In 5th and 6th grade, I wanted nothing more than to be like Jeanna Penn. She was my idol. She was cool, confident, had all the right clothes — and everyone liked her. She was a straight-A student and an athlete.

I wanted nothing more than for her to like me and to be included in her group...I mean, clique.

She hated me. And it wasn't just the kind of hate that leads one to ignore someone or not include them in a party. It was visceral hate. The kind that led her to taunt me relentlessly in front of people who dared to be my friends and threaten to beat me up after school. She even "set up" a fight and invited me to be beaten senseless in front of the rest of the fifth grade. She might very well have beaten me up that day...we'll never know, because I never showed up for the fight in question. I walked home a different way.

There has been a lot — A LOT — of talk about bullying in school in the last 5-10 years. So much so, that my oldest daughter has had more than one middle and high school "literature" class devote its reading time to books with an anti-bullying theme...much to my chagrin (yes, I would rather they study literature...).

I'm glad schools recognize that bullying happens now. Twenty-five years ago, school administrators might have said it was no big deal — and of course now we've had school shootings and other horrible tragedies to prove otherwise.

I don't think, however, that dedicating literature classes to bullying is necessarily the right tack. In addition, I'm not sure that telling our kids that if they are bullied they should just "tell the teacher" is also the way to go. The problem with bullies is that they are often the product of bullies. These are the parents who will bully the situation with school administrators, claiming their child does nothing wrong (ever) and will then offer to donate new uniforms for the basketball team.

Someone recently said to me that they think if we taught our kids to stand up to bullies rather than coddle everyone, we might have a better time dealing with the problem. "There will always be bullies, you can't hide from them."

I agree. I've had bosses who were bullies and boyfriends who were bullies. I dealt with them in much the same way I dealt with Jeanna Penn — I didn't return phone calls. I'm a classic conflict avoider!

However, I understand the argument that says lets stop teaching our kids to avoid bullies (stop coddling them in other words) and start teaching them to stand up to bullies. I have to say, I wish that was something I had been taught. I wish I had felt the confidence in myself to go up to Jeanna Penn and say something — I have no idea what — but something.

I'm tired of hearing about people being bullied and harassed and no one stepping up to them and saying "No. This isn't acceptable." If my child goes up to a bully in school these days and says something — or does something — to the bully, he is more likely to get in trouble than the bully is. In fact, my middle schooler once got suspended for defending a friend because he also "made contact" with the student (he pushed the bully off his friend).


What lesson are we teaching our children? To cower in a corner when a bully does something? To "rat them out" to the teacher?

No way, I say. Let the kids fight back. Let them tell the bully where to go. I've had it with everyone being encouraged to tell on everyone else. I want kids to feel empowered — not bitter. I want schools to support kids who are being bullied by letting them defend themselves. Do I think we should let them have fistfights after school? Of course not? Could the argument be made that school shootings are the result of kids who were bullied? Yes, but I think even experts would agree that kids who participate in that severe kind of violence have other issues...not to mention access to guns.

I'm talking about day to day bullying. My 11-year-old had a toy taken from him at the park and was too afraid to say or do anything about it. But my 13-year-old wasn't afraid. He went right up to the bully and demanded he give it back. The bully didn't, of course, but I was proud of my 13-year-old for standing up to him and defending his little brother. Had this episode occurred in school, I have no doubt that my 13-year-old would once again get suspended for...oh, I don't know, bullying a bully.

The zero tolerance policy most schools now implement is encouraging a generation of whiners, who need their mommies to defend them. And I don't really want to be defending my child to his boss when he's 33. What am I going to say? "I really think  you are being mean to my son, Mr. Spacely. Oh and could you give him a raise?"