It is on the news. It is a big topic at our schools. It is the subject of legislation in almost all 50 states. All this attention on something that has been going on as long as there have been people on the planet seems like an overreaction to some and another example of how today’s parents are coddling their children to others. While this attitude may seem insensitive and callous, it isn’t usually malicious or ill-intended. To many of these people, being bullied was just part of growing up, almost a rite of passage that everyone had to deal with in one way or another.
But times have changed and even though the need for some people to bully others remains, today’s bullies are not the bullies from your childhood.
Parents and grandparents of today’s children sometimes struggle to understand why bullying has become such a big deal. They look back to their childhood and see themselves overcoming being bullied, standing up to their bully, walking away from their bully and becoming the bigger person. In this light, it is easy to see why people still view bullying as a part of childhood that builds character and teaches valuable life lessons. However, this nostalgic view of childhood doesn’t fit when superimposed on the lives of children living today.
For previous generations, most bullying happened on the playground, in the park, on the walk home from school. The places you could be bullied were limited, often to those few locations where there were no adults to intervene. You could, in theory, kick your bully in the shins and run home to safety. You always knew who your bully was because he or she was the one standing in front of you acting mean. Bullying wasn’t really a private matter because it had to be done in person. Even going after someone in the bathroom carried the risk of others walking in and intervening. Being a bully was a bad thing and even if the bully had some henchmen, he was the social outcast and the others banded around you when you took your stand.
As a child or teen today, you are generally bullied everywhere except the playground including inside the classroom, at lunch, at home in their bedroom, and in cyberspace. There is no limit to where or how often someone can bully you because they no longer have to be standing in front of you in order to harm you. This also means that it is very easy to bully anonymously which removes much of the social pressure not to do it to others. You can still run home, but you won’t feel any safer there because the way your bully can do the most damage is less likely to be physical than it is to be mental, emotional, and social.
The nature of bullying today, especially cyber bullying, lends itself to private attacks that are both pervasive and unrelenting. Today’s bullies are also more likely to travel in packs and less likely to be the social outcasts. They are often popular with lots of friends, which only increases the power they have to hurt others. Rather than feeling surrounded and supported by all the other kids on the playground who are being bullied by the bad kid, you feel isolated and alone as if you are the only one this is happening to.
Trying to chalk bullying up to a normal part of growing up or downplay the damage it does to the children of today doesn’t make the problem go away, it just makes it harder for the children and teens in your life to come to you and ask for help. If you know someone you think may be a victim of being bullied, encourage them that they are not alone. Don’t be afraid to talk to a teacher, parent, or healthcare professional to seek help. We all need to do our part to raise awareness that bullying is happening. In time, hopefully we’ll be able to recreate the cultural norm where once again, bullies aren’t celebrated, but called out for their behavior.