School kids have always been a rowdy bunch but bullying in schools emerged as a global concern, and it is a topic that represents a pressing problem facing youth today.
The digital world has given bullies a new venue, often with little risk of consequence or retaliation. A clue, perhaps, as to the surge in public outcry and anxiety.
Recently, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl, Mallory Grossman, killed herself after allegedly being cyberbullied by her friends. A year ago, according to family members, 18-year-old Brandy Vela of Texas City, USA, shot herself in the chest following persistent harassment from a bogus account through her smartphone.
The Cyberbullying Research Center, an American organization founded by criminologists, defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm,” effected thru electronic means. Counseling for cyberbullying more than doubled in the past five years.
US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concedes that experiencing bullying in any way – even as a bystander – carries serious and lifelong repercussions for youngsters. Studies worldwide confirm the outcome can range from feelings of powerlessness and lack of connectedness to school, family and friends, to outright suicide.
In schools all over the world, a growing emphasis on standardized test scores as the foremost measure of “well-performing” schools has detracted from one of the most fundamental criteria for well-educated youth: regard and concern for the wellbeing of others.
To turn schools into responsible communities, children need to be persuaded that compassion and cooperation are every bit as valuable as reading and math.
It’s not that children have gotten meaner. It’s the fact that cellphones and the internet have made bullying more widespread, anonymous and unsupervised.
Through social media, one ominous comment can reach thousands of people in a matter of seconds. It’s not a situation an inexperienced victim can disengage from easily, or guard against. Such an act leaves no outward sign of abuse often, but plenty of anguish and grief.
In such an atmosphere, how can anyone be expected to do anything, much less attend school and learn.
Youngsters instinctively feel a need to fit in – to belong. When they are bullied, particularly by someone with access to advanced technology, it may seem like they’re desolate and alone, that the whole world is turning on them. The bullying is no longer limited to possibility and space, it’s much harder to escape.
Zero tolerance policies haven’t worked. In a rush to abide by current anti-bullying laws, many schools bought costly anti-bullying curricula, big glossy smart little binders that bring them closer to compliance while looking cute on a shelf.
Some argue that bullying is an intrinsic part of growing up, and that dealing with bullies is a workout for valiant souls, and a learning experience. But this misses the twelve-hundred-pound gorilla in the room: the kids are in school to work, not grow sideburns and street-smarts, and getting bullied stands in the way of learning.
While some bullying victims turn out fine, others are marred for life, relegated to a nation’s graveyards, hospices and jails.
But there is hope.
School cultures are shifting in some parts of the world toward more inclusiveness, less experimental practices and technology. In France, for example, the notion of curtailing the use of cell phones on school grounds is gaining support.
What the young need isn’t more jazz and joysticks. The future generation of every nation need shelter and a fair shake.
It’s time to reframe the argument over bullying.
It’s not just rowdy kids and errant sites on the internet. It is the failings and flaws of a society, and we must all stop and take heed. It will save lives.
(The author is a former teacher based in Los Angeles.)