Shamed by bullying, shaped by hope

Bullying is a real problem facing our youth today. Learn more about the ways bullying has changed over time and how you can take steps to stop it.

Throughout popular media, bullying has been illustrated as a rite of passage for youth in westernized cultures. It was (and in some cases, still is) a common scenario to see a bully picking on someone is usually smaller, bespectacled and shy. In the movies, this victim often possesses an unnatural amount of self-confidence and “grit” that helps them find a way to outdo the bully or show them up (usually after a montage of some sort). In the Hollywood ending, the victim gets the girl (who realizes the bully was a jerk in the first place) and everyone rides off into the sunset with a football/basketball/karate championship under their belt.

This kind of dramatization paints a very rosy picture of what it means to be bullied. It is easy to dismiss bullying as “normal” or just kids being kids with this narrative in mind. In fact, it makes it easy at times to become perplexed by all of the attention that bullying receives these days. Unfortunately, in real life the victims of bullying don’t often possess the fortitude to give their bullies their commupence. The nerdy kid trying out for the football team is not going to magically win the big game because of his understanding of science. It’s more likely he will endure even more bullying at the hands of the rest of the team.

Aside from the football scenario, the forum, format and landscape of bullying has changed as well. In many ways, the breadth of technology’s reach has rendered adults’ perspective on bullying irrelevant to today’s youth. Back in my day, a bully had a couple of options for how and when to victimize people. You had the six or seven hour school day, or possibly a bus ride home. Bullies could pass notes, shout insults, threaten physical violence or if you were particularly enterprising, you could create flyers to be passed around school. However, thanks to the rise of the internet and social media, it is now possible to spread rumors, embarrass or otherwise generally harass victims 24/7 365 days a year. And if bullies are really lucky, their efforts can go viral: now instead of embarrassing someone in front of a few peers or even the whole school, they can embarrass victims in front of two or three million YouTube viewers or Instagram followers.

When one begins to look at the actual state of affairs of modern bullying, and drops the narrative of the underdog, it becomes clear that this is a real problem facing our youth. In this context, it becomes easier to see how a child who falls into despair and feels like there is no hope can do something as drastic as taking a life (their own or someone else’s).

In an effort to stop or prevent bullying, there are a number of ad campaigns, research projects and curriculums that exist. Regardless of the format, they all boil down to three key steps that Michigan State University Extension encourages adults and youth alike to take to combat the effects of bullying.

  • Equip youth with the perspective and hope that allows them to endure.
    • It is important for youth to realize bullying doesn’t last forever and life is bigger than middle or high school. Hope and potential are incredible tools.
  • Stand up for and defend others who are bullied

    • Encourage youth to look out for each other. If bullies have no audience, or the audience reacts negatively, then the stimulation or pay off for the bully is removed.
  • In spite of their actions, treat bullies with love and respect based on their own inherent value

    • This once can be the most difficult, especially if the bully’s actions are especially heinous. However, bully in question may be dealing with some kind of issue themselves and the bullying is the outlet for their troubles. As adults who work with youth, it is important to get to know your youth well, so you can spot any inconsistencies in behavior that may signal the youth is dealing with an issue.

 Although everyone doesn’t share this perspective, all human beings have an intrinsic, priceless value simply because they are human beings. We all have potential and worth and we are all part of a bigger world than our current problems. If youth can come to understand and believe these things, then we may be on the road to a better future.