So much focus –from the media, from the parents, from society- goes onto all of the ‘bad’ attributes of today’s youth. We (adults) notice their cell phones, their $150 shoes, their Facebook, their iPads; and make negative comments about how “lucky” kids are today, and how “easy” they have it. Yes, children today have many advantages as far as technology, and ease of access to information, but do you look at the whole picture of adolescence, and what their day-to-day involves?
Kids these days do not have it easy. October is National Bullying Month. That’s correct, bullying has become such an epidemic that we have a month dedicated to combating and preventing it. The days have passed where boys would fist fight it out in the school yard until there wasn’t enough energy to fight anymore, and then they’d be friends again. Girls aren’t just gossiping to each other at sleepovers and behind closed doors. No, bullying is at its worst, and thanks to that wonderful technology that makes life so ‘easy’ for kids, life is now harder, and more public, than ever.
I’m not just talking about the kidnapping and school shootings that make the news every other week, I’m referring to the stuff you don’t always hear about unless you’re looking for it, I’m talking about the kids that are cyber-bullied so bad that they are committing suicide at alarmingly young ages. Can you imagine feeling so worthless and desperate that taking your own life is your only option… at age 8? Personally, when I was eight, was still watching boys get chased by girls on the playground, and get this, it was because they LIKED them!
Bullying is usually a chain reaction. One kid gets mad, starts some rumor or starts picking on a kid (usually weaker, less fortunate). Other kids want to be a ‘part of the group’, so they start joining in on the name calling chants, the Facebook/twitter posts, the physical violence, and on and on it goes. Then what happens? If (and that’s a huge if) the bullying is confronted, even resolved, does it stop there? No. It then turns internal: self-bullying.
Kids are under tremendous pressure and influence from their peers, and from the media. They are programmed on how they should look and who they should be; often, and almost always, a false standard that no one can achieve. It breeds self-judgment, and a crippling self-comparison. Children are not equipped to deal with all of this self-negativity, so what happens? They then lash out at others to try and feel better about themselves, the victim becomes the bully, and the cycle continues.
Here is the flip side to that; kindness can also be a chain reaction. When one person does something kind for another, there is a pay-it-forward reaction. The receiver of the kind act, in turn, does something kind for another, and so on and so on. When this theory is applied to bullying, it can have widespread, positive, even life-altering effects.
Just think for a moment. If you can get one of those children to stand up for the victim, instead of joining the bully, will others follow? Some of the bullying that children are facing starts over the smallest, most minute incidents, and only becomes a huge (and sometimes deadly) problem because it continues to be fed. If the small problem is starved, inevitably, it will die.
There is some light in all the bullying darkness; people who care about the future generations, and want to make this cold world a little less cruel. There are many campaigns around the United States, and the world, that are out to combat bullying. Even The Department of Education had hosted summits on bullying prevention and 48 states have enacted anti-bullying legislation. Stars are using their clout to bring attention to the issue; i.e. Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way Foundation’.
But, here is the reality: even with all this attention, the CDC states, “nearly 30% of American adolescents reported at least moderate bullying experiences as the bully, the victim, or both.” Paired with that, 83% of bullying incidents receive no intervention and continue happening. That’s a sobering statistic.
The truth is, anti-bullying awareness can grow as big as the media can make it, but that doesn’t always reach home. It comes down to every parent, every teacher and aide, teaching, spreading and enacting kindness back into the world. Bullying is an epidemic; kindness is the cure. Teach our children, and heck, our adults, to be kind, to themselves, and others. Spread it around like a plague. Little acts and large acts, whatever you can do, makes a difference, and could mean the world to a child who feels they have no options left. Be the light in someone’s darkness, you never know what you could start, or end.