Fearnely, Fran, ed. I Wrote on All Four Walls: Teens Speak Out on Violence. Toronto: Annick Press, 2004.

I’m helping this kid I know deal with some guys who are pushing him around at school. I hope it’ll do some good. This book contains the stories of nine Canadians who had problems with bullies as teenagers or who had been bullies themselves. I’ve only gotten through the first two, Sue and Don. Sue had problems with other girls giving her a hard time, and then she joined a gang.

Don was a bully pretty much right from the start, though he did encounter violence from other kids from time to time. He still seems to have a ways to go to change his behavior. Both Don and Sue had parents who criticized them; Sue’s parents treated her especially harshly. Don’s father would criticize the way he played hockey.

For the sake of argument, I am using the theory of parenting styles Mary Pipher lays out in Reviving Ophelia (p. 83—“Families: The Root System”) as the baseline to judge Sue and Don’s childhoods. If I read her correctly, there are three ways to screw kids up royally and one way to make sure they turn out okay. Reading their stories with Pipher’s formula in mind, it seems inevitable that Sue and Don would have had the problems they’ve experienced, and passed on to others.

When Sue was growing up in China, her parents criticized her constantly. They were also very strict with her. Her father wanted her to be a proper lady, and he controlled her movements very closely. He also began beating her when she tried to tell him some of the unpleasant comments she had heard her stepmothers say about him behind his back. This combination of high control and low acceptance leads to an “authoritarian” parenting style, Pipher says. She goes on to say that it produces children who lack confidence and social skills. Sue had few friends in school. Some of those friends turned on her. One of them killed herself. After that, Sue began cutting herself every day. When her father sent her to live with her brother in Canada, he began beating her, too, but fear of violating cultural codes about “family business” kept her from telling anyone about it.

Don’s parents fit the classic “absentee” mold Pipher describes. Absentee parents mix low acceptance with low control of their children, a combination that Pipher says produces delinquents and addicts. Don says he drank hard and partied hard in his adolescence, so that covers the addiction part. As for the delinquency aspect, Don relates one chilling tale of a day at work at a factory when he and a friend tied a weaker and more passive coworker named Vince to a pillar on the factory floor, blindfolding their victim with duct tape. The two then argued about how long they should wait to untie Vince. They walked out and left him there alone for several hours. When Don and his friend returned and untied Vince, the third young man ran out of the factory and never came back.