Bullying has been around since probably the dawn of time. From generation to generation, in schoolyards worldwide, kids have had to deal with a minimum of at least one bully in their lifetime. Growing up, I was one of those lucky kids, and I can honestly and openly say that bullies made my life a living hell.
This isn’t a sob story about how being teased and ridiculed daily had made me hate everything about myself, although it did. Instead I look at it as my way of redemption. I’d like to think that maybe my years of torment served a purpose. It forced me to really learn how to love myself, even when it felt impossible. It also made it possible for me to provide a firsthand view on how and why bullying occurs. What it really feels like and does to a person. As well as how to recognize and prevent it.
The Ugly Truth
At one point bullying was almost considered a childhood rite of passage. While still frowned upon, there was much more of a “kids will be kids” attitude towards the behavior. We were taught mantras such as “I’m rubber, you’re glue” as an effective measure to deal with being teased by our peers. As kids the mentality was that you had one of three options. To fight, to stand up for yourself, or to flee.
Growing up I decided my best course of action was to try to ignore my bullies. This is the advice that you may have also given to your children at some point. I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t fight, or tell an adult. I more so just silently hoped it would all go away and that I would someday earn my way into popularity. I thought that if I ignored my bullies they would lose interest in me. It didn’t go away, it followed me from grade school into junior high. No matter how tough or resolute you may think you are, when a group of people spend that much time and effort into making you feel like an outsider and a freak, you eventually do. Things didn’t get much better for me in high school either, I just started fighting instead and getting suspended from school. A drastic change in your child’s behavior or grades at school and home are a classic sign that something is going on in their life. So please pay attention to it.
A New Danger
With the internet era, bullying has taken on a whole new and more horrifying face. The bullies have become anonymous and more vicious. The victims have become faceless, and in a way defenseless. It’s a lot easier to be mean when all that is in front of you is a computer screen. People have become detached and unaware of the consequences their actions, and more importantly their words have while on the internet. With everyone and everything today connected through social media, it’s much harder to avoid and ignore the bullies. You can’t defend yourself against something that’s virtual and anonymous either.
Long gone are the days of kids teasing other kids in the schoolyard. Bullying is no longer dismissed as the innocence of children. The consequences have become very real and apparent to most of us. The most tragic of cases being of people taking their lives, or harming others as a direct result of bullying. Bullying and cyber bullying have evolved into an epidemic that become worse with each passing day.
When most of us think about bullying, we think about it occurring amongst the youth of our world. Perhaps that’s because they are the most vulnerable and easily affected by the opinions of their peers. Or perhaps because we are parents and are accustomed to putting their needs first. Social media and the internet have no only escalated the austerity of bullying however, it has also increased its reach and number of victims.
There are even entire Facebook groups full of adults that are dedicated to trolling and tearing down anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths online. From children, to adults, and even celebrities and public figures- no one is safe or immune.
The Big Bad Bullies
When I was younger, I was bullied for being a social outcast. I didn’t seek out to be a bookworm, or to prefer poetry over sports. I especially didn’t try to be unpopular. I was just me, and who I was at the time was the weird kid. I haven’t changed much in my later years other than now, I’m the weird grownup instead of kid but that’s beside the point. I’ve learned through my adversity to never let go of who I was despite the odds stacked against me.
That’s just the way things were back when I was in school. The jocks picked on the nerds. The cool girls teased the homely ones, and everyone teased the weird kid. I got to spend a lot of time to myself thanks to that unpopularity, to think about why this was happening to me.
I realized a lot of kids bullied me out of their own fear. They wanted to be accepted and to fit in and who could blame them? I wanted the same thing. That was until I realized how much that fear and need for acceptance really controlled them. I may have sat alone during lunch a lot, but at the very least I was free to be myself. I didn’t have to act a certain way or say just the right things to make friends. I watched as these kids struggled to not lose their individuality and it was a battle very few of them won.
Others were not the copycats. They were the initiators. They were equal parts mean and vigilant. It seems they never missed an opportunity to crush my spirit. Their attacks were never invited or warranted, they just happened. It wasn’t until years later that I realized exactly why some of these kids were so cruel to me. Many had an abundance of unresolved issues and were lashing out, not only as a way to vent their frustrations and hide their pain, but also as a call for help. A call that went unheard by everyone around them. While we seek to raise awareness about kids who harm themselves due to bullying, it is important to remember that some kids (or people) self-harm in ways that are not so obvious. These kids need the most guidance in my opinion.
A Hopeful Future
Across the globe, people have taken a stance against bullying. There are antibullying campaigns, stricter school policies, and improved methods of reporting and removing it from social media. Even movies and television shows are boldly addressing these issues. In many households, there have been discussions to prevent and cure the bullying epidemic amongst our children. We encourage kids to stand up to bullies and be kind to one another. Together we hope not only to make a great effort to raise awareness about bullying, but to put an end to it. By raising awareness, we can help not only the victims, but we can help the perpetrators as well. We understand better the drastic effects that bullying can have on a person’s morale and mental health. We can teach our children to not only defend the victims of bullying, but to be a friend to them as well. There is an abundance of knowledge and resources to recognize the signs of bullying and how to approach the situation properly. We also better understand why children lash out and may bully their peers. Often, it’s because they have their own unresolved issues and need help as well.
The Unexamined Truth
Raising awareness and increasing both our comprehension and the ramifications of bullying are key factors in putting an end to it. What if however, we were overlooking a major factor as to why kids are cyber bullying each other and with such maliciousness? What if we as adults were a part of the problem? Any adult who is even slightly internet savvy can see the connection. Adults often behave online exactly how we expect our children not to. We are quick to voice our opinions but not always as quick to consider if it might be viewed as offensive. Perhaps our children are mimicking our nonchalant attitudes towards the comments we make on social media. Just as it is for our children, it is much easier for us to act out of character while online.
For many of us our greatest internet offense may have been a snide remark on a political post that is rude or controversial. Or maybe criticism of a person that can be considered harsh or mean. There is a far more sinister and increasingly popular side of social media however, most commonly known as trolling. Trolling in its most innocent definition is just messing with people online. Trolls can be funny but are mostly more annoying than anything in these instances. Some trolls however, take things a little too far. Making personal attacks and cyber bullying people.
Just last week I was trolled out of a mom group on Facebook. I made a post after joining to introduce myself to the group. Within moment there were at least six women on my post trolling me. They snatched photos from my profile and teased me about how my house looks and other various things about my life. I signed off vowing to give these “internet trolls” no further mind. The next time I logged on however, I discovered that over the course of thirty-two hours, more and more women had joined in on trolling me. They berated and insulted everything about me. Made up stories about me being a drug addict and a bad mother. One woman even googled my information and threatened to contact my family members and tell them I was an unfit mother. All because I made a simple post saying hello. As much as I tried to remind myself that this was only the internet and that I am a grown woman- their words stung. I left the group and decided against trying to join anymore of them. For me the repercussions were minor. While I was saddened, and angered by their bullying, I could leave the group and put the incident behind me. As we all have sadly come to know, that is not the case for everyone.
As adults, we post and say whatever we please and that is our most common defense for doing so. We argue that it is our social media accounts and we can say what we want. Or that kids don’t belong utilizing the internet for these purposes anyway. Some of us post privately in groups, where only the members can see. Or limit the access our children have to our profiles and content. We are naive if we believe that kids everywhere don’t have access and are not interested in things like Facebook and Twitter. We may block our own children from what we post, but when something is put out into the public, what is to say someone else’s child can’t see it. If we as adults are willing and readily tear each other down, insult each other on social media, what example are we setting for younger generations?
Obviously, there is no way to control or police the internet. Nor should we want to. I am probably the last person that should ever be able to tell a person to sensor themselves. I do however believe that we should lead by example. What we say and do online does set a precedent and while I may not be able to tell other people what they can and cannot post, I can most certainly make sure the comments I put out there are uplifting and kind. I know I can’t shield my children from everything they may see on the internet or otherwise, but I can educate them about it. I can teach them to be mindful of what they put out there on social media as well. About the harm that it can cause, even if only to them it seems like a harmless joke. I can also teach them how not to give internet trolls what they crave the most, attention and an audience. To stand up for what is right, and to make a stand against bullies. I can also teach them to be kind even to those who hurt them, because at the end of the day, those are the ones who need it the most.
We may be a long way off from ending bullying, it may even in fact be a battle that we will still be fighting until the end of time. We can however, change our outlook on it. We can break the habits our children copy that lead to this path. We can stop allowing the opinions of strangers to make or break us. Because yes, we still do that as adults and even outside of the internet. Most importantly we can teach our young ones to love who they are regardless of what anyone says or thinks. Remember folks, if you don’t have anything nice to say- don’t pick on other people to improve your own feeling of self-worth. Be good to one another, because it is important in this technological age that humans remember their humanity.