EDITORIAL: 'Grow a pair' isn't a solution to difficult issue of bullying

But Porterville mayor's remark brings attention to the problem.

FresnoMay 22, 2014 

Bullying is a difficult problem facing many young people, and it won't be addressed by spouting bumper-sticker slogans.

SACRAMENTO BEE FILE

In a society that gets more complex by the day, it's understandable that people seek simple solutions to difficult problems.

So we're not surprised that Porterville Mayor Cam Hamilton said that bullying victims should "grow a pair" and "stick up for them damn selves" when a Safe Zones proposal was being debated at a City Council meeting earlier this month.

This is the kind of advice that John Wayne dished out in many of his westerns.

The problem is, what sounds smart in theory or works to perfection in a scripted movie isn't applicable in real life.

As Porterville City Council Member Virginia Gurrola said, "Well, it's hard to stand up and grow a pair when you are maybe a 10-year-old little girl."

More than that, balling up your fists and hitting a bully could get the student suspended from school -- especially those with zero-tolerance discipline codes. If a teen responds to taunts with punches and kicks, he or she could land in juvenile hall. Besides, don't we want less violence in schools, not more?

Somewhat overlooked in the social media frenzy that Hamilton's "grow a pair" comment ignited was the fact that Burton Middle School students had hoped the council would designate specific buildings as Safe Zones. Bullying victims, the students said, could go to these places and request help.

Burton officials have withdrawn the Safe Zones project, and that is unfortunate. Students may not possess technical insight about bullying -- that's the domain of psychologists and therapists -- but students, more than anyone else, know what is going on at their schools. If Burton students say Safe Zones will help, their opinion should hold weight with school and city officials.

The Bee's Lewis Griswold reported Sunday that Porterville gay rights activist Melissa McMurrey said Safe Zones are perceived by some people as a gay rights cause.

As young gays are often bullied and taunted, it makes sense that they would actively seek to improve their schools and communities.

But it is not just gay kids who are bullied. Someone who is shy or is simply judged to be "different" than others can be on the receiving end of stinging remarks -- online and face to face -- that inflict great emotional pain.

Hamilton has said that he "could have used less colorful language." But he told Griswold that he stood by his point: "We need to stand up -- these bullies can't bully people unless we let them do so."

The "we" is everybody. Hamilton can learn about the most-effective measures at www.stopbullying.gov.

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