by Katherine Scardino
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
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.