What’s to blame for bullying?Published 12:00am Sunday, November 10, 2013
I read several articles recently about some Florida teens that were charged with felonies for allegedly bullying other teens.
The stories were similar.
In one case, two girls, 14 and 12 years old, were charged with stalking after the alleged victim, a 12-year-old girl, jumped to her death from an abandoned concrete plant.
The alleged bullies are said to have encouraged others to fight the victim and also sent her electronic messages encouraging the girl to commit suicide.
In another case, a 15-year-old girl was arrested for allegedly sending hundreds of threatening text messages, including death threats, to other girls, prompting charges of stalking and later, witness tampering after the girl continued to text the victims.
I started thinking about when I was 12 and 15 years old.
It really wasn’t all that long ago.
In the mid-1990s, I was probably at the peak of awkwardness. I had these big, round, less-than-fashionable eyeglasses that just seemed to stand out more so because of my bangs that were cut straight across my forehead. I had a mouthful of braces and I will neither confirm nor deny if I had to use headgear on occasion.
I didn’t grow up in a wealth family, so whatever clothing brand was in at the time, I’m sure I wasn’t wearing it.
I was pretty shy, too. I had friends of course, one in particular who I am still close with to this day, but I wasn’t what you’d call a “joiner,” although I did take up playing the clarinet in the school band. “Band nerd,” I’m sure I was called, but there was sort of a solidarity in that as I was far from being alone.
Long story short, I was not popular. I wasn’t one of the “cool kids.”
But even as I sit and look at any of the class photos of myself from middle school to my freshman year in high school, I can’t remember being bullied.
Picked on, maybe. But bullied?
I’m not sure why. Maybe I flew under the mean kids’ radar. Or, less likely, maybe we didn’t have mean kids at my school.
Come to think of it, I never remember hearing about other kids getting bullied, especially to the point where anyone was hurt or committed suicide.
So why does it seem like every few months, another news story surfaces of a child committing suicide as a result of bullying?
A lot of people blame the prevalence of technology. Everyone, even young children, have some sort of mobile Internet device, whether it is a cell phone, tablet or laptop.
Maybe it’s just easier for bullies to hide by the anonymity of cruel text message or social media posts.
If one of those young girls charged with stalking had to actually look into the eyes of their intended target, could they muster the courage to say such hateful things?
I don’t have children of my own, but if I did and he or she was getting bullied, I don’t suppose there would be much I could do to stop the harassment besides call the school or, possibly, the police.
All I could really do for my child is instill in them that yes, there are mean people in the world. There will be people who don’t like you and people who you don’t like.
But if you can be happy with yourself, there is no need to let words on a text message hurt you.
And maybe that’s looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses.
And at that point, the damage has already been done. As much as you can say chant the old “Sticks and Stones” mantra, words do hurt, especially to young children who are still trying to find their way in the world and discover who they are.
It’s quite unfair that the 12-year-old Florida girl who jumped to her death didn’t get to discover herself. She never figured out that it gets better.
She never figured out that bullies don’t matter.
She never figured out that, in the long run, those bullies were ruining their own lives much more than they could ruin hers.
Michelle Goodman is news editor at The Tribune. To reach her, call 740-532-1441 ext. 12 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org