Unlike gun control, the subject of bullying seems to be maintaining some traction in social media and elsewhere. Now we have a 12 year old girl who killed herself following a long reign of terror by schoolmates who even gloated after her death.
Yesterday, I read about a father who had taken to Facebook to denounce the bullying that preceded his son’s suicide, and was subjected to a barrage of nasty comments.
The two responses that bother me most are these:
“Kids have always been mean and there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“Parents should monitor what their kids do online.”
Both are just excuses for maintaining the status quo, and the status quo is pretty fucking alarming.
I don’t believe that kids are born mean, or that bullying is a developmental phase that is hard-wired and natural. The old adage that Kids are Just Mean is as stupid as the injunction that allowed parents to beat their children with impunity: Spare the rod and spoil the child. We now agree that the latter is outrageous. It has been a slow change in our culture but nonetheless it is a significant shift in thinking and behavior.
I think that our culture can eliminate bullying by a concerted effort at home, in child-rearing, at school, and in legislation, to make it clear that bullying is socially unacceptable, period. Where it occurs, just like smacking your kids around, it should result in sanctions like fines or hearings in Juvenile court.
The opportunities for bullying have obviously multiplied with new technology. There are brand new platforms for bullying every day. Like the news cycle, the bullying cycle is now 24/7. There is no safe place for a kid unlucky enough to be targeted by bullies. You can’t just go home and watch TV to forget about it.
When I talk about cyberbullying with friends, they tend to blame the victim for going online or using their smart-phone. But that’s what kids do! Why should a kid have to give up this means of recreation to stay safe from other kids urging them to drink bleach and kill themselves?
A couple of months ago, I read about a programmer who had developed an algorithm that Facebook could use to raise a red flag for bullying or suicidal ideation. But guess what? Facebook was not interested. They are busy suspending users for posting depictions of nudity for other adult friends and followers. The safety of teens is a non-issue to Facebook. In fact, Facebook has just relaxed its restrictions on teen users, to compete with other forms of social media that are gaining popularity with that demographic.
Bullying is out of control. Most schools just give lip service to “Zero Tolerance.” This is clear in every tragic news story and in my own experience as a mom. We need to agree as a culture that kids are people, with the same rights to safety and dignity as adults. Kids can be fragile and insecure and kids can be angry enough about their home-lives that they seek relief by abusing someone they perceive as weaker. We need to intervene.