Friday, May 10, 2013

Solving the World's Problems: Common Sense About Bullying

Do we want to get rid of bullying in the world, or just in school? If the former, then we need to look at a lot of adult behavior that generally gets ignored. If the latter, and the former is unaddressed, then nothing is going to work. That's the reality of the situation, and we should try to minimize the carnage.

1. The larger adult world that's mirrored to children is made up of hierarchical power structures. Levels of privilege depending on circumstances: age, money, position of authority. In fact, that may be intrinsic to human nature. As long as that's what children see, they will mimic it. And many will take the lesson that it's better to be in the position of power than of powerlessness, or even potential powerlessness, just like adults do.

2. The larger world is full of inside/outside, us/them thinking and behavior, so of course, children will learn that this is appropriate, and apply it to their own situations.

3. Children feel the weight of various oppressions that they are mostly completely unable to articulate. Parents, teachers, anyone in the world has legal and physical authority over them, even in many instances where there is no logical reason to prevent them from doing things they'd like to do. This is in fact worse than ever, as children are often slaves to schedules and to medical treatments. Thus, like all human beings, they suffer from angers, frustrations, and general angst, which they are unable to direct at the sources of these frustrations. It's not surprising that they will take the examples of #1 and #2, and take things out on weaker targets that present themselves.

4. The people who avoided becoming bullies, or bullied, through the elementary school years, may still fall into those categories during adolescence. (These are the famous Drowning Ophelia years). Differences that were ignored in childhood loom larger when people are trying to define their "adult" identities, their relationships with the opposite sex, etc. Suddenly there is more pressure to conform to standards (especially gender roles) sometimes more rigid than those of the culture at large. (Converts are the worst fanatics). As people "give up childish things," they resent others who don't; as they define their gender roles and standards of attractiveness, they become more intolerant of people outside their parameters.

If discourse among adults were respectful, if society at large was tolerant of differences and accepting of perceived outsiders, then we could realistically identify the motivations of bullying in children and teens. If what young bullies are doing is actually conforming to what they see as the values and the communication styles of the adult world, then they may just be learning how to succeed in that world.

And whose fault is that?

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