Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On Bullying

Over the last couple of months I've seen and read a lot of articles about bullying, its affects on youth, and the many social and legal ramifications surrounding it. It's a heavy topic, frequently accompanied by the assertion that bullying has gotten somehow worse in recent years. From the suicide death of Phoebe Prince and its legal ramifications for the South Hadley school system to the young man who was recently tattooed against his will, the news media seems to be telling us that bullying is an escalating issue—in frequency and severity.

I, for one, am shocked.

Quite frankly, I'm shocked that we (that would be today's adults) have fooled ourselves into believing that bullying was ever anything less than the intentional mental, emotional, and physical abuse of a student by other students. I'm shocked by our apparent surprise that bullying might result in the suicide of a teenager—have we already forgotten the murder-suicides of April 20, 1999?

I find it interesting that in the case of the tattooing, the bullies weren't juveniles. And they've been charged with actual criminal offenses:
Charged in the incident are Blake VanNest, Donald "D.J." Wyman, Ryan Fisk and Travis Johnston. None of the suspects are juveniles. Police tell the Union Leader a 15-year-old juvenile -- who allegedly bought the tattoo gun for $30 as a souvenir -- also will be charged.

VanNest was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, indecent exposure, criminal threatening and breach of bail.

Fisk was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, sale of a controlled drug, criminal threatening and breach of bail.

Wyman was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal liability for the conduct of another and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.

Johnson was charged with conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.

Fisk allegedly did the actual tattooing. When he was done, he and the others reportedly took the boy outside Johnston's home where a group of students waited to look and laugh while the victim was forced to drop his pants. Fisk allegedly gave the victim a bag of marijuana as payment for the humiliation.
And that's interesting to me because I have been saying for years, that if an adult had said and done to me the things that some of my peers did in high school, they would go to jail for abuse. Out in the "real world" the things that happen in our schools have names like "assault" and "battery" or at the very least "slander" and "libel."

I'm tired of hearing how surprised we are that bullying is as bad as it is. I'd rather see more articles on what to do about it. And I'd really love to see some theologians tackle the common moral issues around the whole thing. Common wisdom is to "stand up for yourself" by beating on the next bully that comes after you. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. I know that I found ways to survive bullying with my self-worth more or less intact—but I didn't do it by stopping the bullies.

Any constructive thoughts out there?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

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