I still don’t feel I’m completely reconciled to this whole being an adult thing. But one advantage I will concede to is having the ability and freedom to speak out about what needs to be addressed. One of those things is the fact that bullying is far more common among our young people than we may like to admit.
There has been a lot of media coverage about this subject in recent years. One noticeable example is the non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes (Rosalind Wiseman), which inspired the movie Mean Girls. This drew attention to the kind of bullying that happens among girls, which is different than the bullying of boys, which often involves physical intimidation or violence.
This book shows examples of the different roles that girls play in the school cliques. It also discusses the psychological manipulation involved in getting followers for the head girl (queen bee) and how she controls others into joining her in her bullying. This type of abuse may be more emotional and less obvious than what is seen by boys but can be just as damaging.
Some would argue that bullying is more common today but I would state that it’s possible that our definitions have changed, and that it is now recognized for what it is: physical and/or psychological abuse. And with that shift comes the ability to discuss it in the open and not sweep it under the rug as may have been done in the past.
Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. Certainly conflicts could occur and friendships can end. Kids will say mean things to and about each other. But bullying is a systematic victimization of children who are perceived as weak or different. This cannot be brushed off as kids being kids, and adults who do not take this seriously are perpetuating the problem.
Even if children can have a tendency to be mean, it is up to parents, teachers, and administrators to teach them the way to behave. A school is a place for learning—and not just the subjects that will be on standardized tests. No child should feel afraid to go to school. It is our duty as adults to protect our youngsters, not tacitly condoning abuse by saying it is normal and doing nothing to stop it.
Interestingly, it is often bullies themselves who are insecure and that is their way of feeling that they belong, by controlling others or asserting their dominance. Bullies frequently go on to develop criminal behaviors. The victims can have psychological scars that manifest as anxiety disorders or physical health issues well into adulthood. Again, this is a real issue and not an everyday part of growing up—or it certainly shouldn’t be.
If you have young people in your life, develop a good relationship with them. You might be the one they can trust and turn to when they are ready to talk. Learn to recognize signs that they might be victims, or even bullies themselves. Perhaps that moody teenager isn’t just going through some annoying phase; it’s possible something way more serious is happening.
Most of all, if someone confides in you, take it seriously. You may need to take action as well such as contacting the school. Some parents have decided that homeschooling is a viable option after witnessing what their children had been subjected to at school by their peers. Before you write this off as a drastic overreaction, I would refer you to any number of examples in recent years of suicides of victims of bullying. If removing a child from school is what is needed to keep her or him from becoming yet another statistic then I am all for it.
Adulthood means setting an example and being a positive role model for those around us—of all ages. We need to set the standard that abuse will not be tolerated. We must realize how scary it can be for kids to navigate their way through the social minefield of their peer group. Growing up is hard enough, even without any dramatic problems.
Consequences of bullying can get passed along to the next generation. We must all work together to end this cycle. What if we were so successful that “bully” was listed in the dictionary as an archaic term that went out of use in the early 21st century? The way to make that happen is to start now, with those around us.