“Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up; it has serious long-term consequences,” says Stephen Luntz in an article, “Study Finds Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse” [http://www.iflscience.com/brain/price-bullying-measured].
But wait. Look at that title again. “Bullying Affects Mental Health More Than Child Abuse“?
Yes. That’s an accurate headline, not just clickbait.
“Our results showed those who were bullied were more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those who were maltreated,” says Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick in the article. “Being both bullied and maltreated also increased the risk of overall mental health problems, anxiety and depression.”
He adds, “It is important for schools, health services and other agencies to work together to reduce bullying and the adverse effects related to it.”
Again, duh. Easier said than done.
And how big is the problem? A CBS News poll reports that most Americans reported being bullied at some point while growing up http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-news-poll-majority-of-americans-were-bullied-as-kids/. Only 41 percent report never being bullied.
“Just” 10 percent said they were bullied “a lot.” That’s still a lot of children who are bullied a lot.
I know I was. And I’m willing to bet that many of you were too.
So what’s to be done?
Well, we know what doesn’t work.
Telling those who are bullied:
“They’re just joking.”
“Learn to take a little teasing.”
“You’re too sensitive.” (my personal favorite)
“Learn to fight back.”
“Get used to it.”
“Just ignore it.”
“What they say doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t let them see that they hurt you.”
“Laugh it off.”
“Handle it yourself.”
“Try to make friends with them.”
“Give them what they want and they’ll leave you alone.”
“Don’t give them what they want and they’ll stop.”
“Stay away from them.”
“Stand up to them.”
“Get your friends together when they’re around.”
“Tell your parents/teacher/principal.”
“Take karate lessons.”
“Avoid the second floor bathroom (or wherever).”
(If you have any other favorites, let us all know in the comments!)
Look again at that list. They are pieces of advice to the VICTIMS of bullying on HOW NOT TO BE BULLIED. What’s wrong with this picture?
Feminists and their allies have begun questioning the advice given to women on HOW NOT TO BE RAPED. Instead, they say, the focus should be on teaching men HOW NOT TO BE RAPISTS.
And apparently, this approach is having some success.
Of course, bullying is not rape; the analogy breaks down quickly. But both are about power and “the other” – asserting dominance over someone who is different.
In bullying, that difference can be real or merely perceived, and can be literally anything – weight, height, intelligence, socioeconomic level, race, ethnicity, popularity, clothing, sex, gender, hair color, disability, athletic prowess, speech, preference of superhero. The criteria for who is a victim seem completely arbitrary, because they are. The victim is the other, someone who is by definition different.
Is it fair, or even reasonable, to tell victims to alter whatever it is about themselves that makes them different? It can be soul-killing to have to pretend you are not smart, not poor, not gay, not Muslim. It can be impossible to pretend you’re not short, don’t have a disability, are good at sports. And why should victims have to, any more than women should never go out alone at night or never flirt?
We need to start teaching kids HOW NOT TO BE BULLIES, not how not to be bullied.
Some specifics, like this:
“If you think another kid is gay, ignore it.”
“If someone is not as popular as you, so what?”
“if a kid in your class dresses funny, don’t say anything.”
“If it’s not fun for everyone, stop.”
“Don’t hit people because you don’t like the way they look.”
“Don’t joke about people who don’t enjoy it.”
“Don’t call people anything but what they want to be called.”
“If someone is unhappy, don’t make it worse.”
“If someone is smarter or less smart than you, form a study group.”
“If someone has less money than you, do things that don’t cost money.”
“If someone is always dropping her books, help pick them up.”
I’m not an educator or a child psychologist – just a former smart, scrawny girl with weird hair and poor eyesight. In other words, bully-bait.
Maybe my ideas won’t work. But what we’re doing now sure doesn’t. That poll I mentioned earlier suggests that bullying is actually increasing, despite all the attention the topic is getting. Generalities like “All people deserve your respect” and “Celebrate differences” and “Be-kind-keep-your-hands-to-yourself-no-hazing-no-fighting-no-name-calling” aren’t getting the job done.
Bully culture is well and truly entrenched in our society. To change that, we need to change the culture – if for no other reason, to head off all those mental health problems waiting up ahead for bullied children.
Who’s with me?