Perhaps it has been the recent attention of the Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after being viewed by his roommate, Dharun Ravi, who is now facing a 10 year jail sentence charges of committing a hate crime from his public exposure of Tyler as a gay male. Perhaps it might also be my connection to Rutgers as my Alma Mater, but I begin to consider the impact that bullying has on our society, and of course on our relationships. Bullying is not a new phenomenon, though I pose that it has progressively gotten worse over the generations. This is not due to some people’s conviction that the younger generation is somehow worse than prior generations. I happen to believe that each generation’s, “younger generation” is almost always viewed as a group which loses the values which the prior generation experiences and values. However, what has developed with alarmingly rapid progress within the last 25 years has been the use of technology in the use of social feedback and social media as a mechanism for bullying.
Certainly among preteens and teenagers, the use of social media is considered common. Regardless of socio-economic status, the use of websites like twitter and facebook by teens is prevalent, and the ease in expressing negative feedback to peers is more than any generation has had to face. I remember growing up in a time period where rumors may fly and that social feedback was perceived as being the most important aspect of a middle and high school experience. However, at some level, I knew that this communication was limited only to my immediate peers, and whoever was in earshot. Now, with the invention of some of these websites, rumors can be texted, updated, and you-tubed across the globe in a matter of moments. There no longer exists time for reflection or even reaction to a particular event, before it is publicized to the entire population at large.
The lack of an ability to react is a dangerous thing. Reaction is a really important part of healthy relationships. Stopping, thinking, and reflecting on a proper course of action is something which can be used as a healthy coping skill for many if not most of us. An example of the dangers of this lack of time to reflect can be seen in sports. When a player is frustrated at his situation, lack of playing time, relationships with other teammates, coaches, ownership or fans all can lead to a tweet which is then publicized with immediate fervency. I wonder if the player has even made it home from whichever stadium they played in before their tweet has made it to news sources. These same type of feedback loops exist with kids, and it is incumbent on adults and parents to react in healthy ways.
When a child appears to be bullied, either through traditional methods or via technology, most are seeking support and concern. Public ridicule is something which can weaken the feelings of anyone over time, and to see examples of the serious effects of bullying can be viewed no longer than the Columbine shootings of the 1990’s. However, the opportunity for parents to be a role in their parent’s lives as leaders, and not as friends is critical in this area. If a child feels comfortable talking to a parent or an adult, the adult can seek the proper channels to address the bullying directly, via the school, guidance department, or even police if necessary. Bullying is in fact a form of harrassment – do not address it as anything less than that. I wonder if the athlete who posts their feelings on twitter rather than address it directly with whom they feel slighted by can address their issues more straightforward, and with less adverse effects. Certainly, as parents, we can teach our children how to be assertive with addressing a bully, and not aggressive. Most bullies stop when they are confronted assertively. Aggressive responses can accelerate bullying, especially to a point of violence. Teaching assertiveness can be one of the best lessons our families, and our teams, might be able to learn…