For the past several years I’ve chosen a cause very close to my heart to take on and make a difference in. I want to stop bullying and in fact, I want to take up the cause of not just stopping bullying, but violence all together. Lofty dream? Sure. Worth the fight? Absolutely. Bullying, domestic violence, violence against women, hate crimes, and rape all have one thing in common. They are a belief by a perpetrator that they have the right to harm, control, abuse, and destroy another human being. October is Bullying Awareness Month. It’s also Domestic Violence Awareness month. Blue and Purple. Colors that represent the cause, that represent the hope for peace. Put blue and purple together and you could even say it represents the colors of a bruise…a bruise of the soul.
By now, most people realize that bullying is no longer a childhood game that takes place only on the playground. Bullying is not the same as it was when we were growing up in the 50’s or even the 90’s and anyone who believes that it is grossly mistaken and highly naive. In the past ten years we have seen the headlines of bullying read like a horror film.
“Teenager Commits Suicide”
“Teens Bully Bus Assistant”
“Cyberbullying…An Epidemic of a Generation”
The reality is this. Bullying is not the epidemic of a generation, as much as it’s the result of a world that changed very fast, putting a generation of teachers and parents on the constant defense. In just a little over a decade, our children have seen unparalleled amounts of change in the way they view media, the way they are taught, and the access they have to the world around them. In education alone, standardized tests have swept the nation, cutting time for much needed physical education, music, and art…all activities that teach skills of critical thinking and negotiation. The teacher’s ability to build necessary relationships with the students has taken a back seat to the culture of the test. School Choice gave rise to the ability for children to move from school to school, year after year, leaving the much needed bonds of childhood friends necessary for healthy social and emotional development behind. Technology and our inability as a society to keep up with the speed of change, has opened the door to children who are exposed to violence and sex in unprecedented amounts. The ability for children to participate in their own exploitation is enough to send shivers down the spine of any parent.
The key to it all is three-fold. We must first, as adults, recognize that bullying has changed not in definition, but in the means by which it is achieved. In this generation of bullies, technology takes center stage as children are faced with not just one or two bullies, but possibly thousands. In the world of cyberbullying, “Revenge Porn” is a new form of humiliation, as sexually based photos are passed from person to person in an initial fit of adolescent anger. As adults, we must recognize that cyberbullying can take place through texting, social media, and email. Children now have access to camera’s that in an instance of manipulation, can create absolute chaos. There are now laws that can level charges on a minor for sexting or possessing nude or partially nude photos of another minor. In our day, we had to take a Polaroid of ourselves and then physically hand it to someone if we wanted to participate in our own exploitation. Those days no longer exist.
The second aspect to this new bullying, is to recognize how our children’s lives now are vastly different than when we grew up. We must put ourselves in their shoes and ask the question, “Could I have handled all of this when I was 13?” It has never been more important for parents and teachers to understand youth development concepts and adolescent behavior. Kids are kids and that concept hasn’t changed. The world however, did change and our inability as adults to keep up impacted the children to their own detriment.
The third and maybe most important part of the equation is that we must admit that the amount of media our children are capable of consuming is harmful. Children have the capability of being exposed to violence and sex through multiple means. It’s no longer just television. It’s 300 channels of television, plus gaming, plus music, plus social media, and then access to that all day…everyday. Media education is crucial if we are to slow this problem called bullying.
There are a couple of facts about bullying that those who believe it is just a natural part of growing up should know. Bullying is traumatic. It can create PTSD in the victim and fear in those who have to watch it. Bullying doesn’t build character anymore than domestic violence makes a woman stronger. Bullying just like domestic violence, tears the victim down, making them feel worthless, unsafe, untrusting, and fearful. Bullying is not playground teasing, nor is it a natural part of childhood. Bullying is abuse over the course of time, where the goal is to create a power imbalance between the victim and abuser. Its intent is to tear the victim down to nothing, until there is no hope left.
Fear is the goal
Until we see bullying as the abuse and cruelty it is, we will never move beyond the childhood playground and we will never truly allow the victims to heal and for children to learn. Bullying varies in form; ranging from physical violence and verbal abuse to emotional cruelty. You can call it what you want, but in the end it’s all just alternate forms of violence with varying degrees of impact. Many victims of this form of violence will tell you that being hit is easier than the ongoing destruction of their psyche and their soul. Words have more of a destructive impact than physical violence, because when you are hit others can see the pain. Words aren’t as obvious and in a society where we celebrate cruelty, meanness, unhealthy competition, and misogyny through our media and specifically reality television, victims have no recourse but to pray for someone to take notice in a world where they believe God has walked away.
Victims of bullying struggle with their voice. Asking for help is not only difficult, but practically impossible. They fear ridicule, retaliation, and the loss of their dignity. We have to open our eyes and reach out with our hearts, but the first step is understanding as a society that bullying is violence with words and physical torture and the pain doesn’t discriminate; only the bully. If you have never experienced bullying consider yourself lucky, but make sure you don’t judge the victim for not having the strength to endure the torturous words of abuse and the feeling that everyone, and I mean everyone in school, could just very possibly be participating.
Just for one moment consider what it’s like to be told on a daily basis for months on end that you are nothing and that you are hated. What if you had to hear these words when the school bell rang, after the school doors closed, and well into the night?
You are stupid and fat. You are a faggot and a slut. You are a retard and your parents have hated you since you were born. Everyone hates you and no one will ever find you pretty. You are nothing and you will always be nothing. You don’t have any friends and everyone is talking about you behind your back. You are a loser! “Why don’t you just kill yourself! The world would be better off…stupid bitch!”
Now be 13 and alone. What would you do? Who would you trust?