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COYO Conference


by Izzy Kalman (March 2005)

On February 24th, I spoke at the annual conference of COYO (Committee of Youth Officers) of Ontario, Canada, for the mental health and law enforcement communities. Bullying obviously remains a hot topic. Both mornings started out with films informing us of the horrors of bullying. We were informed that physical injuries heal, but emotional injuries last forever. This is important new information. Based on this, we should take down our shingles. I always thought that psychotherapy exists so we can help with emotional healing and promote resilience. But since we now know that emotional injury lasts forever, we have been wasting our time! Personally, my emotions get hurt much more often than my body does, and I seem to get over most emotional pains within a couple of hours or days, while my physical pains need days, weeks, and sometimes months to disappear (physical healing seems to be taking longer the older I get).

One film was about the horrors of girls’ “relational aggression.” The camera pans in on a group of cute elementary school girls in the schoolyard. With sinister “Jaws”-like music playing in the background, we overhear the girls deciding who they are going to exclude this week. The parents of these girls meet regularly with mental health professionals, trying to analyze the behavior of their daughters and figure out which parents are to blame for their daughters’ character defects.

The main culprit is determined to be a petite Asian girl raised by her adoptive White American parents. Despite her small size and different appearance, this sharp child became the leader of the group. She is a talented, intelligent girl who is liked by both her teachers and her peers, and the adults couldn’t understand how she could be an evil bully. After much deliberation, the adults decide that the girl’s parents are to make her apologize to the identified victim. We observe as the girl knocks on the house of the victim. When the victim opens the door, the “bully” sobs hysterically while trying to utter the words, “I-I-I-‘m s-s-s-sorry.” We then hear the mother of the victim telling the other parents that she isn’t sure that the bully was sincere about her apology. Thus, after all this intensive effort, the mother still didn’t get any satisfaction.

We were then treated to a keynote speech by a woman whose twelve-year-old daughter committed suicide because she couldn’t stand being tormented by other kids. This mother sued her daughter’s “bullies” for “bullycide,” the first such case prosecuted in Canada. Two of the three girls apologized for what they did, which made mom happy, but one girl refused to apologize and was sentenced to 18 months probation. What really disturbs this woman, though, is that the grandmother of the unrepentant “bully” defended her, claiming that the suicide was not her granddaughter’s fault. The nerve of her – actually wanting to defend her own granddaughter from murder charges!

The conclusion of all these presentations was the best way to solve the problem of bullying is for the bystanders to stand up against the bullies. I’m sure it must make victims of bullying feel really good about themselves to know that adults don’t expect them to be able to solve their problems on their own, but need to rely on protection by other kids.

I was a bit nervous about presenting my own views after the audience was exposed to two mornings of tear-jerking presentations about the suffering of victims and the evils of bullies. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. Many or most of the audience loved my presentation and I was thanked incessantly by people running into me in the hallways and elevators. Perhaps there is hope for society after all.

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