A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

Here’s a sad story. A nine-year-old boy in North Carolina is learning an early, hard lesson in repression and the value of conformity in our culture.

Like so many kids his age—and plenty of fully grown men—Grayson Bruce loves the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. So he found a blue backpack decorated with his favorite My Little Ponies and proceeded to get tormented by school bullies. Besieged by both verbal and physical violence, Bruce spoke with school administrators who came up with a solution: leave the backpack at home and BE ONE OF THEM. ONE OF THEM. ONE OF TH–chkreeecachungPOP!

Sorry, in case you couldn’t tell, that was one of the droid’s heads exploding. AGAIN. The lab hasn’t been able to produce a model that doesn’t get a little too hot under the collar during the chant.

I feel sad for Grayson, who was brave and/or happy-go-lucky and/or simply secure enough in his own skin to wear his ponies with pride and was beaten down for it (both figuratively and literally). I should feel sad for the mean kids, because they’re confused and hate themselves or fear what’s really inside or their parents are mean or blah blah blah, but I don’t. Some mean kids grow out of it and feel remorse. Most just grow into more fully-fledged a-holes, a breed of people which can be found everywhere, in every walk of life. It’s disgraceful that kids are so mean to one another, although this isn’t exactly new. Kids (particularly the ones in middle school) have always been insecure and vicious and detached from the concept of empathy. Twenty years ago, before this new “age of bullying,” Grayson probably still would have gotten mocked for being openly different from the mainstream mob. The difference is that these days:

A) There is a disturbing trend of kids reacting to bullying by doing terrifying harm to themselves. I don’t know whether this is a horrifying copycat effect or whether bullying is really that much worse these days. I suspect it’s both. See the example of this poor 11-year-old soul who tried to hang himself after being taunted for his love of the same show.

B) As a result of these haunting stories of baby suicide, the grown-ups in charge are far more aware of and accountable for this damaging behavior.

Which brings me to the last group that makes me sad and also enraged: the school officials. Despite being all too aware of a very real danger lurking in their school, and despite having the authority to deal with it appropriately, the best they can do is blame the victim. Don’t bring in the backpack, it attracts bullies. Is that the best they can do? Are they so jaded or terrified of the bullies’ parents or simply such unfeeling, unthinking milquetoasts that they cannot think beyond that? As educators, they should encourage and applaud students for originality, for being proud of who they are and what they love, for being unafraid of standing out. As craven, powerless robot bureaucrats, they’re doing precisely what they ought. This is depressing. And as a parent of a child who I hope rejoices in her individuality, I find it extremely worrisome.

The boy’s mother said it best, from PEOPLE:

“Grayson’s mother, Noreen, disagrees. ‘Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic, it doesn’t make any sense,’ she told WLOS-TV.”

Getting Grayson to retire the backpack will be a band-aid on a gaping wound. With  no threat of consequences or discipline, I’m sure the nasty little snots will continue to find reasons to pick on him, as he has already been identified as “other.” And heaven forbid someone of influence try to make them understand why they shouldn’t bully. Some of them may only respond to punishment. But there are probably a few in that group who, deep down, know what they’re doing is wrong, and they can still be turned back to the light. They’re only children, after all. They’re not done becoming people. Unlike the school administrators (and some of their parents, I’d imagine), there’s still hope for them.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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