Children Tormenting Children 24/7, in Israel Too

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A classroom in the Tel Aviv suburb Givatayim.

Ever since the birth of psychoanalysis and the identification of the Oedipal triangle, people have been excoriating their parents and reconstructing the harm – both real, which they downplayed at the time to survive, and exaggerated, apparently for the same reason – that made them who they are. No matter how wise and loving parents are, their work of building and destroying imposes an unappealable sentence that the children will bear even in their 80s.

Given this, not enough attention has been paid to the society of children, most of which is in schools. Far too often, this is a dangerous place that leaves scars no less than the family does.

This week, parents demonstrated in Rishon Letzion against ostracism following an incident where a student was humiliated. This is a pioneering local initiative, part of a sensitive, complicated conversation that's currently preoccupying human culture and seeks to reconcile human nature with the moral and logical need to create new norms that will reduce violence and curb its harms.

Occasionally memories from my elementary school days crop up. I remember how when I was a child my big sister, then in fifth grade, was ousted from her role as queen of the classroom – a status that involves committing social crimes against weaker children. The other children, who had been her good friends just one day earlier, swore one after another, placing their right hands on a Bible, that they would no longer talk to her.

I remember my mother leaving the house at dawn to remove denunciations of my sister from our neighborhood bulletin board. I remember my father standing on street corners to talk with the rampaging children and make sure we reached school safely.

I also remember, of course, the boycott imposed on me a few years later. I can remember all the details with the same accuracy as I recall the incident involving my sister, but I won’t write about them because they still embarrass me – even today as a woman in my 40s.

During those difficult months, I stopped reading books and watching television. I didn’t go to birthday parties, class events or youth movement activities. And every morning, with an exhausting effort, I dragged myself to school.

There I’d hold on until 10 A.M. and then head for the public telephone, which acquired the status of the Western Wall or a grave to pray at, to call my mother at work. That was the only thing I could do to fight that terrible unhappiness.

I'm willing to admit the enormous shame that assails me every time I remember how I stood aside and didn’t lift a finger when a group of children wrecked a tiny sukkah made by one of the “out girls” in our class. Her father had built it for her because the “in girls,” naturally, refused to let her into their sukkahs. Her response to the sadism directed at her for no reason – “Daddy, why did they destroy my sukkah; I didn’t do anything to anybody” – still rings in my ears, and the guilt still gnaws at me.

From time to time, at meetings with relatives or childhood friends, we recall these memories and mostly laugh at them. This is a clumsy attempt to process the hurts and traumas that have never been recognized or treated as such but were accepted as an integral part of human behavior that must be dealt with. (“Come on, why are you stuck in fourth grade? Enough with the self-pity.”)

Every day, teenagers and younger children are abandoned at school to sadism that in recent years has worsened on Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp groups and elsewhere. Once, children could relax for a few hours or create a kind of bubble at home. But today, the social torture lasts 24/7 in the virtual world.

This is a lifestyle of ostracism, shaming and other acts that aren’t labeled violence because they don't include physical assault, but they still cause indescribable suffering to children. And it’s time to change this situation.

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