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Again the headlines scream “…driven to Suicide..” , …hangs himself after bullies tease…” and sadly, it appears that we are reading the same articles we read only a few short months ago—with one important difference. Adults in authority knew what was going on, and had taken measures to keep young Joel Morales safe. According to one media source, relatives had even filed a police report, and Joel had been transferred to a different school. If this was not effective, what can be done?
Parents, teachers, and authorities are at a loss—but bullying is hardly the first social issue to be rather impervious to the efforts to change “normal” behavior. Think of alcohol abuse—how intractable it still seems, yet how effective AA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving became. The School Assemblies they spoke at are the only ones many parents today remember— parents who are now able to reach out to all manner of support when they discover their own children are abusing substances.
Think back even further, when wife-battering was put on the social agenda in the 1970’s. This physical abuse was—and still is–hidden and denied, because its victims fear retribution.—something often expressed by victims of (and bystanders to) bullying. Even though this fear persists, victims of battering have more options today than they did only a generation ago–and more than do victims of bullying today.
While drunk driving and spousal battering can still be pointed to, what has changed are the norms of society. The responses of others around the inebriated or the abused. Social support in all guises—formal laws and shelters to informal support groups–for victims, perpetrators, and others who are affected abound, and are readily available. More importantly, there are enough individuals who do not believe drunk driving or wife battering are cool, or even acceptable, and it is this informal network of support that has created safe spaces and modified behaviors. There are bystanders who are able to intervene—without fear of retribution. And it is changes in the day to day responses of bystanders that will slowly change the formidable issues that now characterize bullying. Culture is outraged—and this is the first crucial step. Outcry is being made, and the swell from below will change norms—but it will take time.
It is a well-known , sad-but-true irony that most wars have been fought in the name of religion. The same judgmental tendencies which armed the righteous on battlefields are now playing themselves out in Tennessee courtrooms. There, members of the Family Action Council of Tennessee ( FACT ) seek exemption from any ‘bullying’ laws that seek protections for, or educational initiatives designed to insure tolerance of, individuals who express LGBT identities. Legal locus is shifted to attributes of the victims, as opposed to the behaviors of the bullies.
‘All men are created equal’, when written, referred only to white men—legally. Men of any other race were not fully human ( and women were an entirely different story). Now it seems FACT wants to courts to acknowledge that men (and women) of all races are equal under the law, but not men (women) of all sexual persuasions. They are not entitled to protection in the pursuit of happiness—and their life and liberty may be at stake as well.
And on it goes. Ron Paul has even produced campaign ads that have been banned. These ads, like the statements above, are not lies. And admittedly, the stakes are high—presidential nomination of the republican party.
So is it ok to “play” in ways that state legislature is trying to ban in the schoolyards??
Mockery, out-of-context implications, cruel ‘asides’, and attempts to intimidate are all fair tactics we have no qualms about modeling for our children.
Perhaps they are ok for children to mimick since what is at stake for them is of even greater consequence to their daily well-being than any campaign is to the well-being of the candidates.
Be clear, outside the context of the campaign, we would call this behavior ‘bullying’
We all have done or said things that we might be held accountable for—just as Newt might be held accountable for the fact of his ethics violations censure or the fact of his numerous marriages, or Mitt for the facts surrounding his business decisions while running Bain capital, but can’t these facts speak for themselves?
Start the discussion with a concrete example that has been publicly censured: What about Ron Paul’s ads are not factual? What (if anything) about them is wrong?
Sadly, another teen, this one on Staten Island, has taken her own life, and both humiliation by peers and loss of relationship have contributed to her tragic decision. Amanda left a note—as if the comments on her facebook page weren’t enough.
Relatives, but not her school, knew of the bullying as well as her suffering.
What if doctors had known too?
Could neuropsychology come to play a role in helping the victims (even as we continue to address the problem itself?)
C. Nathan DeWall claims that research has found “common neural overlap between social and physical pain mechanisms.” In other words, the pain centers that light up in our brain when we experience social shame, rejection, and exclusion are the same pain centers that light up when we are physically injured. (This is probably evolutionary—rejection by a mother, and/or exclusion by the primary social group or tribe, would threaten survival as much as physical injury).
Which leads to the question, can medication designed to reduce pain-sensitivity—such as over the counter acetaminophen—help reduce the pain, thus preventing the suffer from reaching a threshold that is intolerable, and taking extreme action? Preliminary Research apparently indicates it can. Perhaps this fact needs to be added to our growing arsenal of tools attempting to address this social issue, and prevent tragedies like the one Amanda Cummings’ family is suffering.
“….yeah he found a six-shooter gun. In his dad’s closet hidden in a box of fun things, and I don’t even know what. But he’s coming for you, yeah he’s coming for you.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my bullets…”
—Foster the People.
I was truly puzzled to hear all the criticism of this song….people not letting their children download it, complaining that it shamefully glorifies tragic school shootings, that it encourages copycats, etc.
The obvious response– ‘but isn’t that what we want our rock music to be—a social commentary?’ was quickly followed by the realization that no-one of my generation went to school with the thought of gun-violence secreted in the back of their brain. It never occurred to us that a classmate might bring a gun to school. So kudos to this generation for putting the issues of their generation on the table for processing—in the parlance of their generation. “Adults” have hardly been able to address the topic in productive ways, or in language that is meaningful to those who do have to process the possibility—if not reality—of school shootings every day. Why would we even think to do anything less than use the song to open and encourage dialogue around the topic—whether that is what the band intended or not.
Michigan’s senate voted today to require schools to adopt anti-bullying PROGRAMS.
Kudos on taking action, and requiring more than a vaguely-certified bullying point-person in each school.
The politicians did their work.
What kinds of programs?
Will they be pre-emptive, or caught up with mediation and victim-services?
For K-12, or just targeted grades?
Is there funding allocated?
How extensive will they be? Are school assemblies considered ‘programs’??( What do you remember from school assemblies??) How about ‘poster-campaigns’ or ‘respect for all’ week? (Does anyone expect these type of initiatives to be “enough” to be effective?)
On what basis will such “programs” be adopted? (that is, who has answers and what are they?)
How long between the passing of this bill, the answering of these questions, the implementation of ‘programs’, and the assessment of their effectiveness?
In the meantime, what to do while we wait and watch?
Bills and Laws are great, but it really does take a village.
Teens (especially teen girls)…and their daily dramas….and the shocked remorse when the upshot is a suicide. We have begun ‘fixing’ the problem by affixing blame: it is ‘the bullies.’ We further assuage our consciences by becoming active in the outcry against the tolerance of relationally aggressive behaviors—especially at schools.
But still, people silently wonder—suicide? How could it have gotten that bad? I was (am) bullied. It seems it could only have gotten that bad if there was no support structure for the victim….But s/he could have gone to the guidance counselor, or to any of her teachers, or to me…I would have helped, so…… suicide? I Don’t Really Understand. Why didn’t she just…..
Gone to ‘helpful’ adults And What? asked them to step in and mediate, knowing all along that they might be able to address specific instances, but what of the daily nuances, what of the whole, what of the cumulative effect of the bullying, on top of all the other ‘stuff’ going on: on top of_____, as well as ______, and _____, and homework and parents and hormones?
It is a tangled web , as Hannah Baker explains in this extraordinary book.
Before she commits suicide. Read it.
As the scandal at Penn State continues to dominate the news, talk about why the key administrators and law enforcement ‘didn’t do more’ is accompanied by disgusted head-shaking: because of ‘fear of losing their jobs.’ Such speculation, while not wrong, has not taken into consideration ‘the bystander effect‘—which suggests that most of us would not have acted much differently.
Although the Huffington Post has already noted this angle, it bears repeating on a bullying blog site.
Of course they were afraid of losing their jobs, just as fourth grade bystanders are afraid of ‘telling’ on a bully, for fear of losing all that they have—their social standing in the schoolyard. But they also did what most bystanders do: they deferred responsibility, assuming that ‘someone else’ would take care of it. Paterno passed the buck to Curley, Curley to Schultz and presumably, Spanier. Spanier was let go immediately because as president, he should have stepped in. But as president, he must delegate, and he had Curley overseeing athletics…..and Curley of course deferred to the president….and round it goes…..each thinking the other was ‘handling’ the situation.
This is not to defend what they did, or to suggest that no cover-up was involved. But it is to add another consideration to our understanding of how and why it happened. Kitty Genovese had how many witnesses to her murder, all of whom deferred to the person in the next apartment, who might have seen something more….and ‘handled’ the situation.
It is a question of the cost of assuming responsibility in our society—how forgiving are we if someone ‘says something’ and is wrong? Not to mention, what is often (though clearly not in this instance!) the cost of being right?
Remember Kara Kowalski? Maybe not. 2005 was almost 7 years ago, and sadly, so many instances of cyberbullying like hers have been in the news since then. Kara, a cheerleader and reigning “Queen of Charm” at Musselman HS, created a MySpace page called S.A.S.H. and invited a number of her friends to check it out. In her deposition, Kara claimed that S.A.S.H. stood for Students Against Sluts Herpes, but her peers said otherwise. What it really stood for was Students Against Shay’s Herpes, Shay being a fellow student who was pictured on the page. Students posted photos, photoshopped them, left derogatory messages, and were, in general, demeaning and hateful. Kowalski , found guilty by the school officials of creating a ‘hate website’ which was against school anti-bullying policies, was suspended for 5 days, kicked off the cheerleading squad, and (ironically) prevented from crowning the next “Queen of Charm.”
Kowalski sued the school, claiming they violated her free speech and due process rights, and claiming the school had no authority to punish her, as she had created the website from her home.
She lost her case, and just this summer, lost her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. This has not deterred her. She is now seeking Supreme Court Review—and, sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court is going to need to revisit the issue of student’s freedom of speech, which they ruled on in Tinker vs. Des Moines in 1969 (see my earlier blogs on cyberbullying).
Julie Hilden, writing for CounterPunch, is hoping she does not get it. Hilden discusses the complexities in the case, most notably the fact that legal remedies already exist to address Shay’s rights, a fact which fritters away her need for school authorities to intervene on her behalf, and the blurring of lines distinguishing a bullying case from a First Amendment case. While Hilden’s arguments are convincing, Kowalski’s behavior was heinous, and surely bullying behaviors which the courts will need to address will be complicated, and involve Freedom of Speech issues. AND, for precisely that reason, the court will need to sift the complex set of factors which are involved in this claim, and determine which to prioritize in setting legal precedent. That would seem to be half the battle in such cases—‘seem to be’ from the perspective of a concerned citizen, not a lawyer. Refresh your memory of the case Would you want your school to be able to sanction Kowalski if she created a MySpace page about your daughter, turning her into a social pariah at school? Would it be reasonable to claim such a page would interfere with her ability to learn? (Are my pandering, emotional appeals going to be left to dangle off a legal chessboard? Should they be?)
Guidance counselors, parents, and concerned teachers have traditionally consoled victims with the adage “s/he only picks on you because s/he’s insecure”. Perhaps. But is this the whole picture? Maybe bullies aren’t acting out of their insecurity, but reacting to some other factor— physical or psychological.
In a 1988 study, Jack Katz interviewed hundreds of prisoners, and analyzed hundreds of criminal acts (from property damage to extreme violence against individuals). In a majority of cases, he discovered that the perpetrator felt humiliated, and that the crime was caught up with this feeling. That is, their angry, violent actions were reactions. They were responses to the ‘inadequacies’ (and their shame over them) that the bully felt—by being ‘dis’ed’ by their victim, or by some other, unrelated event which publicly humiliated them. Perhaps it is this initial action that ‘triggers’ an insecurity, a (mis?) perception of how others ‘must see them’ that must be responded to—publicly.
Bert Baruch Wylen’s Interview with his bully, in an article entitled “What My Bully Taught Me” http://life.salon.com/topic/interview_with_my_bully/ , seems to support this theory. Think back on your own experiences—as victim, bystander, or bully. Does this fit? Make sense?