How parents and society condone bullying

Posted: September 24, 2013 in General Stupidity
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

How parents and society condone bullying

driving magoo

 

So over the last few years there has been a number of high-profile bullying cases, instances where teenagers and others have even committed suicide in response to the acts of others.  This of course is a tragedy and also much less linear than it is made out to be in the media.  The act of suicide is a complicated process that occurs at the intersection of a person’s brain chemistry, their socialization, their coping mechanisms and support structures.  It’s rarely as clear as a perfectly happy person with abundant emotional reserves and great support structures faces adversity and just kills themself.  I’m sure it’s happened, but I’m also sure it’s not the norm.

Kids bully, the AACAP reports that 50% of students surveyed report being bullied at some point, 10% reporting a chronic level of bullying, frankly I bet those numbers are a bit low.  Kids, as they figure out how society works, will push the boundaries of what’s acceptable to see what the consequences are going to be.  So it happens, hopefully a kid sees that they have done damage to the other person physically or emotionally, find that doesn’t feel good and they stop doing those sorts of things.  However if someone is rewarded for their act, then they will continue.  When you pick on the fat kid, the poor kid, the dirty kid or the minority kid, kids who fit into groups that society generally has a poor opinion of, you often get rewarded by peers, so those kids take the brunt of this type of aggression.   Of course, society as a whole gets to adjust this, as minority and alternate lifestyle groups are more accepted, as society raises general awareness of the harm of bullying, there will hopefully be fewer instances where bullying activity receives positive feedback and hopefully fewer kids will be bullied repeatedly.  But kids are kids, they are learning and testing the world, bullying at low levels and young ages will always occur at some level.

However, society in my opinion is doing less and less to teach children to accept the differences of others.  What, we have civil rights, marriage equality spreading, bullying awareness campaigns, how can you possible suggest this you say?  Well I can say it and I am suggesting that in fact every day adults in this country reinforce that bullying is utterly and completely socially acceptable.  First off, look at partisan politics, read any comment section to any article on just about anything and quickly the comments devolve into how Republicans are Nazis, Obama is a fascist, Liberals are morons and much viler remarks than that.

Take a look at social media, once Adria Richards publicly embarrassed people making sexist remarks at a tech conference she began to receive threats of rape and murder via her social media accounts.  People actually threatened to rape and kill a woman for exposing someone else’s inappropriate behavior.  What kind of message does that send to children?  This of course was a national news story that any child had access to it on the six o’clock or cable news shows.

Finally, before you old fogeys and Luddites blame this all on social media, the internet and technology, let me point out the area where Americans most acutely demonstrate to children that bullying is ok.  All it takes is a little drive on the highway.  On the road, in a large vehicle everyone is the boss, we cut people off, tailgate and then if someone does it to us we lay on the horn, or speed up to them so we can flip them off and scream out our windows.  This is bullying behavior, conducted by parents and authority figures that occurs regularly in front of children with no perceived negative consequences.

I think recently Louis CK hit the nail on the head in his discussion of why children shouldn’t have cell phones.

The use of these devices reduces human contact and thus our ability with regularity to experience the impact our words and ideas have on others, which in turn reduces the amount of empathy we possess.  Louis CK was ranting on children having smartphones; I’ll go much further because this is a much older issue.  One step back, cable TV news allows us to hear about every murder, disaster and depravity around the world thus making us feel less safe in a country, where every statistic shows we are safer now than we were 30 years ago.  The overload of negative news causes us to trust strangers less and to develop less empathy for others who are strangers (also known as people who are different from us).

One step back from that, driving in the United States is typically a singular activity.  We drive to work or the store, generally alone, in a powerful machine, fully equipped with a horn and the ability to quickly speed away from any situation.  So we feel empowered when someone cuts us off to lay on the horn, flip the bird, yell and then drive away.  There is no consequence to these actions at all these are impersonal interactions that further drain our empathy.  The horn failed on my car once when I was in graduate school, I was sure this was going to be a huge problem.  After a month I no longer worried about it, you see, if you have time to angrily honk your horn at someone, you were in no danger of an accident.  When you truly have to brake and maneuver to safely avoid an accident, there’s no time for horn honking or finger waiving.  So we do these things simply out of anger to make someone else feel bad.

The commonality between all of these things is anonymity and distance.  I’m not a huge man, but I’m not small, at five foot eleven and two-hundred and fifteen pounds I’m definitely bigger than average and I’ve been told I don’t necessarily look friendly.  So generally, the person who calls me a name on Twitter because of my ideas, or the person who writes a horribly offensive comment to one of my posts, or the 60-year-old woman flipping me off, honking the horn and screaming at me, wouldn’t consider doing that to my face.  And in fact in a couple of driving situations I’ve put that to the test and people are quite apologetic face to face.  So given all of this behavior and almost all of it happening within plain view or our kids, how do they get anything but the message that it’s ok to bully, because our actions certainly speak louder than our words and quite frankly we’re a bunch of bullies.

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