Bullying—Causes and remedies
After another young person recently committed suicide in order to escape relentless bullying—in person, over the internet or the cell phone—bullying has received a good deal of public attention.
Experts have insisted that bullies need to be punished, that their punishment must be public so that everybody knows that bullying will not be tolerated by the school authorities. Others have insisted that new laws make bullying punishable by law. Predictably, other experts blame the parents of the bullies for not supervising their children more strictly. But when a 16 or 17 year old sends hateful messages from her cell phone, while at the mall, can the parents be expected to be there to monitor them?
Parents do play a role in this . Children that have been abused are likely to become bullies. Parents who were abused as children are unlikely to deal constructively with their children's aggressions. Bullying among children reflects the violence in their surroundings. Through the parents, the violence in the society attacks children.
The public discussion did not touch the contribution of the larger society to violence and terrible cruelty among children. But do children growing up not reflect to us our own attitudes and actions?
Many adults are, in fact, tolerant of cruelty. “Kids will be kids” they say suggesting that once they grow up, the bullies will become gentle, public spirited citizens. But that is a dream and an evasion of responsibility. Rates of bullying among children are very different in different countries and cultures. The high rate of brutality among our children simply reflects back to us the tolerance adults have for violence in the US.
Think of computer games. Children who spend 5 or more hours a day playing computer games depicting bloody carnage cannot but come away with the message that inflicting pain on others is not only not to be condemned, but it is fun. The same goes for movies.
In kid sports the winners make a big noise and gloat without any sympathy for the losers and their disappointment. No adult insists that the winners respect the disappointment of the losers. Parents get so worked up over kid sports, they get into fights—sometimes with fatal results—over kid sports. Driving down the road is another opportunity for angry outbursts and attempts to hurt other drivers. Rivalry between the fans of sports teams allows one to ostracize the fans of the opposing team. Aggression is an important element in sports fandom. Family violence is at an all time high. Significant numbers of men believe that they are allowed to hit women. Every week a woman is murdered by her husband or boyfriend.
We are spending more than $700 billion a year on the military, that is on means to inflict violence. Our posture in the world is that of the Big Bully. High government officials travel the globe to tell other people what to do—or else.
Some observers speak of a “culture of cruelty” in the US. (http://www.truthout.org/ democracy-and-threat-authoritarianism-politics-beyond-barack-obama56890): “We have 13.3 million homeless children; one child in five lives in poverty; 17,000 have died in the last decade because they lacked health insurance; too many are now under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and many more are unemployed and lack any hope for the future.” These numbers are familiar to many but there is no public outcry; we are content to have out children suffer from deprivation. We are equally content to have significant numbers of our children medicated with psychotropic drugs. The country spent almost $ 9billion in 2006 on psych medicines for children, many of the poor, neglected and for those reasons ”difficult.”
We are losing our ability to feel for the suffering of others; we are becoming a nation of cold-hearted, callous people. Toleration of widespread bullying is just one more example of that.
These are just some examples of the pervasive violence in our country. But reflections about the many different forms of violence in our society and our passivity in the face of it are completely absent from the discussion of bullying among kids. We refuse to acknowledge our own responsibility for the pain some kids inflict on others.
Bullying will not diminish until we think about our own violent behaviors, our tolerance for the violence of others, and until we take steps to make ours a more peaceful nation. We need to acknowledge the growing “culture of cruelty” and try to reverse that ominous development.