Since we've launched the campaign for The Bully Chronicles last week, there have been at least five more suicides, including a 7-year-old Detroit boy who allegedly hanged himself. Bullying is suspected in each sad case. Even with bullying featured almost nightly in the news, on the big screen and as one of the most prominent topics facing school boards, these tragedies keep coming. There is a lot of talk but still, no tangible solutions. It is truly like this issue is too big to take on individually or within a community and it appears to be swallowing our youth whole, right before our very eyes.
Bullying is a multi-layered epidemic. It's like a disease that cultivates and feeds off of the bloodline of social acceptance and like-minded opinion, fueled by fear and pain so deep, it is subconscious. But where exactly does bullying originate? Hatred is nothing new. But a reality that we may need to start facing if we are going to solve this issue is that hatred is not innate. Plain and simply, it is learned. It manifests from a single or multiple source where a child is listening and watching. At home, a babysitter's house, preschool, TV, online, our public figures and leaders, and out in the world. Our children are little sponges, with no ability to filter for themselves what they should take in or throw out. Everything they see and hear has an impact and is teaching them how to relate to others in the world and more importantly, how to relate to themselves. And the mirror they are reflecting back to us reveals an ugly truth that can longer be denied; this epidemic is the result of our society's relentless intolerance and cruelty toward each other over a period of decades, coupled with technology that has desensitized humans from one another.
Can we honestly expect our children to be kind, tolerant and respectful of each other when so much around them communicates exactly the opposite? Even if they've been lucky enough to have parents who taught by example to be kind and to celebrate differences in others, the influences outside of the parents are overwhelming. Negativity breeds in every aspect of our American culture. Judgment and hate are too familiar in our everyday lives, with public figures and leaders using divisive, discriminatory statements to gain popularity and acceptance from like-minded masses. Have they ever stopped to think that each and every negative or discriminatory statement they make has a direct, traumatizing affect on the life of a child? Any time an adult uses unkind words, takes violent action or justifies discrimination in the name of freedom of speech or family values, they send a message loud and clear; that bullying is acceptable as long as it is justified by a belief system. And if a child falls outside the safe borders of those beliefs, it's open season.
As adults, we also must be conscious of our own biases. We often hear "oh, I was bullied, but it made me tougher" and "everyone gets bullied sometime, these kids are too soft". The world today is not the same one that most of us grew up in. Getting chased home from school, after you'd taken a variety of routes to dodge a beating, at least delivered you to your door step and the safety of your home. School may have been hell, but you had a reprieve. Now, the advent of the Internet and social media has left children prey to a 24-hour cycle of abuse that is far more insidious. Bullying is not just what you see; it is the message and threat that surrounds your child continually, until eventually, yes, they can be overwhelmed to the point of believing death is the only escape. What a sad, wicked commentary on what we've become; hunting children until they break.
A friend asked me a simple question that I feel sums all of this up beautifully, "What ever happened to good manners?" We need to begin a candid dialog about how we as adults need to get back to this simple, yet very powerful way of life, even with all of the stresses in our lives, to lead our children toward a kinder and gentler world. For our kids living this nightmare each and every day, it's truly become an-eat-or-be-eaten world. We can help them get back on track by being open about our own cruel habits and how we have failed them as a generation. This is the only way to begin the healing process. It begins with our lead...
Peace & Love,
Amy S. Weber