“You’re ugly. You’re stupid. You have no friends. Don’t sit by me! Everyone hates you!” Ever stop to think about just how powerful your words are once they depart from your mouth? Words may just be the most lethal in our arsenal of weapons. This applies even more so in junior high/high school where acceptance is vital to one’s ego. While physical wounds will heal, emotional wounds are likely to forever haunt us. Even when we think we’ve overcome our childhood emotional trauma, like a thief in the night, it will manage to return and claim yet another piece of our self worth. Words have the power to build a person up, and consequently, to tear a person down. Bullying among children is not a new phenomenon. But, having children of my own who are reaching the age of the “bully,” I find myself pondering the whys, hows, and what ifs surrounding these aggressive attacks. Why do bullies bully? How do they choose a target? How does the targeted child cope? What can we, as parents, do to prevent our kids from becoming the next statistic?
We know that the bully’s motive is simply to mask his own insecurities. He is fueled by two things: a succumbing victim and a pack of followers cheering him on and providing him the social validation needed to further raise his own self-esteem…in other words-to gain social status at the cost of another’s demise. We also know a bully will choose as his target anyone lacking the one most coveted possession by any and all teens: popularity. Without it…well, you’re nobody, therefore fair game for ridicule. The wrong look, clothes, labels, friends, size, sexual orientation, parents…any one of these “differences” can doom one to social exile. It seems that these days, one doesn’t necessarily have to fall into the “unpopular” category. One can fall victim to bullying simply by making an enemy out of the wrong person. Getting just one person’s feathers ruffled can result in a domino effect…bullying by association. “My friend said she ______. Don’t speak to her anymore. If you talk to her, you’re not my friend.” By the end of the week, a small transgression against this one person has grown into mass treachery of the most unforgivable kind. From here, the victim spirals downward thinking his reputation is irrevocably damaged. While some adults tend to minimize the mini-dramas created by their kids, this kind of social devastation can be paralyzing to children. Some become severely depressed and lose interest in every aspect of their lives. They may refuse to attend school in an attempt to avoid the inevitable taunting… tragically, to some suicide seems the only imaginable solution. Children as young as 11 have committed suicide as a means of desperate escape from the emotional tortures of bullying…both from school and from technology. The newest bully on the block: the internet. Children were once able to escape their social hell at school and feel safe at home. But with home now becoming a battleground on which they are attacked via facebook, email, texting, etc., there is no “safe” place for retreat. So now a sense of social drowning is taking over, and the idea of suicide is more and more seductive to teen and pre-teen victims.
Perhaps the only real way to confront this epidemic is head-on. Many victims’ parents are speaking out on the fact that schools are looking the other way when it comes to bullying. Our silence is not only providing the cover needed to conceal these devastating social attacks, but it also robs victims of the validation needed to fight back. The cost of this “let’s not get involved-it’s not our problem” attitude is loss of innocent lives, not to mention the broken spirits of countless other victims who may entertain the thought of opting out of life. We owe it to our kids to give them the ammo needed to fend off attackers. Schools and parents are the two main educational resources available to children. If we don’t get involved, who will? Perhaps a solution lies with schools including lessons on bullying as part of the curriculum. Armed with knowledge, understanding, and exposure of the behavior, victims may be better equipped to cope with impending fallout. Maybe this same knowledge and understanding will trigger self-analysis on the part of the bully, while also creating a little empathy for his victim. Exposure can be quite the effective deterrent. Without doubt, this behavior will never go away. But isn’t it our job as parents, educators, and nurturers of our children to arm them with the education and awareness needed to fight against and conquer one of the most prevalent trials of growing up…social warfare?
Maybe it’s time to bully the bully?
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes