This meme has been making its way around social media lately. It was posted by a Facebook page called Right Wing News in October of 2013 but for some reason has found traction again. At the time I stumbled upon it a in my News Feed a couple of days ago, it had over half a million shares.
The meme says:
"We will never, ever get rid of bullying. We should teach kids how to stand up for themselves and cope instead of wearing pink shirts and passing anti-bullying bylaws. We are creating a society of victims."
At first, you may think to yourself "YES! We need to empower our children and instill in them a sense of self-pride and confidence!" or "Exactly right! This is part of the 'wussification' of America!" but this message is a dangerous one and shines a light on the fact that for all of our efforts on educating the public about bullying, we are failing to reach those that need to understand the dangers. The meme basically places the blame at the feet of the victim and shifts the responsibility from the bully who is misbehaving to the innocent child.
The fact is, some kids can't stand up for themselves. They just can't. A lot of those that are unable to defend themselves are kids with special needs; kids with autism spectrum disorder. "Autism" is a general term for a spectrum of complex disorders of brain development. Autism spectrum disorder is characterized in varying degrees by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. In other words, prime targets for bullies. Due to these challenges, it makes preparing them to stand up to bullies difficult at best, but usually impossible.
A study found that 63 percent of autistic kids between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied. That is a startling statistic. But when you couple that statistic with the results of another study showing that 14 percent of kids with autism under the age of 16 had talked about or attempted suicide compared to 0.5 percent of their neuro-typical colleagues that 63 percent isn't just scary, it could be life-threatening. What these numbers show is that autistic kids are 28 times more likely to plan or attempt suicide than their typical peers.
While the numbers are startling, they should not be very surprising. Bullies prey on those that are not capable of defending themselves, so no matter how much I prepare my neuro-typical son and daughter to stand up to bullies, the fact is that they are not going to be their target. My oldest daughter however, will. She is autistic and may not be able to apply this "bootstrap mentality" suggested by the meme.
So while teaching your children self-worth, confidence and to report bullies to teachers are all important values, we cannot just accept that bullying will always be a part of our society. We must fight it. That means educating parents about teaching their children to be compassionate and understanding, and passing legislation to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Yes, there will always be bullies, but that doesn't mean we should ease up on our efforts to eradicate bullying from our schools. I don't look at those efforts as contributing to raising a generation of victims. I look at it as raising a generation of good and decent people.