Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Continuing Issue Known as Bullying

Bullying has always been around. Years ago, people just ignored it or made excuses such as "boys will be boys" when something happened. So what has changed? Has bullying increased? Become more physical? No, I don't think so. I think that bullying is the same now as it was years ago in certain ways. It's unfortunate that it wasn't taken seriously years ago. For a long time, victims of bullying were told to ignore it. The people giving that advice must never have been bullied in their own youth. Tuning out bullying is like tuning out the barking dog when you're trying to sleep; you might learn to live with it but you never just ignore it.

I was trying to think of a good example to use so I decided to reference the 1999 movie, Never Been Kissed. In this film, Josie (Drew Barrymore) is a reporter that returns to high school undercover to write a story. Her original high school experience was full of bullying and taunting that culminated with the prom experience that would make anyone cringe. She eventually went to college and found people with similar interests to her own. She was able in some ways to move on from the experiences of high school, however they were always there in her mind and impacted decisions she made.

Now imagine that cell phones and YouTube had existed at the time. Not only was this poor girl tormented by her peers, now they've posted it online and it's gone viral. Suddenly, the awkward and horrible experience is everywhere. Josie can't escape it. Everywhere she goes, the video and a pre-conceived reputation follows. Although she was bright and went on to college, the video would follow. Moving on would be difficult when she would always wonder if people were being nice because they truly liked her as a person or felt bad for the girl from prom.

Cyberbullying is as old as the Internet itself. The ability to remain anonymous has allowed teens to become more viscous in their taunting. It also makes it more difficult for someone that is being bullied to find a safe place to get some peace. Where can someone go that Twitter doesn't follow? How can a victim prevent being victimized again when the video of his/her torment is posted to YouTube? While YouTube does allow you to report videos and try to remove them, this option is a slow process when it does work and the video has already been out there where it can be downloaded and re-posted.

Now more than ever, the Internet is so intertwined with life that it's impossible to just avoid it. Right now, as I write this post, I have flipped back to social media no less than ten times. I know that we can't stop bullying completely. It's a sad part of life. True or not, these posts and comments stay with us and influence the person we become.

So how can we help our students deal with the issues? Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. And "an eye for an eye" never works either. This is where digital citizenship comes into play. Instead of ignoring the problem we need to work within the system. Schools can try to block social media or claim to have zero tolerance, however it won't prevent students from getting on their phones or going home to post. School's can try but it's difficult to enforce policies outside the school building. We need to incorporate lessons on digital citizenship into the classroom.

Teachers and students need to work together to help each other. The Internet can be a weapon for bullies but it can also become a safe haven for victims. Someone might not feel accepted by their peers but that doesn't mean they deserve to be pushed aside or made an outcast. Use the Internet to search for local groups with similar interests. Do you live in a city but love agriculture? Do you live in a small town but love live theater? You can connect with other people online with similar interests. You might even find a local group of like-minded people to meet.

Let's start a discussion. Help find ways to combat the negative impact of bullying.

image source: Valentine’s Marathon: Never Been Kissed (1999)