Waging the War Vs. Bullying

Sticks and stones may break my bones, and bullies can always hurt me

Most members of Generation-X (now in the 30s to mid-40s), are probably familiar with the movie, Can’t Buy Me Love, which launched a then-scrawny Patrick Dempsey. In it, Dempsey’s character is an outcast, misfit, and daily target of taunting in schools. Molly Ringwald as the ever-resourceful and self-assured Andie Walsh in the screen adaptation of Pretty in Pink, was every young girl’s heroine in the stand against high school bullies. Eric Stoltz became the unlikely heartthrob “Keith,” opposite high school knockout Lea Thompson, and tomboyish Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful. In them, all three fall victim at one time, or in some form, to the cruelty of bullying.

It’s been over two decades since those films first came out, and while there are modern adaptations (see Mean Girls), the storyline remains the same. A lot has changed, and much has happened in the way of technology and modernization. With the advent of what is known as the cyber age—an era where the world has grown smaller thanks to increasingly advanced communication equipment—peer pressure, discrimination, and bullying have moved well past classrooms, cafeterias, and school halls. Though modern gadgets like mobile phones and computers are meant to bring people over various distances closer together, recent events have shown how they can be utilized to widen social gaps, and push people over the brink.

In recent years, more and more cases of teen suicides resulting from bullying have come to light. It has gotten so, that even global music superstar, Madonna, has voiced her concern about it. During her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the U.S. last year, the pop icon said, “I’m incredibly disturbed and saddened by the overwhelming number of teen suicides that have been reported lately because of bullying. To hear that teenagers are taking their lives because they are being bullied in schools and dormitories, what have you, is kind of unfathomable.”

Nowadays, mean teens have evolved beyond snickering and playing pranks in the gym showers, hallways, parking lots and lunch rooms. Bathroom stalls are no longer the only billboard of choice for writing profanities, obscenities, insults, and attacks on schoolmates. These days, e-mails, text messages, wall posts on social networking sites, digital images, live chats, forums, instant messaging, streaming videos and the like have become the preferred methods for delivering potentially life-ruining content.

In 2010, Irish native and 15-year old South Hadley High School student Phoebe Prince also took her life following repeated harassment from her schoolmates, who were attacking her for dating one of the more popular male students. A soda can was thrown at her while she was walking home from school. Her 12-year old sister found Phoebe hanging from a scarf on the staircase. Following her death, crude remarks still continued to appear on her Facebook page.

In September of the same year, 18-year old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi made headlines after he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He was said to be repeatedly teased by schoolmates for being gay. The turning point was when his dorm roommate secretly video streamed Tyler’s encounter with another male student, thus forcing Tyler to face further public humiliation. A few days later, he posted a suicide message on Facebook and dove to his death on the Hudson River.

Because the internet never sleeps, and is as far-reaching as you can imagine, bullying can now occur 24/7, allows content to spread like wildfire from one e-mail, text message, or website to countless others, and live on in the bowels of the World Wide Web for all eternity. This can scar, ruin, and traumatize the victim for life, making it difficult for him or her to recover, and live normally.

“The truth is that technology has moved faster than parents’ ability to keep up with it,” former educator Jacquie Ream, said.  Ream is also the author of YNK—“You Never Know,” a book that aims to teach today’s youth about the pitfalls of technology. Mary Kay Hoal, the COO of yoursphere.com, a positive place for kids online cautions that, “The Internet is an integral part of all our lives, and the benefits for Internet-savvy kids are boundless, but there can be a very concerning, dark side to our children’s online interactions. We need to eliminate those pressures so our children can reap the benefits of living in a world made smaller by the Internet, and promote an Internet culture that focuses on the wonders of the online world, and not its dangers.”

But even before kids learned how to threaten and harass their peers online, they have been victims to different types of bullying, and such hate crimes. In 2008, Jessica Logan hanged herself after an ex-boyfriend sent malicious images of her to his peers, causing the student body to verbally harass her. The same year, Oxnard, California native Lawrence King also fell victim to a hate crime, as he was shot to death by a bully while inside the campus, because he was openly gay. Even in our country, homosexuals and those who appear to be the slightest bit different (whether in terms of appearance, race, family and religious background, or interests), are also targets of bullies, who continue to believe that discrimination is okay, if not a perfectly normal part of growing up.

As daunting as the pressing threat of bullying both in the real, and in the cyber worlds may be, parents need only remember the importance of establishing a strong, open relationship with their children. We should promote an atmosphere of trust where kids can feel comfortable about sharing their positive and negative experiences. We should also reinforce the idea of respecting others and their boundaries and beliefs, and at the same time, open our kids’ eyes to the harsh consequences of bullying. Overall, we must foster an environment where children can learn from them, share their experiences, and still feel secure that no matter what they confide, we will still be there to support, understand, and protect them accordingly. Parents should take a proactive approach in instilling good values in our children, and aid them in fostering better relationships with others. We must also control what our children see online, and teach them how to positively react to stimulus. We may not be able to control what goes on in school, but we can control what goes on at home, and raise children who are able to practice acceptance, and encourage a safer, more harmonious community to live in. “Parents need to take an active role in preventing bullying from becoming a part of their children’s lives,” Jacquie Ream urges. She adds that technology is merely a means, and that the prevention of bullying still starts at home. “We cannot sit back and blame technology for the crisis facing our kids today. Technology is a tool. There is a human hand and a human mind behind every vicious text message and every texted threat. We need to bring our children a sense of basic core values about their relationships so that they don’t fall down the slippery slope that cell phones and the Internet is paving for them.”

For his part, Malcolm Gauld, the president of Hyde Schools, which is a network of prep and charter schools focused on character education and leadership development, sees the need for the participation and cooperation not just of the immediate family. “An honest and positive school and home environment where kids and family members look out for each other is possible. The kids can’t do it by themselves. We cannot do it for them. But we can form a partnership with communities and schools that gets it done,” Gauld said. In the U.S., one such partnership is the It Gets Better Project (itgetsbetter.org), established by noted writer and media personality, Dan Savage. It aims to promote the urgent message that life has so much more to offer, and that bullying isn’t the only reality that teen-aged kids have to know and fear.


Words by Rosario Santiago

Leave a Reply