Bullying: Is It Really Worse Than Ever?
Bullying has become a hot topic in recent years, with high-profile documentaries covering the subject and cases getting national attention in the media. Some cities are trying to pass anti-bullying laws which would make it a crime, and there was recently a decision that the parents of a boy in Texas, who killed himself after being bullied, can sue the school district.
I have often wondered if bullying really is more common these days, or if there are other reasons for the increased attention. I find it hard to believe that kids are simply more cruel in contemporary times. Kids and teenagers have always been cruel to each other. I remember bullies in school, and had some minor confrontations with them, but fortunately was able to avoid being a target.
One reason I think bullying is exacerbated in the digital age is that it can take so many forms. A child can not only be physically and verbally bullied at school, but also viciously bullied online and in social media, which are now at everybody's fingertips. Bullies simply have more weapons today.
Another theory I have is that perhaps too many kids are being raised with too much emphasis on what other people think and say about them. In an age of narcissism, "selfies," and more information than ever about our personal lives being shared on social media, our sense of identity and self-love is sacrificed for a need to "keep up" socially and lead a life that impresses rather than fulfills us emotionally. As a whole, we don't have as much private, personal space as we once did, and perhaps this has consequences.
Also, I think there is an important question to ask ourselves, even as it may offend some victims of bullying or their families. That is certainly not the intention, nor is it to imply that any fault or blame lies with the victims of bullying. However, in an age of increased "helicopter parenting" and "participation/everyone's a winner" awards, it is important to ask - are kids being robbed of important psychological tools to handle the adversity they may face with a bully? There definitely seems to be an increased sensitivity among parents and educators in regards to the feelings of children. So much so, that perhaps it is more difficult for today's kids to encounter and deflect harsh criticism and negativity, when they might otherwise be protected from it on all fronts.
In addition, I think it's fair to say that kids grew up with a certain freedom to move about, unsupervised, that many kids today don't receive. There was a time when as a kid, you would go out into the neighborhood and play, and when the sun went down and streetlights came on, it was time to come home. There is a certain sense of danger and challenge to be found in having to make your way through the world on your own or with only your friends. In an increasingly dangerous world, and for reasons that I certainly understand, I would argue that parents are much more physically protective of their kids today.
Of course, bullies have to be raised by someone. So, maybe as a society we are just more cruel and heartless to each other. Sure, there have always been atrocities in times of war and horrible crimes committed by people against other people. But it seems that these acts of aggression have become more frequent and tolerated in a civic sense. The moral fabric and boundaries of society as a whole have deteriorated, and perhaps bullying is just one of the manifestations. There has certainly been a sense of class, dignity and propriety that has been lost in today's world of "funeral selfies" and reality-television marriage.
In addition, we are desensitized to violence. The age of the internet puts machine-gun executions, beheadings and other extreme forms of violence readily accessible to anyone, anywhere. Bullying and cruelty among children may just be one more symptom of a culture and society in decline in general. For it to go away, it's going to take more than legislation and lawsuits. It has to come from the top.