Ban Bullying: A Proposal

The issue has been growing for a few years but 2013 seemed to be the year Bullying became a buzzword.  A quick Google search of the term brings up dozens of news stories, from the Miami Dolphins controversy to YouTube videos of teenage girls beating each other while friends record it and cheer them on.  Sadly, many stories tell of young lives lost to suicide spurred on by relentless bullying at school.  All these different scenarios have very little in common beyond the word bullying and the bad behavior of the aggressors.  That’s the problem with buzzwords.  They get used so frequently, in so many different ways, that they lose much of their meaning.

Bullying, for most of us, conjures images of schoolyard misbehaviour.  A shove on the playground, a passed note that Susie smells funny.  This type of bullying is still hurtful and should be stopped and punished whenever it arises. However, it is also an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable part of childhood.  We can and should combat it but will never quite eradicate it.  For victims of this sort of attack they are painful and potentially scarring.  Yet, there is something pathetic about the efforts of these bullies.  They are small time thugs doing essentially petty things to gain power in the school social structure.  It is easy to shrug and say, well, we’ve all been bullied.  So we have.  Most of us have probably also encouraged, excused, or even partaken in bullying at least once.  Sad but true.  “Back in my day we just toughed it out.”

Moe from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.  The archetypal school bully.

Moe from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The archetypal school bully.

Problem is, we’re dealing with a whole new breed of bullying from the kind we remember “back in our day.”  Technically, bullying is exerting domination over another, through a real or perceived use of power.  One person is stronger, older, bigger, more popular and they prey on the weak. Too many things are being filed under this label, things where bullying is only one part of the crime.  The definition is broad enough as to become vague.  We need more precision, because what we are often talking about today are not playground hijinks but grave and even criminal behaviours.  I was very disturbed last year to read of the suicide of Amanda Todd, a teenager from my home town.  Many of the initial articles spoke of her main bully as being a male who coerced her into taking topless photos and then used these to pressure her into doing more and circulated the material so that kids are her school could access it and spread it.  This is not just bullying.  This is sexual harrassment and extortion.  The adult male in this instance isn’t just a bully, he is a vile sexual predator!  The teens who circulated this material were not just bullies, they were traffickers in child pornography!

I propose a moratorium on the term bullying.  Not because bullying isn’t serious.  Because it is too serious to be muddied by imprecision.  Indiscriminate use of the word keeps us from really identifying the crimes involved for what they are.  We need to call a spade a spade.  Whenever a story uses the word bully or bullying, consider what other word you could replace it with.  Roughhousing, teasing, gossiping? Assault, harrassment, abuse, pornography, blackmail, bigotry?  Strip away the fuzziness, strip away the associations with Bugs Meany or Moe and look at what we’re really dealing with.  This will help us to address the underlying problems, including but not limited to: the hyper sexualization of young people, and their overexposure to violence, children acting out in very very adult ways; the regression to adolescence of many adults, acting out in very juvenile ways; the importance of parental involvment in children’s use of technology, particularly social media, internet access and texting. Could we help ban bullying by avoiding “bullying?” Maybe not.  But it might help sort between the types of bullying that can be addressed by a trip to the principal’s office and some meetings with parents and the types that could be better handled by a trip to the police station.

(UPDATE: My commenter below disputes my summation of the Amanda Todd case.  However, for the purposes of my article I feel it is appropriate.  Amanda’s story did turn out to be much more complex than originally portrayed and the young lady herself, as well as her parents cannot be held blameless.  I did attempt to address this originally by noting that “initial” reports made these claims, because I didn’t want to lose focus in my piece.  Perhaps this was sloppy of me.  However, my point remains that the sloppy language of lumping this story in as just another example of the “bullying epidemic” obscured the actual facts of the case.)

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4 Comments

Filed under Rants, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Ban Bullying: A Proposal

  1. You write: ‘I was very disturbed last year to read of the suicide of Amanda Todd, a teenager from my home town. Many of the initial articles spoke of her main bully as being a male who coerced her into taking topless photos and then used these to pressure her into doing more and circulated the material so that kids are her school could access it and spread it. This is not just bullying. This is sexual harrassment and extortion. The adult male in this instance isn’t just a bully, he is a vile sexual predator! The teens who circulated this material were not just bullies, they were traffickers in child pornography!’
    Your article is one of the better ones that I have read, in that it seeks to get away from the word ‘bullying’ and perhaps encourages a wider look at all the stuff that is currently going on. Yet you fall into the same Amanda Todd trap by believing that the story is true.
    I have no wish to try to force an opinion on you, but I do ask that you stop to think and check things before you reach a conclusion. Firstly, we now know for certain that she was not coerced. If you watch the Fifth Estate documentary, it clearly states that Amanda did what she did voluntarily on BlogTV. More research will show that she was, in fact, banned from BlogTV for nudity, yet continued to exhibit herself. Unfortunately, because she was quite open about her activities, the kids found out what she was doing – nobody actually broadcast the fact. And surely by now you will know that it wasn’t photos, it was videos that Amanda herself published. Also – take a long hard look. There is absolutely no proof that an adult male was ever involved, and most of the story concerns 14-16 year old kids.
    Ask yourself who this ‘vile sexual predator’ might have been? Is it true? None of the evidence shows it. We know that Amanda’s activities were common knowledge in December 2010, yet we also know that Amanda made no attempts to stop, and continued her activities through at least another year. We know that Amanda said her topless activity was, in her own words, ‘no big deal’ – hardly the attitude of the victimised and terrified young girl we would have expected. So why would a ‘blackmailer’ threaten anything AFTER the event? What tool would a blackmailer have? ‘Oh, I will let everyone see the pictures that everyone has already seen’ – not exactly much of a threat.
    And then, of course, you have to ask yourself another question: was Amanda Todd, in brazenly displaying herself online, a producer of child pornography? The new laws in Canada would have actually made HER part of the problem, as has been shown in a recent event where a girl who sent pictures of herself has been charged.
    Decent article, but I do urge that you check facts. Thanks.

    • Thank you for your comment, I would be interested in reading your sources. I did do a little fact checking because I was aware that the 3o something man accused by Anonymous of being the aggressor in this case was innocent. My reading said the most likely culprit was a 19 year old, and I felt comfortable considering that age adult. I was unaware of many of these other details as this has not been much of a story in the United States and I did come across it in my, admittedly cursory, search yesterday. I wrote at the time of the incident, and tried to reference it in my closing, that teens should not be so unmsupervised online that they can post such things to the internet. Although I am leery to speak harshly of a dead child or her family, Amanda made very poor choices that had consequences and her parents failed to correct and protect her against herself and others. They certainly bear much responsibility for what happened, but there’s a lot of bad behaviour and blame to spread around in the whole sordid tale. I will try and revise my piece slightly, however hers is just one of many many similar stories and in a way, your point helps make mine 🙂 All this knee jerk talk of bullying blurs all sorts of underlying issues that can then be overlooked or ignored amidst the hue and cry.

    • After beginning to watch the Fifth Estate documentary I would also state that while a teen may “voluntarily” post sexually explicit things to the internet, it is still exploitation and corruption for someone to encourage such behaviour and predatory. It is preying on the weak, because such a young lady is clearly mentally unhealthy and those “cappers” referenced in the Fifth Estate take advantage of this weakness.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Firstly, the sources I use are, to a certain extent, mine. I have unique access to this story and you can find certain details here in my blog http://philipjrose.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/the-story-takes-yet-another-bizarre-twist/
    With access to the chatlogs and other information, it became clear that the story is not quite what it seems. The comments here are interesting:
    http://philipjrose.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/for-no-reason-at-all/
    As you will see, my research has been quite extensive.
    Kody (the 30 year old who became a 19 year old, actually born 1993) was set up. It is sad – in the local area, some nasty people set up a campaign to ban the whole family from shops based on the Anonymous stitch up. If you want, I can tell you exactly what happened, but most of it is in the blog if you search enough.
    Your second comment is awkward. The entire story is complex. One of the things that really perplexes me is the interaction of the girls involved. Many of the girls are banned or told to leave, yet return.
    This isn’t a happy subject, is it? My blog brings me death threats from the anti-bullying brigade, which I find kind of ironic. However, it does appear to be yet another phenomenon blown out of proportion by the media.
    Thanks for you responses.

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