Friday, October 28, 2011


Hot topic alert: I am going to spew my opinion about "bullying", and as both a mother of a teenager AND a public school teacher I believe I am fairly well qualified to say what I am about to say.

First, some history. It all started when we crawled out of the slime ... 'competition and survival of the fittest. Fast forward a couple of bazillion years and here we are, still scrapping away to survive. In modern societies, "survival" now exists more on a social platform because civilized people have made physical fighting illegal and immoral. There are also rules that outlaw non-physical fighting like harassment, libel and stalking. Human beings will always struggle against one another because we are biologically wired to do so, and the degree of which is due in large part to how we are raised.

Technology has improved our lives in many ways including how we communicate with each other. We can now access the ears and eyes of the entire planet in an instant. We can spread knowledge and truth to the oppressed, and we can spread gossip and hate to anyone, anywhere and at anytime. We have evolved from sticks and stones to words and images for breaking people.

Teenagers are almost another species of (sub)human, and I find it remarkable that many adults forget what it was like to be a teenager. The insecurities, the desire to be noticed and yet fit in, the feeling of angst and powerful emotions as the hormones wreak havoc on your soul and on your complexion. How any of us make it through is a wonder, yet somehow most of us do survive that tumultuous time.

Now let's merge together the teenager with instant mass communication. The days of passing notes on lined paper are over, and instead there's facebook and tweeting and blogging and texting. In a swirl of emotions a young person can hit the send button and disseminate words and images that are permanent and public - and easily passed along exponentially. It can be a recipe for tears, anger, sadness, depression, and yes even suicide in extreme cases. It is a recipe for the trendy term known as "bullying".

The term "bullying" is not new, and has been tossed around as long as I can remember. Apparently the history of the word itself dates back to the 1530's, and has evolved over time to it's current definition according to Wikipedia as

a form of aggressive behavior, which may manifest as abusive treatment, the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when habitual and involving an imbalance of power. ...

So what can be done about this age-old problem which now dominates the media?

Currently there is more time spent during the school day on bullying than ever before. Ironically. Assemblies, classroom lessons, after school meetings with parents ... and there are many great resources available online for parents, kids and educators. Unfortunately I believe that the current dialogue misses the key to this issue which is to shift the focus on how one should respond to bullying.

VICTIM. What a sad word to slap on anybody, especially a young person. "Darling, you are a victim and I am so sorry you poor thing however can you get through the rest of your life??" Excuse me, but I will never tell my son he is a victim. Instead I wish to empower him, and give him the skills he needs to get through tough situations. We all have heard that you can't change people but only how you respond to them, and that is the lesson we need to teach our kids. There will always be idiots, no matter how much we try and legislate away idiot behavior. Laws are created when common sense fails. Of course we need to address the people of all ages that act inappropriately. Parents need to build a sense of empathy in their children so they grow up with a conscience. However, we all know how many parents fall short and continue to fall short in this area, and leave this up to chance. The breakdown of morals and character is a topic that is for another time, but the result is more and more people with an undeveloped moral compass, and when that is coupled with improved methods of mass communication you have more efficient bullies.

Professional tips include not letting your children use social media and cell phones until they are 35, but that is a little unrealistic. It's like restricting your child from eating any sugar until they are adults, or restricting your child from reading literature that contains viewpoints that differ from yours. At some point they will have access to these things so we need to spend time teaching and reinforcing how to use them responsibly. And, if somebody is harassing them, tell your baby to knock 'em off their list. Excise jerks from their life - who needs them?? Help your child to understand the concept that life is too short to waste on jerks. And if the harassment continues, teach them to talk to an adult who can help them - you, a teacher, a coach, a youth group leader, an aunt - speak up. If they witness jerky behavior, step in and voice their displeasure. If it continues, tell an adult. Drill drill drill this into their heads. And by all means LOVE YOUR CHILDREN while providing structure and discipline (hmmm ... sounds like an excellent topic for a book ... hmmm ....)

So some of you may be thinking that I am being unrealistic and simplifying a complex situation. I am not. This is a multifaceted problem that requires a multifaceted approach. I just believe that the word "victim" should be removed from this discussion, and the focus moved to EMPOWERING our children so that the idiot bullies (I hate that word, too) lose the power we have given them.

I am shaking my head as I write this. It saddens me that there are heartless people in the world, and that they seek to build themselves up by tearing others down. My heart breaks for the families that have lost their babies to suicide because of depression caused in part by the cruel behavior of their peers. Technology has given idiots a great new set of tools. We need to teach our young people how to stand up and not accept it. Let's take the power AWAY from the bullies, and give it back to whom it belongs.

Roy Lichtenstein Sweet Dreams Baby! 1965

Roy Lichtenstein Crying Girl 1963

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