WHY IS BULLYING SO DIFFICULT TO ADDRESS?
- All bullying is supported by normal, every-day social dynamics that include:
It's not the behaviors that are the problem--it's how they're used.
There is no oversight by bystanders, no consequences, and no need to assume responsibility cruel gossip, public humiliation, snide laughter, etc.
- 'MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS' Bystanders often refuse to interfere with bullying because they believe it is none of their business--even when it is clear someone is being abused. What 'right' do any of us have to intercede? Worse yet, what 'getting involved' makes you the next target?
- Public HUMILIATION and SHAME. What better way to get someone to 'fall into line' than to shame them--publicly or privately? Humiliation and shame are legitimate, even important social forces. They allow us to 'police boundaries' and to let someone know that their behavior is unacceptable. (Have you ever laughed at something a friend did, then had to assure them you were not making fun of them?). When laughter/ridicule intentionally rejects and isolates an individual, for no legitimate reason, it is difficult to negotiate--is there any way to make it stop and 'make things right?'
- The "SOCIALIZATION of CHILDREN. We often "discipline" our children by what professionals call 're-integrative' shaming. Parents and guardians laugh at a child's mistakes--or parody them--in ways that are inclusive. Laughter signals that a parent or teacher is not upset by the mistake, yet at the same time lets a child know that an error has been made. The take-away: children learn that laughter is the correct response to others mistakes! However, when laughter is not with the individual who has committed a trespass, it is at them. It is intended to humiliate, to emphasize difference, to demean.
- "DIFFUSION of RESPONSIBILITY." A fancy way to say "someone else will do (or has already done) something." Too often, no-one interferes with bullying because they expect--or are more comfortable--leaving it to others. The so-called "bystander effect" means that the more people who witness the incident, the less likely anyone is to act. Someone more qualified should/will/already has stepped in. (Besides, what are we supposed to do--especially if the victim 'deserves' to be reprimanded?)
- NEW CONNOTATIONS: Adults have difficulty understanding the stylings and nuances of youth culture. This is as it should be--young people are creating their own culture, one distinct from ours. Young people take ownership of words ("kicks," "drips," etc.) and gestures. They use them in new ways, apply them in new contexts, and change their their connotations and meanings. Their new usage often allows abuse to "fly under the radar" of adults, because these words and gestures are expressions of a culture to which we do not belong.
SO? THIS HAS ALWAYS GONE ON. WHY SHOULD IT MATTER NOW?
- Belonging is beginning to be recognized as a fundamental human need, like food and water. To be cast-out is to be isolated: to be judged not 'good enough' and bereft of supportive social bonds. Today, with so much focus on fostering 'independence,' admitting a "need" to belong looks--well, 'needy.'
- True Belonging involves the ability to make mistakes, and to make amends. Unfortunately, school-yard culture often unforgiving, and cyberspace Never Forgets.
- Identity: More than ever, young people feel pressured to belong, to be popular, to have many friends and and establish a social identity. In pursuit of these goals, young people can be relentlessly cruel. Socialized by video-games which simply 'start over,' they have not had empathy routinely modeled to them, nor are they convinced of its social merit.
- Narcissism: In a narcissistic culture (such as our own, with it's repeated, even obnoxious chants of 'We're Number One'), being respected and admired is extremely important. In fact, the opinion of others may be the only thing that matters. Those around us orient our behavior. They prioritize our actions and inform our reactions.
- The Social Media are all pervasive, making no-place safe. Degrading, photo-shopped pictures, secrets, and cruel comments can come into your house, 24/7, or can track you down on your phone.
- Entertainment value: Humiliation and rejection are funny--or so reality tv, radio phone-scams, and E-news would have us believe
- Cyberspace has aspects of fantasy-land: an individual can do or say what she or he likes, and someone, somewhere, will endorse her. Actions in cyberspace allow an individual to feel quite powerful. There are no immediate repercussions, and few, if any, checks on postings.
- With several windows open at once, and the ability to cut and paste responses, it is easy to gossip, start rumors, share confidences or creatively edit the content of communications. The potential to embarrass and humiliate is only limited by one’s imagination. Often, the intent is to become popular or be thought cool, and humiliating someone is merely a means to that end. Knowledge is power, and spreading juicy, salacious gossip is one way to be noticed, to bid for social standing.
- Face to face interaction restrains many behaviors–we not only wouldn’t ‘say it to their face,’ but because seeing the impact our words have is often enough to curtail cruelty. Cyberspace removes the checks and balances which moderate social life.
- Face to face interaction allows bystanders--and bullies--to see the pain their behavior has caused. It allows bystanders, victims, and bullies to read the body-cues that others give off, and to adjust behaviors on the basis of them. These are all missing from interactions that take place in a void.
- On the 'plus side,' cyber-technology has the potential to connect victims. The student who is mocked and shunned can seek alternate on-line groups that support her or his interests, views, or even her/his social suffering.