The unfortunate suicide of Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi have left people wondering why something as harmless as bullying could lead to something as serious as suicide or school shootings. Because this topic hits so close to home with my own personal experiences, I feel it necessary to share with those who wonder just why kids kill themselves or crack and walk into their school to mow down their peers. Here are some common myths I hear from many people.
1. “I got picked on in school and I turned out just fine”
This is something most adults will say. Problem with this is two-fold. First, if you were called fat or a bean pole or tinsel teeth a couple times, you were not bullied. Bullying that leads to serious psychological breaks resulting in suicide or murder tends to be prolonged and constant bullying where the assailant forces an imbalance of power between the victim and bully.
Repeated beatings, repeated and constant name-calling, persistent pranks and any constant activity where the victim is intimidated and/or publicly humiliated constitutes bullying. Bullying is, in the more serious cases, a significant and long-term forced balance of power shift where the victim feels powerless, helpless, worthless and fearful for their well-being (source). Put another way, bullying is abuse.
2. “In my time, we had bullies, but no one killed themselves over it or committed school shootings”
Just because you don’t remember it or didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it never happened. In 1988, two students opened fire at Pinellas Park High School. That was generation ago. People who graduated in 1988 are now the parents and adults claiming it never happened in ‘their’ time.
Using the same logic, one would also say kids didn’t get pregnant before they graduated high school in the 1950s. But, we all know now that parents simply shipped their girls off to ‘live with their relatives’.
3. “If the kid just went to their parents or to school officials, the bullying would have stopped”
In most cases of late (source), when a child is bullied enough to lead to suicide or school shootings, the child has already spoken to their parents. In most cases, the parents have attempted to intervene by both speaking with the aggressor’s parents and speaking with school officials.
Bullying is already traumatic enough for the victim when it is constant and unavoidable. Its an entirely different set of trauma when the authorities (school faculty or law enforcement) either cannot stop the bullying or, in rare cases, engage in bullying themselves.
4. “Once they get out of school and enter the real world, bullying stops anyway. No one likes high school”
Tyler Clementi’s and Megan Meier’s stories show that bullying happens after high school, and bullying is done by both peers and adults alike.
5. “We just need anti-bullying programs in schools”
Most schools have DARE and other programs that focus some effort on anti-bullying campaigns. Problem is that these programs only provide an illusion that something is ‘being done’. School Principals and teachers along with parents still believe the victim is over-reacting.
More often than not, the victim is lower-class, minority (a.k.a. over/underweight, nationality, perceived or actual sexual orientation, religion), and/or an outcast subsumed in a counter culture. Each of these characteristics leads school administrators and authorities second guessing the victim’s story or flatly denying the victim’s plight as a problem in the first place.
It is pertinent that we realize the true psychological repercussions of bullying. Bullying at a level that is present in most cases that make national headlines are so debilitating and long-term that the victim’s entire life revolves around degradation, depression and fear.