In January, a 12-year-old British boy called Louie Tom Fenton killed himself after prolonged bullying because he was vegan. Among other things, kids threw meat at him at school. “He loved the sea and was deeply committed to conservation, the environment and sea life.”
Adults and kids bully. There are cultural differences, but the essence of bullying seems to be the same. Why do bullies bully? In many cases, to gain significance that they apparently lack.
The significance derived from bullying has two components and here is where culture may make a bigger difference.
- Being applauded by one’s surroundings for being a bully.
- The power – physical and psychological – that comes from bullying.
If you want to change anything in society, starting with young people is often best and as bullying particularly affects children…
On Twitter, someone pointed out to me that it used to be okay for drunk people to get into their cars and drive and that this has changed. Society’s views on the acceptability of drunk driving have changed.
Now people look after each other and stop each other from getting behind the wheel when drunk. We also have designated drivers.
I was thinking that stopping bullying should begin with the parents of bullies and the staff at their schools, but if bullies bully to gain significance, chances are that the lack of significance they are feeling is connected to those parents or the school staff. (Or that their parents one way or another are teaching the bullies that bullying and ridiculing others is the only way to gain significance, for instance during their dinner table conversations, in which they talk about relatives, neighbours and colleagues.)
Focusing energy in that direction has a low chance of success.
So why don’t classes start anti-bullying teams of five or more kids who sign up to the responsibility of preventing bullying? They can function like the people who stop the drunk from getting into his or her car.
Because let’s face it, adults don’t understand much about the kind of bullying that goes on among kids and are often completely unaware of what happens in digital media. Peers have much better access to that, and a much greater understanding, both of how it works and what the effects can be.
Depending on the culture the bullying occurs in, there can be a strong tendency to blame the targets of bullying for what is being done to them. The bullies are usually ignored, tolerated, respected or applauded. But it is the bullies who have the problem. It is the bullies who need to be stopped. (I am not sure that admonishing bullies or punishing them would solve the problem. Maybe some of them feel frustrated because of, say, undiagnosed dyslexia.)
Getting bullied is not really any different than being hit in traffic by a drunk driver. If you aren’t in a certain place at a certain time, you won’t get hit. It is the thing that sets you apart – being in a location at certain time, or being vegan – that makes you a target and that thing that sets you apart is essentially no more than the mere fact that you exist.
There is nothing wrong with existing. But there is something wrong with bullying.
So, schools, let’s get those anti-bulling teams started, shall we?
In fact, that too may give the bullies the significance they crave. Early intervention makes it possible to teach bullies that there are other, better ways to gain significance.
Of course, we only hear about the schools that are not able to get a grip on bullying. Sometimes they are hampered by the law. How do schools address bullying?