It can happen to anyone.Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by: David Root
The media is abuzz with the story of Amanda Todd, the 15-year old BC student who committed suicide last week, after posting an emotional plea for help on You Tube a week previously.
I’ve watched the video, and it is heart-wrenching. That a young person could feel that alienated, that alone, and that helpless is almost beyond comprehension. Almost.
That so many young people have committed suicide underscores the fact that there are youth who feel that way. Amanda Todd was just the latest, but I fear she won’t be the last.
Everyone seems to have an opinion. Sadly there are those who, while not stating outright that she had it coming, aren’t terribly sympathetic to the situation.
Fortunately, most posts I have read have been sympathetic.
One poster stated that what happened wasn’t really “bullying,” but harassment and assault, and that calling it “bullying” is simply dumbing-down a situation that is much more complex.
Bullying is defined as the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others.
I have heard people say that bullying is just part of being a kid, and suggest that everybody gets bullied at some point.
That may be true. That doesn’t make it right.
It isn’t something that you can just “get over.”
Much attention is being given to the role of social media in this and other cases.
Cyber-bullying is a problem, as it is much easier for bullies to seek out and harass their victims online. The internet provides a sense of anonymity, or at least a virtual curtain behind which to hide.
For instance, slip a note into someone's locker and you might be seen by someone, or by surveillance cameras — something that was not even considered when those of us who grew up in the 50s, 60s, or even 70s.
One is less likely to be caught when sending them a note on Facebook, by email or online chat. In fact, since it is all too easy to set up a fake Facebook, email or chat account, anonymity is almost guaranteed.
There is some suggestion in online discussions, here in SooToday and on national media sites, that today’s teens are perhaps too sensitive, that they allow themselves to be bothered by remarks that they should just ignore.
Unfortunately, what we, as adults, consider to be a very "slight insult or remark" is not seen as such by teenagers. This isn't just a case of being politically correct or overly sensitive.
We now know that the brain does not fully develop until about age 21-25, and that it is the area of the brain that controls judgment that is the last to develop.
This leaves young people susceptible both to misinterpreting casual remarks and to taking insults to be more serious than they perhaps should.
For that matter, a note that says "You should die," is difficult to pass off as a "slight insult or remark."
One SooToday poster has suggested that it is only the weak who are bullied, kids that won’t stand up and defend themselves from bullies. I can’t agree with that.
I tried standing up to my bullies, and defending myself from the abuse. But one against two, or a group, stands little chance of stopping bullying from happening.
I know. I was a victim of bullying.
I moved into a new neighbourhood, and started going to a new school. Two brothers who lived up the street, known for being ‘troublemakers’ took to picking on me on the way home from school, pushing, punching, and knocking me to the ground.
I said nothing to my parents, at first, out of fear of getting it worse than I was. Eventually my parents did find out, and my mother went up the street to speak to their mother. She insisted hers were good boys who wouldn’t do such a thing.
Eventually some of the neighbour who witnessed this daily ritual called the police. Their intervention stopped them from bullying me.
I’d like to say that was the end of it.
Instead, other kids took to picking on me, teasing, pushing, punching me, and one day even tying me to a tree.
I will admit that their bullying wasn’t as bad — not as violent and malicious — as that I experienced from the brothers, but neither can I describe it as entirely “good-natured fun.”
Two things ended the bullying.
The first was a one-on-one fight with a classmate. I clocked him in the chin with my book bag. By the laws of the playground, I won that fight and his respect. After that the others, for the most part, just stopped bullying me and accepted me as one of the crowd.
The second thing that happened was that there was another “new kid” arrive at our school.
I am ashamed to admit that I participated in bullying him.
He didn’t get tied to a tree, nor did he get as physically abused as I was — at least, so far as I know — but he was teased rather mercilessly.
This is, perhaps, where people adopt the view that “bullying is just part of being a kid.”
I will agree that, in many cases, new kids are teased. For that matter, almost any kid can is probably teased at some point. It doesn’t make it right, even if most do just “get over it.”
A bit of teasing is one thing; outright bullying is something else altogether.
For example: knocking the books out of someone's hands once could be considered a joke. When this happens every day, every time the bully encounters the victim, then it is bullying.
That some kids do move on after being bullied does not mean that those who don’t are weaker. There are far too many factors at play for these situations to be that cut-and-dried.
It’s far too involved to discuss in this limited space, and there is a wealth of research available online. We need to understand, though, that there are kids who cannot handle being bullied, for whatever reason.
There is a great deal of discussion at many levels on how to address the problem of bullying, and the related problem of teen suicide.
While not all teen suicides are the result of bullying, many are.
Proposed solutions range from yet more study to developing more anti-bullying programs to stricter punishment for bullies to increased funding for children’s mental health programs.
I will admit that I don’t know what the answer might be, but I question the effectiveness of the suggestion.
From an adult point of view, increasing the availability of mental health counselling and support programs sounds like a great idea. The problem is that young people, much like adults, attach a great deal of stigma to “mental health” issues.
It is getting better, but there is a very long way to go.
Think of it from a kid’s point of view. You are being bullied. Some people are telling you to just ignore it, or to get over it. Others are suggesting that perhaps you should seek some counselling.
It’s bad enough that you can’t seem to handle this situation, but do you also want to admit that you have a “mental problem?”
I haven’t yet seen the movie Bully, but I hope to. I have been following it on Facebook, and am encouraged by the schools and community groups that have got on board in spreading the message: Bullying is wrong.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it is almost beyond comprehension that a young person could feel that alienated, that alone, and that helpless.
Talk to the young people in your lives. Better still, listen to them. Hear what they are saying and don’t be quick to dismiss their concerns as trivial. To them there is nothing more important that what is happening in their lives: who likes them and who doesn’t, whether or not they fit in. Whether or not anyone cares.
Encourage them. Love them. Show them you care.
Be there for them.
And if you know a young person who is a bully, talk to them. Listen to them. Show them you care. Explain why what they are doing is not acceptable, and help them find a better outlet for their feelings.
Be there for them.
It’s a tough world for today’s youth.
Bullying happens. It can happen to anyone.
But… that’s just my opinion.