October is national Bully Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, we are preparing some answers to Frequently Asked Questions surrounding the issue of bullying. If you have a question that you would like us to answer, you can message us on Facebook, or leave a question in the comments. We can’t answer every question individually, but we can try to get the “gist” of all of the questions and address the issues raised.
Question One: Why is Bullying Such a Big Deal “All of a Sudden”?
When bullying is brought up in conversation, a common sentiment is: “kids will be kids”. We hear people express this as part of a view that bullying is a normal, healthy “rite of passage” that prepares our kids for the difficulties of an adult world.
Another is: “That has nothing to do with my kids.” If someone’s kids don’t bully, and are not bullied, they don’t have to think about it. They forget that an unsafe or disruptive environment affects their children, even if they are not the perpetrators or victims of bullying. They overlook the fact that bystanders and witnesses participate by providing an audience and tacit support for the bullies if they do not take an active role in stopping it.
Another common sentiment is: “kids are so cruel”, said with a headshake and a helpless shrug. It implies an acceptance that bullying is an unfortunate, but unavoidable reality.
For most of us as children, this was the reality. Some kids just got picked on and tortured. If they could change their appearance, behavior or find some other way to avoid it, they might be able to put a stop to the bullying, but otherwise, they just had to outlast it, and wait until the bullies gave up or grew up.
We accepted treatment for our children that we would never accept for adults. Some behaviors that are dismissed as “bullying” in our schools would result in criminal charges, or a civil suit if committed in our adult workplaces.
Unfortunately, the times we are living in make it necessary for us to deal with this increasingly difficult and destructive problem. For one thing, the social dynamic that used to be limited to just a school, sports team or scout troop environment has become a 24-hour crowd-sourced phenomenon that follows our kids everywhere there is a peer with a cell phone or a computer.
When bullying goes online, the bullying persists even after those who instigate it stop their behavior. The images and “memes” (online jokes, sayings, images or other content that are passed “virally” from person to person on the internet) live on forever. There IS no “outlasting” it. The bullies may move on, but the content they put on the internet is there forever.
Further, a compromising image, personal information about the bullied person such as their home address or phone number, or other identifiable information revealed by others in the process of bullying online can actually endanger our kids. Having this information distributed on line, or through cell phones, exposes the bullied kids to predators at the same time that it causes depression, insecurity, helplessness, and a desire to flee their circumstances. These feelings can add to their vulnerability.
Exposure to bullying increases the risk of suicide, running away, victimization by predators who are on the lookout for kids in despair, poor academic performance, substance abuse, violence against the victim, as well as violent acting out from the victim. Pranks involved in bullying can result in the bullies, their victims, or both, becoming involved with the criminal justice system when pranks or retaliation get out of hand.
The stakes have always been high in bullying, but the ability of bullies to “mass produce” abuse through new technology has increased the risk of the worst outcomes for our children.
Bullying has always been a problem, but the problem is reaching critical importance for our schools, our communities, and for all of our kids. We need to teach our children to recognize the signs of bullying, help them develop skills for dealing with bullying, to avoid bullying behavior, and empower children who are by-standers to bullying to step up and speak out.
Missing Children Minnesota has programs to help children make safe choices, as well as a program for internet ettiquette and safety. Call (612) 334-9449 today to find out how to bring these programs to the children in your community.