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Opinion: Bullying takes personal toll

When I was a kid growing up on the tough streets of Summit Hill, bullying was a way of life. I did my share of bullying, and some older kids would, among other things, make fun of my Italian heritage and my last name - “Brucie Frassinelli has a pimple on his belly.” They would also taunt me about my immigrant father who spoke broken English. Just about every day, they would call me derogatory names defaming my background.

The thought of running to my junior high school principal, Danny McLaughlin, or to my parents and complaining that older kids were picking on me was laughable. We didn’t do that in the Summit Hill of the late-1940s and 1950s or anywhere else in the Panther Valley that I am aware of.

But that was then, and this is now. I often wonder whether my bullying of others had any long-lasting impact on them or whether, subconsciously, I suffer any lingering effects from those who bullied me. The fact that I recall the unkind rhyme with my last name and those hurtful slurs nearly 70 years later may be a clue.

I thought about how bullying is viewed today vs. when I was a kid. We repeatedly hear of bullying complaints in our local schools. Tamaqua and Northern Lehigh are two districts where recent bullying complaints have gotten public scrutiny.

In the Tamaqua district, the allegations have been amplified because of the suspensions of some members of the varsity football team, which resulted in a decision by school officials to forfeit a playoff game. Three students have been expelled.

While the specific details have not been made public, school officials have said it involves a hazing incident on school property.

The issue of bullying is frequently on the agendas of local school board meetings. The number of students and parents who complain is just a small fraction of the number of incidents that go on daily in our schools. Many students never report incidents of bullying for fear of retaliation by the bullies.

Back in 2017, the Bangor Area School District in Northampton County agreed to pay $45,000 to the parents of a former student who alleged that she was bullied over her sexual orientation, but claimed that the district did nothing about it.

There were some students in our school who were routinely called derogatory names concerning their perceived sexual preferences. Not one ever complained openly, but I remember the hurt in their eyes; some even cried, which brought on more taunting. Some students would be beaten up almost daily for the way they looked, talked or dressed. “The same thing goes on today,” several nieces in local districts tell me when I discussed the topic with them.

As far as I can recall, no school district back then had a line item for paying out bullying suits. The difference today is that some parents and students are fighting back, as they should. Despite the millions of words written about it, the conferences and forums held to address the issue, the tough policies that schools have put into place, bullying continues unabated.

Why do people bully others? Many have been bullied by their peers or even family members. They might feel insignificant, making them angry to the point of taking it out on others.

Sometimes a person feels the need for attention, so he or she turns to bullying to get it. Bullies frequently lack self-esteem. To make up for this self-loathing, they might turn to inflicting pain on others as a way to make themselves feel better for the moment. A bully might be jealous of another student’s success, friends or social standing. Cutting down such a person gives the bully temporary satisfaction.

Bullies often travel in groups, in part for protection but also because the bullying is amplified when others are aiming their collective taunts at a victim. Cliques of students often feed the bullying issue.

Some bullies have outsized egos. They fancy themselves as kings of the hill and will remain in that frame of mind until someone challenges them or dethrones them or until the school authorities or police step in.

A few years ago, the Netflix four-season series “13 Reasons Why” aired to a mix of praise and condemnation. The story is about a 16-year-old girl, Hannah Baker, who was bullied after a sexual encounter and commits suicide. Before taking her life, Hannah distributed tapes to those she contended as having contributed to her decision; the tapes contain 13 reasons why she did what she did.

On one hand, viewers applauded the series for raising awareness about bullying and youth suicide and how to spot warning signals. Mental health experts, however, believe the series oversimplifies suicide, which they say is a complex issue. They also fear that those dealing with mental illness or bullying will see suicide as their only option.

Just about every school that I am aware of has adopted anti-bullying policies. They also address harassment and intimidation. Bullying is defined as any act that physically harms a student, damages a student’s property or interferes with the student’s education. These policies also seek to prevent a threatening educational environment.

All of us must take bullying seriously and not merely pay lip service to its consequences. Dismissing bullying as a “kids will be kids” attitude is wrong, dangerous and could have life-or-death consequences.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.