Whose Fault is Our Culture of Bullying?

the simpsons bullying

I can’t stop thinking about Amanda Todd. Why she died, why nobody stopped the kids who were bullying her, how her cyber-stalker wasn’t caught or prosecuted, why her parents seemed to be in the dark.

I’m struggling because I want to lay blame.  And I don’t know where it should go.

Can I place the onus on the schools, the internet, her parents, her peers?  I can’t. At least not entirely.

Was Amanda cyberbullied?  Somewhat. Yes, her horror was shared on the internet, but the crux is that she was preyed upon by an online predator. And that’s not cyberbullying.

The kind of sexual exploitation described by Todd is part of a seedy cyber-underworld that targets young girls and it is not bullying, but a vicious crime that should be pursued even after her death. CBC news

Amanda Todd made a huge mistake when she was 12, egged on by her friends and a cowardly pedophile.  She made a mistake even the most responsible kid could make.  So, I cannot blame Amanda, mostly because she is the victim of this tragedy, but even more so because she was 12. And 12 year olds make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes.

Can we place blame on her parents?  I don’t know them, I don’t know what kind of guidelines she was provided with regard to online safety. I don’t know if she broke their rules or whether they had none. I don’t know what kind of home she had that she couldn’t tell her parents what she’d done so they could call the police and put a stop to her torment.  I don’t know if she told them her story, and they were in denial. I wasn’t there, and I refuse to judge. So, I cannot.

What about the kids? The teenagers at school-after-school who shared the photos, spread the word about her mistake, called her names, made her life unliveable   Can I blame the kids?  I don’t know.  I struggle.

Are there really any kids who are bad?  Or are these good kids who do bad things?  Good kids who jumped on a bandwagon because everyone else was doing it, or who were modelled this kind of behaviour by their parents, their TV shows, their online idols (like Perez Hilton). Were there kids who made the mistake of caving to peer pressure or who had their own fears for repercussions if they didn’t participate? I think all of the above, so I cannot even blame the kids. This is the world that we gave them, so this is how they act.

(Social Psychologist)… Brenda Morrison described the 15-year-old’s death as the consequence of a society in which bullying is considered an institutional problem, as opposed to a community one. She suggested the solution lies in reframing the issue to emphasize everyone’s responsibility for the well-being of young people. … Kids need to hear the message that (bullying) is not ok from a range of people,” she wrote. “We need to create communities of care for our young people … long before the crisis.”  Montreal Gazette 

Can we blame the internet?  I’m conflicted.  Sure, if there was no internet, then Amanda’s online stalker would never have made that video of her flashing her pre-pubescent chest. He would never have been able to blackmail her or share it, and the the teenagers would never have gotten the picture.  But, the internet just facilitates bad behaviour. It’s a vehicle for choice. It was still a person who took that video, who shared that video, who called her names, who made her feel shame.  Blaming the internet for Amanda Todd’s death is like blaming a car, instead of it’s driver, for a car accident.

So, who is to blame then?  Who can we point a finger at for Amanda Todd’s death, or really for the insidious epidemic of bullying?

Look to your left. Look to your right. I’m doing the same. Now look in the mirror.  I’m doing it too, don’t worry.

That person you looked at on your left? Bullying is their fault.  That person you looked at on the right?  Bullying is their fault.  That person you just looked at in the mirror?  It’s their fault too.

It’s all of our faults.  If you live in this world we have created, then you are to blame, as am I.

We have created a culture of sarcasm, selfishness, mocking, and intolerance for difference.

We tell our kids not to get involved, don’t rock the boat, watch out for YOU.

We are reactive. We watch with apathy until it’s too late and then we cry out, we raise hell.

We have glorified criticism, and decried kindness.  We are so concerned with self-esteem that we are not teaching character. We are so worried about lawsuits that we make authority impotent and children unafraid of repercussion.

Our society values the rights of the individual over the happiness of others.

How can we blame the epidemic of bullying on parents, schools, police, or even the internet?

We have all contributed to the society in which we live. We have all raised a generation of bystanders and bullies. If not by doing, then by acquiescence.

If our children don’t have it in them to stand up for what’s right, to exhibit  kindness or empathy, we are the ones to blame. Plain and simple.

The big question is, what are we going to do about it?

 

Comments

  1. I don’t think there are any easy answers, but I’ll tell you what I did. I allowed my son to do school online, where he felt safe. We moved away from the community where he was bullied. And then, I pushed him to sign up to be a volunteer for We Day. He was reluctant. The bullying he has endured made his anxiety worse to the point where even though we’ve moved, he doesn’t want to leave the house without us with him. He doesn’t have a lot of self confidence. But last night I picked him up from We Day training, and he was grinning from ear to ear. His group talked about bullying, and he told them his story. He said they were completely floored by what happened to him. It was a positive, empowering group and he thanked me for pushing him to be part of it. We haven’t even attended yet!

    We need more of this in our communities. More positive things for kids, more role models, more people speaking out, more people who refuse to be apathetic. Maybe then we can turn things around.

    • I love your suggestions, Karen. As the one article I quoted said, this needs to be a community problem, not an institutional problem.

  2. My big question is to all of those who viewed her video before her death, before it went viral. What did you do?

  3. I keep asking the same question that Randi is: What did the people who saw the video before her death do??
    She talked about being horribly depressed, she talked about suicide, she talked about how kids were still tormenting her. WHY did nothing change??? It’s so hard to wrap my head around as a parent. The internet is an amazing tool, but it’s also scary as HELL. Kids don’t understand consequences the way adults do (or should), they don’t understand how far reaching and neverending cyberspace is and they can’t comprehend how intense the pain can be when you feel like everyone hates you.
    I WISH I had known Amanda and could have told her that she wasn’t alone and that doing a dumb thing doesn’t make you a dumb person or a bad one. I hate that she put her feelings out for the world to see, yet most people didn’t see them until she was gone.
    She was just a baby.

  4. “We have glorified criticism, and decried kindness. We are so concerned with self-esteem that we are not teaching character. We are so worried about lawsuits that we make authority impotent and children unafraid of repercussion.” Oh my. I cannot even tell you how much I love this. I felt like fish swimming against the current when I told my kids that they weren’t the centre of the universe, that sarcasm and mockery are not really funny (and prevented them from watching media that centred around this), that integrity and kindness are terribly important, and that I damn well could and would make sure they respected us (not in those words). I believe that many adults have relinquished the appropriate use of authority and that we have abandoned children by refusing to raise them with decisive and authoritative presence. When my son said to me once day a few years ago, ” I know mom – it’s all about character”, I felt like the message was hitting home. We have all got to step up.

    • It is all about character. And societies valuation of the character traits that make strong, confident, kind people, instead of negative, sarcastic, backstabbers or bystanders.

  5. I had the same reaction as the previous comment made by Mary. It can feel as if we’re out there flailing while we make the parenting choices that we hope will enable our kids to grow into people of honour and integrity, not afraid to stand up for themselves and others. Bottom line, we model behaviour for our children in how we conduct ourselves and in what we accept from those around us. If they see and hear us doing the right thing, the hope is they will follow suit.

    • I agree Kat. We do have to model the behaviour. But, unfortunately, this has to become a cultural and societal change. There is strength in numbers.

  6. I might be wrong, Randi, but it’s my understanding that her parents were aware – at least to the point that they changed her school at least twice, but the stalker followed her and spread the rumors each new place she went. She went from living with her father to her mother at one point, too, to completely change neighborhoods. They were aware and trying to help her – working with the schools, getting her treatment for her anxiety and depression. It’s devastating all around. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Amanda+Todd+speaks+about+daughter+death/7384521/story.html

    • Hey Aliza, it was Mara that wrote the post :). I watched some interviews and they had knowledge of the bullying, but I still can’t figure out if they knew the source of it. I I don’t really know how much they knew, because there was never any effort made to catch her blackmailer/cyberstalker. regardless of how much they knew, that doesn’t answer to why the stalker was never apprehended (he has been identified now, far too late), or why the bullying was never addressed.

  7. My son was bullyed in Kindergarten by his friend who all the boys liked and for some reason was the ring leader. I didn’t know this until the end of the year though. This boy was slapping his friends in the face or kicking them in the bum if they didn’t do what he said on the playground because he was the boss. In the beginning of grade one I witnessed this child push my son down and kick him repeatedly in the back and the legs as my son just laid there crying out STOP! As I was running towards them I felt like I couldn’t get there fast enough. I vividly remember the smile on this boys face as I got closer. Kids were all standing by watching this, it broke my heart. When I questioned the boy as to why he would do this, he just responded, I don’t know. As similar incident happened again about a week later at lunch. ( I was doing “SpyMom” from the outside of the playground! ). I went to the Principal a second time as said this will not happen again, you need to do something about this! Now his mother will not speak to me, ( remember these two were friends ), and her son said to mine “you’re not my friend anymore because you are a bully”
    I am still outraged by this. I don’t get it!? Why is this okay for this mother to provide her son a scape goat for his behaviour? This is so wrong on so many levels.
    In grade one we came across another boy who was in his class but grade two, who also had a similar ‘friend’ bully. This is the hardest to teach our children about. In their young minds they just don’t get it. He’s my friend my son would say. I know, but he hurts you and makes you feel bad more times than he is nice to you. And guess what, his mother is just as oblivious as the mother from Kindergarten!
    It pains me to think what I have thrown my son into as far as sending him off to school for six hours a day alone and trying to deal with these issues that kids don’t even have the tools to do!! I have talked to the teachers, the principal, the school councillor and they have been listening, but everything happens on the playground and there is just not enough eyes to catch everything. Kids know how to be sneaky and do things behind the supervisors backs. Plus, there are 3 supervisors overseeing 350 kids. That is just not enough. I have a meeting with the Principal next week. I with so many other mothers are proposing to him that we, the parents would like to do a volunteer supervisor at lunch. This is a problem though with the district because it is a union job. I am getting to the point where I just don’t care about the union politics, it’s about our kids!
    I went to the screening of Bullying end with you. 80% of bullying happens at school. Yes of course it does because 3 supervisors for 350 is not enough! We need not to hover over our kids, but what we need to do be there for them when they need us, to help them solve the problem, to have our eyes and ears open to what is happening and intervene when necessary. Kids need to be taught the skills as it’s happening. Not send them out from there sheltered environment at home to a playground of 350 kids to figure it out. We would never throw our kids in to the deep end of the pool and say swim honey, you can do it! As parents, we need to demand to our school districts that we will be a part of the solution to bullying and it starts young just like everything else, and your union politics? well you’re just going to have to bite the bullet on that one and open your eyes and see that our kids are just way to precious to be denied due to your politics!

    • I’m sorry to hear your story. Very sorry. Unfortunately, you’re right. Kids know what they can get away with, and there isn’t enough supervision. And yes, it starts with the parents. But not with parents policing. But rather, with parents teaching their kids not to bully and not to bystand. The bullying is just a symptom, and we should treat symptoms, we need to treat the illness. Policing will do the former, and a cultural change will do the latter.

Trackbacks

  1. […] in the spirit of confronting my own cruel inner voice, I am writing to my childhood bully (who, by the way, appears on my Facebook page as “Someone you might know”). Here […]

  2. […] but the online world is the opposite of a diary. It’s a public place that everyone inhabits. If your kids don’t realize that people are watching on there – including us parents – then they don’t understand it and neither do […]

  3. […] Monica Lewinsky, then Kristin Stewart, now Amanda Todd. It’s the age-old double standard and it’s only gotten worse now that we’re […]

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