We hear or read this word all the time in headlines and newsfeeds throughout the social media world. Cyber bullying. Another term only youth in this generation might truly grasp or understand. How serious is it? Is it at epidemic proportions? What is being done, if anything, to prevent or ‘punish’ bullies?
During first year at speaking at high schools, I will never forget the first time I heard of such a severe case of bullying. (This goes way beyond teasing.) I always had my students answer questions on paper and I would give them time to just tell me anything. One young lady at a local high school wrote that on her gymnastics team she had a teammate that was actually being bullied by other teammates. They went as far as to tell this teammate to ‘go ahead and kill yourself, no one will care anyway.’ Wow. Sad to say, I have heard that story too many times. Just recently a young man at a middle school who regularly gets bullied (made fun of for his small stature, wearing glasses and being smart) was told by his bully to ‘kill yourself. You are a piece of junk so just kill yourself.’ The young man wrote on the bottom of an English assignment how he was going to take his own life. The English teacher told the administration and he got into counseling. Maybe you ask yourself, what happened to the bully? I don’t know.
About three years ago, I became aware of cyberbullying situation. A young girl was being contacted on Instagram by older boys… she was told to send them nude pictures. If she didn’t, they were going to spread rumors about her. In her head, she knew if she did, there was a chance those pictures would get out. Well, she choose to send the pictures (even though she didn’t want to.) She was the one that got in trouble. I started having conversations with girls and discovered how common this is. I was shocked.
This school year I started volunteering at my local middle school. My first week there, while supervising activity time in the gym, a young man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. He asked if he could tell me something. Of course I said yes. He said (and pointed), “I punched that kid over there.” I saw a bigger young man crouched over, crying, holding his gut. The kid that turned himself in was crying; it was a mixture of, I know I did wrong but I am so angry, kind of crying. As I began the process of getting an administrator, I put my arm around the young man and asked why he punched him. His response, “I couldn’t take it anymore. Everyday he puts me down about my mom. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
With these stories, so many things come to mind. Yes, there is always the question about whether the school is doing enough. I can tell you as a former teacher, it’s not as cut and dry as you might think. We do miss things. I was just feet away from the ‘fight’ in the gym. I didn’t hear or see anything. (I was supervising over 100 students.) There is also always two sides to every story and it is difficult to find the truth in all situations. It’s not as easy of a job as you might think. But what really weighs on me is all of the ‘innocent’ by-standers. When this kid turned himself in, not a single other student stopped what they were doing. Not a single other person came with him. Not a single other student got involved. Certainly there are students that are hearing or seeing this daily, but they aren’t doing or saying anything. When I ask a class of students if bullying is an issue, every hand will go up. When I ask what they have done about it, they sit in silence staring at me. Have we, are we raising a generation of youth that don’t stand up for what is right? For protecting the innocent? For believing in justice? They see or hear their peers putting down, threatening others and don’t step in and say “hey, that’s not right.” Why?
Do you know the story in the New Testament of the Good Samaritan? The priests, the Levites just walk by the guy beaten up on the side of the road. But, the horrible Samaritan man stops and helps him. Are we the ones that do nothing? We say it’s someone else’s problem, someone else needs to step in and stop it. The school, the parents, etc. Maybe it’s our kid that’s the bully! (GASP!) I mean heck, on social media and otherwise, I see and hear adults being rude and being bullies. I wonder where the kids are learning their behaviors from? (Can you read the sarcasm in that question?) I have to also ask myself; if I see an adult being wronged, do I step in? Do I confront others when I know they are doing or saying something that is wrong? Hmm…….
In all honesty, this is a societal problem. I have taught and lived in many places. Bullies come from all different backgrounds, as do the victims of bullying. I know of wealthy, successful students who get bullied. I know of poorer, failing students who get bullied. I know bullies that are the straight A, I go to youth group kids. I know bullies that are the exact opposite. We can focus on the problem, or we can be a part of the solution. I think there are two basic steps that need to occur:
- We need to acknowledge, admit and accept that this is going on in our schools and in our communities. There is no shame in doing this.
- We need to take personal responsibility to do our part. This could mean looking at our own behaviors and attitudes and what we are modeling for our young people and making changes. It also could mean having a real, deep conversation with our own child.
This problem is never going to completely go away. There have always been bullies; I mean, Pharoah and the Pharisees were not nice guys! We can point fingers and be part of the problem, or we can own our part and do everything and anything in our power to be part of the solution.
What do you choose?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I would love input as to what specifically can be done to help. Reason 4 Hope is active in our schools and communities. We are determined to make a difference. We are determined to bring hope, love and encouragement to others. We know of a curriculum that can be used in schools (health classes, homerooms, after school programs) that addresses many social and emotional issues with youth and teaches coping skills. Should this be pursued as something viable for schools or the community? There are speakers who can talk about their own journeys of bullying (both sides), the ramifications and the overcoming. Should we bring speakers in? Is there specific training for adults on how to help, spot or deal with bullying? Should there be a community event open to the public/parents regarding this issue? Like a forum of sorts.
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