One form of bullying that our students frequently report encountering is cyber-bullying. I hope that the concept in this article will help readers to deal with all kinds of bullying, but I think it is especially relevant when discussing with cyber-bullying.
Sadly, bullying occurs in many different places, so it is no surprise that it occurs online. There is, however, one major difference: it is generally much easier for one person to bully another over the internet, and the bullying is often much more malicious. Think about it. How much easier is it to type an offensive remark and click send than to actually yell an offensive mark to an actual living, breathing person? I think that for most of us, if (heaven forbid) we felt inclined to insult another person, the former would be much easier.
I once read an article that put this situation in perspective very well. The article basically said that (sadly) the internet can often bring out the worst in people, and for a lot of people one of the primary functions of the internet is to vent and be nasty towards others. The article went on to say that getting upset by such nastiness is akin to walking into a public bathroom, seeing some offensive graffiti on the wall, and taking it personally. If I walk into a bathroom and see that someone has written “To heck with you!” I’m not going to stop and say, “To heck with ME? Why I oughta-“
But isn't that essentially what I am doing if I get upset over something someone has said to me over the internet, or in any bullying situation for that matter? As we discussed last week, bullying is generally not the fault of the person being bullied. The person doing the bullying is just looking to be nasty, and I just happen to be the one standing there.
I’m not saying that cyber bullying is OK, and that we should just accept it. I also don’t want to suggest that bullying isn’t painful for the victim; it is. However, “the bathroom wall graffiti” analogy has really helped me to take things less personally. Things may still get under my skin, but not nearly as much as in the past. When someone is mean to us we can always chalk it up to “Well, maybe they are having a bad day,” or many other possible reasons, but the answer is never, “They are bullying me because there is something wrong with me.”
Last week we began our workshop on bullying by examining one of the first rules to remember when dealing with bullying: when a person is being bullied, it is not that person’s (the victim’s) fault. Of course, if I bully someone, and they bully me back, than I may have brought that bullying on myself, but our students wouldn't bully another person, and I strongly believe that no one deserves to be bullied. There are many reasons why one person may bully another: the person doing the bullying may be having a bad day, going through a rough time, being bullied themselves, they may be jealous of the victim, they may bully as many people as they can, etc.
The point is, that while bullying can be very painful, we hope that to make it less painful by helping students to understand that it doesn't mean that something is wrong with them (if they are being bullied). I feel like this is a message that people need to hear a great deal before they fully believe and internalize it.
Another rule that we have been discussing is that we should always report bullying when we see it, whether we are the victims or observers. Reporting bullying to adults is not tattling; it is our duty. This is another message that we will constantly be repeating to help the students fully grasp the concept.
One of our students proposed the idea of telling a person who is bullying, “I don’t want you to get into trouble, but if you continue I will have to report this. Let’s talk about something else.”
Rather than threatening the person doing the bullying, this student came off sounding like a friend to that person, looking out for them. I thought it was a very clever approach.
We will be discussing more ideas and strategies for dealing with bullying over the next several weeks!