There is a lot in the news about bullying. A whole social movement has developed that is anti-bullying. This is a good thing. The emotional immaturity that goes with degrading another person just to make your own life seem less pathetic is an evil in the harm it can do to both the victims and the survivors. I say this because many are bullied and don’t go down the dark path of suicide. They’re the lucky ones. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the human mind is a miraculous thing in its ability to cope – but in its strength is also its weakness. I firmly believe that much of what we deem mental illness is nothing more that the conscious mind’s way of dealing with unconsciounable circumstances. Because of this, there is a VERY thin line between coping and breaking.
As bullying got more and more press, I began to think – is it really an epidemic? Or is this another way that the media is taking something that has been going on forever and is only now giving it attention to sell advertising space with the buzz word of the day? This is in no way meant to belittle the pain of the stories we see on the news and Bullyville. What I’m saying is that as I listen to these stories I think to myself – “I remember having that happen to myself” and “that happened to someone in middle school.”
For whatever reason, and maybe a subconscious push on my part, I’ve talked to people that I went to high school with about some of these things. I was shocked to learn that every one of them could remember a time of being bullied – and more than one admitted to attempting suicide. Actually attempting – not just thinking about it.
Because of the media focus, it makes one thing that bullying is so much worse now that there is a higher rate of suicide. Is that true? Were my classmates just lucky in that their attempts weren’t successful? Did we cope differently then? Are kids – who by definition are emotionally immature – not taught appropriate ways to deal with things?
One difference I’ve noticed with my daughter’s play school. They teach that you don’t “exclude your friends” and if exclusion happens, they “talk” about their feelings and tell the “excluder” that it’s not nice and they don’t like it. This is definitely a different way than what I was taught by my father. I remember my father telling me that if anyone ever pushed me around, if I didn’t defend myself – to the point of beating their ass – then I would get my ass beaten when I got home. Still, even with this lesson, I was picked on to the point of delving into chronic depression as a teenager.
So where did things get worse? Is today’s approach better than what my father taught me? The media reports would suggest that, well, maybe not. But I know enough about the money-making goals of the media to know that they sensationalize things and focus on stories that more often than not, do not represent the majority of human experience. Again, this is not to belittle the trauma of those who are bullied. These are thoughts that have given me pause from saying “we need to go back to a time when we were willing to fight to stand up for ourselves rather than talk about our ‘feelings.'”
I don’t know what the answer is. I know it’s not suicide. Actually, suicide is not even the root issue – it’s what leads up to a child wanting to end his/her life that we need to focus on. My gut tells me it’s at least three things – the bullying behavior itself, teaching our children effective ways to cope and respond and a question that plagues every parent – if something horrific like this were to happen to my child, how could I have prevented it and why didn’t I know what was going on?
I guess one of the main questions is where did bullies learn the behavior and what is lacking in their own lives that bullying has become a way for them to create a false sense of self-esteem? I don’t know if I’ll ever know the answer to that question – and there may actually be more than one answer. I just hope that I can teach my daughter the respect that she needs – for herself and those around her so that she grows up into a strong young woman who defends herself, others and doesn’t need to bully people because she is comfortable and proud of who she is, the way she is.
All parents want this for their kids. It’s time parent actually start talking to each other on how to get this deadly social disease to stop spreading…before we have to buy more burial plots for our nation’s children.