Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bullying: A Product of Our Times?

by Katherine Scardino

Nowadays, we raise children in a New World. For most of us, we did not reach maturity after spending our days (and nights) playing video games, sending e-mails, texts and instant messages on our computers, iPads, PCs, smartphones. We picked up our telephone and talked to our friends for hours on end with a parent telling us to “Hang up the phone!” Or, we had actual one-on-one conversations with people. We actually took the time to speak to the person behind the counter at the dry cleaners, the grocery, or the bookstore. We did not get online to order food, books or other household and personal supplies and services.

Could the bullying problem in today’s society be somehow related to our acquiescence as parents in allowing our children to forget how to interact with other people? Could the problem be exacerbated by our lack of parenting in teaching our children how to be sensitive and kind to others?

Recently, some children have done the unthinkable. They have committed suicide. How could this happen in this free, open-to-all society we're supposed to have? How could other children treat their classmates with such cruelty, as if ... ? Some people think the world is a better place now that we are universally connected through technology and the Internet. But, do you really think it is better that young people today are asocial? For the most part, the today's youth have never had to “socialize” the way their parents did as part of their daily routines. I am willing to bet that kids today could go for days on end and never actually speak out loud to another person. We have raised a crop of desensitized zombies--people who have no sense of hurt feelings. That is the only logical explanation for bullying.

Asher Brown was a 13-year-old straight-A student in Houston, Texas. Tyler Clementi was 18, a college freshman who played violin in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from a small city in central California, loved French fries and Pokamon cards. Billy Lucas was a 15-year-old from Indiana who showed horses. Justin Asberg from Minnesota was 15 and posted his cello music on YouTube. Their common element is that these children are now dead. They all committed suicide because they were being harassed, tormented and bullied because their peers thought they were gay, or because they were, in fact, gay.

There are other events of bullying because of race, physical or intellectual disability, socioeconomic status, grade-point average, or any of a multitude of characteristics that may set these children apart from the other “normal” kids. But, it is more likely that a young person will be bullied because of their sexual preference than any other reason. Who are these rude, homophobic, arrogant, spoiled brats? Are they our children who have never had to talk openly with others? Are they our children whose parents were never around to teach them the “softer” side of being human? The side that allows us to look at another person and say, “I am sorry you have this problem. How can I help you?” What has happened to the Golden Rule? Whether you are religious or not, you will have to admit that the “do unto others” rule seems to make sense.

Some of our most respected television actors and actresses, Ellen DeGeneres for one, have stepped up and publicized the problem in various ways--statements in the press, videos on YouTube. But the solution is home-grown. It starts at home with the parents. Parents must realize that they can longer use a television, video game, computer, iPod, iPad, or smartphone as an in-house babysitter. As parents in a free society, we are afforded the opportunity to choose whether to have children. So, upon making the decision to become a parent, adults have to act responsibly and actually be parents.

Do we need a “cultural shift,” as some of the activist groups say, that includes anti-bullying legislation, suicide helplines, training for teachers and other school personnel? If this cultural shift includes getting parents to do their job at home, then that is good. None of us can continue to stand by while our children are subjected to the physical and emotional violence that occurs among peer groups in schools, extracurricular activities, or even in the streets of our own neighborhoods. Protecting young people from bullying is just as essential to their healthy development as making sure they have good teachers and access to health care.

When we hear that the Federal government wants to step in and make more legislation against bullying, we should tell the government, "This is not your job. This is our job." When all people in our society become aware that bullying is not just part of growing up, that it is a form of violence against another human being, then the bullies will get a clear message that their behavior is unacceptable.

But, who are these bullies? Are they just kids growing up tough? Are they truly just mean-spirited, spoiled kids? Are we supposed to teach our kids to be as tough as the bullies are to protect themselves? "Punch the little thug wannabees in the belly!" Is that the solution? It might be in some instances. But, we must not allow ourselves to be swathed in the horrors of indifference. Bullying leads to violence, and that violence can become lethal without responsible intervention. We have to teach our children, our teachers and our coworkers that bullying is not only unacceptable, but it bears consequences that are sometimes unthinkable and irreversible. The bottom line is these lessons start with the parents at home. I can only hope we are not too late.


Anonymous said...

My mom said at one time, bullies themselves have issues they try to hide from others. Single parent home, lack of finances, insecurities, lack of self esteem and many other things. Its their way of controlling people and situations because they cannot control other things in life. Or the time its the parents who are bullies themselves.

Story Teller said...

I don't think bullying is worse now than it was years ago - it's just that the bullies have more weapons at their disposal (I can't imagine the horror of being bullied over the Internet). When I was in high school in the '80s, I witnessed kids being trampled, spit on, called names, and ostracized. Gangs of "mean girls" would wait outside a diner for hours until their victim finally emerged. I saw one girl run down the street, pursued by a pack of bullies--male and female--who took her bike apart as they ran and threw the pieces at her. My friend and I were beaten by a guy with a hockey stick until we were bruised and battered. One concerned woman stopped and offered us a ride home, but--afraid to accept a ride from a stranger--we said no. The guy continued to beat us after she drove away.

Bullies have always existed, kids have always been cruel, and parents and teachers have always turned a blind eye or given useless advice. It's great that people are paying more attention to this issue now, but these bursts of attention come and go in waves (as they did after the Columbine shooting). I hope people continue to take action consistently until something actually changes.

Great post!

escalante blogger said...

Bullying is not a good practice to everyone. I don't like this thing.

Anonymous said...

I for one am sick and tired of bullies, I had to deal with useless school officials when my three kids were young. Now raising a 7 yr. old grand-daughter missed amost two weeks of kindergarten after only being in class for one week, two adorable african american girls, were not the picture they presented, they called her fat, metal mouth, due to being born with bad teeth she had to have every tooth capped, the front ones were white, while the back and bottom ones had to be done in silver. They made fun of her hair, it didnt' matter, they taunted her in class, teased her dumped their water jars on her picture after she painted it for grand-parents day soon to come we had to miss that too. Eventually after badgering this system until I was blue in the face, they moved both girls to their special "behavior class room", even the parents were non compliant with their own children. I for one hope this stays in the forefront and nobody ever forgets Colunbine. Our granddaughter puked her guts out, she couldn't eat, sleep, and was having nightmares about these two girls. This must stop, and parents need to stop thinking, their little one could never do "such a thing"~ I beg to differ! Thanks for keeping the awareness out there.

don said...

There were bullies when I was in school in the 60's. So that hasn't changed. Maybe the level of violence has changed, but not so much in my opinion. What has changed is the kids ability, due to our increasing technical world, to handle all the crap that bullies put forth. It's always been a pain in the butt, however, back in my day, you had to socialize wherever you went, and that gave most of us the tools to get by or at least not to be too affected by the social miscreants. These days, it's so easy for kids to avoid socializing in face to face situations and just to dissolve into digital personalities, which diminishes their abilities to emotionally handle the abuse. Often times, getting your ass kicked is easier to get over than being emotionally abused. Bodies heal far far faster than ego's and hearts.

Margie Church said...

Bullying has always been around. Unfortunately, kids who may not have been bullies in the past now can hide behind the Internet and other cyber tools to hurt others. How we deal with it needs to change. Schools are quite active and aggressive in our state on this issue, but bullying doesn't only happen on the school campus. And if a parent doesn't take responsibility for making their own child be sensitive to others or worse yet, denies their child could possibily be such a monster, the situation continues escalating. What is so sad is that a CHILD'S SEXUAL identity is even part of the issue. One of my sons has been bullied numerous time. Last summer we filed criminal charges. It's a double-edged sword. Will it help the situation or exasserbate it? Time will tell. Do onto others...it's called the Golden Rule for a reason.

Dr. Gina Simmons said...

Good post. I think parents need to empower their children to stand up to bullies, even when they are not the target of the bullying. I've worked with many victims of harassment and they mention that the worst part is feeling alone. When another child has the courage to say "back off! Leave him alone!" it can buffer that feeling of alienation and sometimes save a life.

Phyllis said...

Back in the 60's a kid that was bullied stayed in the classroom or some other place populated by adults. Or, they were off to the side of the playground praying for recess to end. In high school the bullied had to walk halls lined with bullies just waiting to attack. Now, bullies can do it online and spread the pain around.
Bullying in the workplace is just as damaging to the emotional life. But it destroys careers as the victim is beaten down, then blamed for it. In Europe, it has been said, bullying accounts for as much as 33% of suicides. Yet, it isn't illegal, the workplace condones it and hell marches on.

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