There has always been bullying. But not only has technology contributed to the means by which kids bully and harass each other, the sheer number of stories related to bullying reported by the national media suggests that the problem is soaring. Everywhere I turn these days, there are stories about horrible incidences of bullying that have led to violence or suicide.
I was already contemplating writing about this topic when I looked up at a doctor's office television recently to see they were profiling a story of an 11-year-old Georgia boy who committed suicide in response to bullying. Now his mother is telling how her young daughter is dealing with bullies at her school who torment her about her brother's death. She is concerned for her daughter's well-being. She does not believe the school is doing enough. A law went into effect in May in her son's name that would require anti-bullying programs in Georgia schools and notification to parents of victims and offenders.
A little later in the day, I logged on to Facebook where I saw entries from an anti-bullying page started in memory of Tyler Clementi - the young Rutger's student who committed suicide after he was humiliated by classmates who secretly videotaped an intimate encounter. As I scrolled down further on my Facebook newsfeed, I found that even the "My Favorite Wine" page had a bullying thread going that was nearing 100 comments. There I read comment after comment from moms who were dealing with bullying in some way or another.
Some in the news media are using the word epidemic. With all that is in the news today, I can't help but wonder if that is true; yet, I find it troubling considering that schools already seemed to be in-tune to the problem with previously instituted anti-bullying programs and no-tolerance policies.
So not only does bullying persist, it seems to have gotten worse. Why is that?
Some sociologists and psychologists have defined bullying as a branch of relational aggression. Described as "emotional violence," relational aggression comes in many forms: Rumors, lies, secrets, betrayal, harassment, exclusion, silent treatment, taunts, and bullying. Aiming their emotional aggression at victims in social relationships, offenders behave in ways that intend to harm, humiliate, or exclude.
With bullying behavior often occurring at schools, victims are typically shunned by other classmates who may not have participated actively in the bullying, but are prone to take the side of the bully to either feel empowered, or to avoid victimization themselves. If the victim does not socialize outside of the academic environment, isolation may easily result. To avoid this, relationalaggression.com encourages parents to involve their kids in activities outside of school (gymnastics, skating, karate, YMCA, etc.) to provide diverse friendship circles that may offer alternative venues of support. In addition, if the child finds a passion in the outside activity, it may serve to enhance his or her self-worth.
I was bullied by another girl when I was younger. In 6th and 7th grade I remember being threatened and taunted. I remember how hurtful it was and the fear that I experienced at times. I did not report it to school authorities or to my parents. I suppose that is a normal reaction for kids who are afraid that reporting it will make the situation worse. Indeed, that is what is found out later after we hear of these awful stories of violence and suicide: Parents say they had no idea their children were going through such torment.
I have said it often that there is no tool more powerful than information. Victims should know that they are not alone and that they can talk to their parents or teachers to get help and answers. Adults have to take responsibility for neutralizing the situations and offering kids the necessary mediation and counseling. And that includes the bully. Bullies should not just face discipline at school, but they should be counseled to see why they are hurting inside. Mustn't there be deep-seeded issues that would cause children to behave in such a way? There must be a reason that the bully gets satisfaction, or even pleasure, out of instilling humiliation, degradation, and fear on another human being.
There must be lessons learned from the tragedies we hear about in the news. We should not wait for there to be another dead kid to respond to it.