I dislike the term “bullying”, but I can’t really think of a better word to describe it. Maybe “slamming” or “harassment”. Actually, scratch that. Bullying ain’t harassment – it’s something more insidious and dark because while young people (and in many cases, adults) experience bullying at least once in their lives there’s a social aspect to the whole thing that takes an occurrence in the hallways of schools all over the world and makes it that much worse. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure who is worse: the bully himself/herself, or the silent knowing mass of people who see it every day and do nothing to stop it. This of course begs the question: can bullying be stopped?
I suppose it depends on whether or not you believe in the power of shame: not for the victim of bullying because he/she is in their own private hell and shame is a big part of that, but rather, shaming the perpetrator. Let’s just say that we have to somehow turn bullying into socially unacceptable behavior because while we may not be able to stop the bullies in their tracks, it might be possible to create a climate in the schoolyards and locker rooms that says bullying won’t be tolerated. Maybe. Possibly. Hopefully.
You see, it’s in the news lately – or rather, the tragic consequences of bullying. It’s a damned shame that it takes the suicide of a kid to bring public attention to something that every single one of us knows exists because it existed when we were kids. I’m forty-four, I got bullied. My mother is seventy-eight, it happened in her day too. It’ll still be happening a hundred years from now, but what makes bullying for today’s generation of kids so fucking insidious (yeah, I swear when I get pissed off) is that it has gone viral. It’s no longer limited to the physical space of a schoolyard or locker room. It’s on Facebook and YouTube now. It’s out there because our technology allows it to be put out there for all to see. Today’s bullying represents a perfect storm for the perpetrator too, I think, because there are special needs kids in classrooms, unheard of in my day, you simply didn’t see a kid in a wheelchair in the 1970’s at school. It just didn’t happen. Moreover, there weren’t openly gay kids in school when I was young. There were no GLBT alliances or clubs at school. Gay rights was just a faint blip on the public consciousness radar.
Yes, it is a perfect storm and I think that adults don’t get it because the kind of bullying we might have experienced doesn’t even come close to what is happening now. It shouldn’t take a gay kid’s suicide or the suicide of a kid with muscular dystrophy to raise awareness of an issue we’ve always known was there. And I hate the term “raising awareness” – we shouldn’t have to raise awareness of an issue we’re all aware of. We just need to make it stop. If it can be stopped. Can it be stopped?
I don’t have the answers, but I think we have to do with bullying what we’ve done with cigarette smoking, you know? Make it socially unacceptable. This is going to take time and it isn’t going to have immediate effect. But it’s a start. You know, as a writer, this is a subject I’ve long wanted to tackle. It’s going to feature prominently in my follow-up to POLTERGEEKS. I’m not going to try to make a statement about bullying in the book, I’m not qualified to do that, frankly. I just want to put it out there … for discussion. And maybe that’s where we all need to start… we, meaning the adults of the world. To start talking about it. It’s the deep, dark secret that just so happens to be the worst kept secret in the world because we’ve all seen it in our own lives. We all know how bloody awkward, embarrassing, clunky and at times, impossible it is to be a teenager because we once were teenagers. We need to talk to our kids about it. We need to talk to our schools about it. We need to do a lot of things about it and the question now comes to mind: what are we as adults and parents going to do about it?
It’s hard to be different. Every kid feels different. I have a motto, though – different is better. Right now anything is better than what’s happening in our schools and another kid’s suicide because of bullying will mean that we as adults blew it.
So let’s not fucking blow it.