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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bullying – From Grandpa’s Schoolyard to the Cyber World

Bullying is a dangerous and disturbing epidemic of today's youth, markedly different from the outdated view of bullying as typical, childhood antics in the schoolyard. The increasing use of the Internet and social networking sites has created a separate and deeply complex epidemic, now called “cyber-bullying."  

Although bullying was never condoned, it hasn’t always been a detrimental problem of our youth. Not too long ago, grandfathers told tales of schoolyard bullying with reminiscent humor.  Gathered around the fire, children listened to Grandpa recount stories, as he rocked back in forth in his chair, describing how he learned to defend himself against the “playground pusher” or how he outsmarted the “lunch money thief.”

Sadly, bullying tales today are drastically different.  

We no longer sit by the fire with Grandpa laughing about the lunch money thief. Today’s tales are more likely to be discussed around the kitchen table with a distressed mother, a pissed off father, and a crying teenager.   

In fact, the term “bullying” may not be appropriate anymore, since it still has connotations suggestive of somewhat innocent, childhood antics. Bullying was the term that Grandpa used to recount schoolyard tales, but let’s be realistic; what is happening today is more like harassment, defamation, and even assault.

The problem is greatly exacerbated by the widespread access and use of the Internet.   

Sonia Livingstone, social psychologist and leading expert on children and the Internet, describes today’s youth as the “digital generation.” Although there are many positive aspects of Internet use and even social networks, there are many negative aspects as well. Bullying can now take place from miles away with complete anonymity.

Cyber-bullying is increasing at an alarming rate, and the long-term consequences can be detrimental. One report claims that “about 20-40% of youths have experienced cyber-bullying” (Tokunaga, 2010), and it is associated with emotional distress (Wang, et. Al., 2009) and most likely increased levels of depression (Campbell, 2005). Unfortunately, since it is a relatively new problem, little research has been conducted on the issue. Such research is more vital than ever.
The consequences of cyber-bullying could be fatal. The problem has drawn national attention with recent tragedies such as those of Megan Meier, Amanda Cummings, Tyler Clementi, and many other beautiful, young people who died by suicide shortly after incidents of cyber-bullying.

Although suicide is a serious problem indicative of deeper mental and emotional distress, there can certainly be catalysts that push people over the edge, and cyber-bullying is almost without a doubt one of those catalysts.

Many of these incidents are not cases of cyber-bullying, they are straight up “cyber-assault,” and this has to stop.  

I hope that the new documentary “Bully” will bring more attention to this detrimental problem.

Recently, my teenage cousin posted a Facebook status complaining about people who antagonize others to commit suicide. This naturally caused me great concern, and I messaged my cousin. She informed me that a friend was receiving anonymous posts on her Tumblr account with statements such as “Why don’t you just hang yourself.”

This is so sickening I don’t even need to describe in words how sickening it is. The words are right there. The problem is right here, happening to a friend of my little cousin and happening to countless other silent, cyber victims.

“Why don’t you just hang yourself?”

Whoever you are, why don’t you just find a little compassion in your heart and think about what it means to be human.

For every bully out there, there is no excuse for your hateful words. Take just one minute and think about how your words could possibly destroy someone’s life. Do you really want to destroy a life? I’d like to believe that the answer to that question is no. 

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