts National Bullying Prevention Month to elevate the issue and share solutions that can prevent bullying.
In the ’70s, the way to deal with a bully was to stand up to him (or have your sister do so). But because bullying has become more complicated, so must our response to it.
PACER says that when a child is bullying others, parents and educators must take action:
“Children need to understand the impact their behavior has on others and realize the hurt they are causing. With adult guidance, redirecting bullying behavior toward an understanding of differences, as well as the practices of kindness and inclusion, are good strategies for reshaping a child’s behavior.”
Reshaping a young bully’s behavior takes considerable time and effort. To that end, PACER has prepared a library of articles, videos, brochures and many other resources to help educators, parents and anyone else who wishes to address bullying, so that fewer kids will experience it.
Maybe if someone had helped Frankie Leper reshape his bullying ways toward kinder behavior, his childhood wouldn’t have been ruined by my sister’s right hook.
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.