Traditional methods of bullying such as hassling underlings for lunch money or giving wedgies seem to have fallen by the wayside in light of new technology. For example, is it better to call a girl a slut in front of a few friends or to send a text message about her to everyone on your phone list? Would you rather leave a nasty message in someone’s locker or post it on your blog for all the world to see? Technology has given us great methods to communicate over large mediums, and yet it’s precisely these mediums that have caused a rise in cyber-bullying.
According to a recent article from Reuters (read article), bullying has spread from school yards and girls bathrooms into the very homes of students through text messages, instant messages, blogs, and other types of advanced technological harassment. The article goes on to state some statistics and mentions some measures schools are taking to make rules against cyber-bullying.
Despite our best efforts, bullying will always be a sad part of life for kids. For the kids who are bullied, they will doubt themselves, withdraw, and wonder if they matter at all. The bullies dehumanize themselves acting out of insecurity and anger or even both. Even the kid who wins the lunch money in the epic school yard battle loses himself in the end. But, hey, maybe bullying isn’t that big a deal, right? I mean, we all got through middle school and high school, didn’t we?
We all got through it; some of us barely got through. One thing I’ve learned in talking to a lot of youth workers is this–an awful lot of us invested in the lives of teenagers were bullied. And some of us were even bullies. While many act like the effects of being pushed around in gym class or teased mercilessly in middle school are over, our actions speak otherwise.
Maybe we just won’t let anyone get that close or perhaps we’re people pleasers. Maybe if we make fun of ourselves, then no one else will. Perhaps it’s that back-biting gossip we enjoy, since we’re no longer the butt of the jokes (we can always disguise it as a prayer request). Or maybe we just like the feel of being one of the “popular” kids…you know, the one who gets to sit next to the senior pastor or the author of the hottest new youth ministry book. For some of us, the effects of our pasts scream loud and clear.
And, yes, I was bullied and yes, it effects me to this day, though not entirely negatively. I know what it’s not like to be included, so I try to include others, to be kind, and to share. Those of us who were bullied cruelly can compassionately share our stories with teenagers to offer hope and perhaps remind bullies of the hurt they can cause.
However, I feel sick to my stomach to think of the humiliation of being scorned in this day and age on blogs, e-mails, text messages, and so on and so forth. While students may not be worried about having a bully steal their lunch money, they have to wonder whether or not they’ll be slammed on their arch rival’s blog after school. Maybe teenagers shouldn’t care what other people think…but then again, isn’t that part of being a teenager?
I’d love to open a proactive discussion on how youth workers and those interested in teen culture can start raising awareness about this issue without coming across as lame do-gooders. Please post or e-mail me with your ideas. This is a topic I’m interested in exploring with like-minded individuals. Or, hey, let’s get a list of resources going.
Thanks to Gman for making me aware of this article via his blog!