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Bullying Raises More Questions Than Answers

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As a teacher, I read the most recent story of bullying and think, what is wrong with people?

Why would an otherwise intelligent kid think it's okay to a) spy on his roommate with a computer camera and then b) post the video on the internet? Where is the disconnect in the brain that allows anyone to think that is okay to do? Has the availability of the internet and YouTube produced a generation of sociopaths? Or simply a generation of people who believe that boundaries don't apply to them, that their day-to-day lives are a game to be played on the public screen?

It's obvious from online comments on news stories that hate and intolerance and racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia remain rampant in today's society -- at least given the protection of anonymity. We like to think we're raising a generation of open minds and acceptance, but evidently we're not. We're just ensuring that people are hating in private, which seems, somehow, even more dangerous. My generation of bullies, cowards hiding behind screen names, is raising a generation of bullies who have the added advantage of a worldwide audience.

There have always been bullies, of course. And some of their tactics, even in the "olden" days, achieved a level of cruelty that was simply not within a normal person's imagination. But it seems that technology has afforded these idiots the tool of perpetuation in addition to their usual arsenal of cruel and unusual punishments -- guaranteeing, in the victim's mind, that things will not get better. They can't get better. The victim's shame and humiliation are made complete by the fact that they are on display on the internet for the entire world to view, forever.

So is the problem the bullies themselves? Are they insecure, popularity-seeking, angry? Do they need therapy, or discipline? Is it their parents, who often refuse to see their children for what they are because it then becomes a reflection on them, or who are working two jobs to make ends meet and simply don't see what's going on, or who see the behavior and hate it but don't know what to do about it?

Is it technology, which has given the bullies even more power and visibility, with the added bonus, often times, of anonymity? We've given our children the ability to film and record and share everything they do, but have not given them the cautions that should necessarily come with the power. Don't film yourself naked and send it on your phone. Don't tweet in anger or haste. Don't put something on the internet that you don't want seen in twenty years. And we haven't given them these cautions because it wouldn't matter. They're children. They're invincible, remember? They live minute to minute and day to day, because that's how children are. We're giving them adult tools and expecting them to handle them like adults.

Maybe the problem is a society in which bullying someone for being different than ourselves has been a national pastime for as long as there have been heterosexual white men in power. Because really, do clearly heterosexual, strong white boys get bullied to death? Or is it the weaker boys, the effeminate boys (gay or not), the masculine girls (gay or not), girls who are perceived as sexually "loose," kids who are dorky and smart and fringe, or kids from different cultures just trying to get along in American schools? Sure, kids bully for different reasons, but in most cases the victims are the same -- people the bully perceives as different, and therefore fair game.

Certainly there are deeper issues here, not the least of which is that gay children and young people should not feel ashamed for being gay. Remove the shame and the bullies have no power. But that end seems to be slow in coming, and we have to protect these kids in the meantime. It would be wonderful, again as a teacher, to have gay adults come into our schools and address our students, sharing their experiences and the sense of hope that, in many cases, only they can provide.

We have got to start setting examples for our kids, to parent them better, to teach them tolerance and openness and fairness, and to show them the consequences of this technology that they take for granted. We have got to start teaching them, somehow, that no one is fair game, because it's not, in fact, a game.

As a parent, I know it's life or death.

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