Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
Why is bullying on the rise? There are several major factors.
The rise of social networks in place of face to face socialization makes it easier to bully 24x7x365 and enables mass attacks on one person, worsening the scope and severity. The emphasis on self-esteem over the past 30 years has created a generation that will not allow itself to be challenged, questioned or criticized; this results in people who attack any perceived as criticizing their self worth instead of taking the criticism with a grain of salt.
The mistaken view that all violence is equally bad prevents self-defense from curtailing bullies while empowering the aggressors. The term bully is also increasingly misappropriated, with behavior that was previously considered free speech and dissent wrongly labeled as bullying.
Let's look at each of these root causes in depth.
Not All Acts Are Bullying
The Rise of Social Networks
1. Writing divorces the speaker from the words. It is easier to say more extreme things online than in person. There is no immediate reaction to the horror or pain or guilt of the other person. There is no internal recoiling of one's own reaction at hearing the words said or the gasps of those around the arguing pair. Social networking allows bullies to say things they could not or would not be allowed to say in public while doing so in a public forum. This makes the discourse harsher and crueler. If the teacher heard them say it, they'd be disciplined immediately. If the same words were posted on a social network "wall", the teacher may never know while a dozen others laugh at the victim.
2. Social networking makes it possible for dozens or hundreds to join in a fire storm against one person. The ganging up made possible by social media would be an illegal lynching if it happened in person.
3. Social media and social networking means that the bullying doesn't stop when someone leaves the bully's presence. Leaving school ends the face to face encounters, but hateful comments said out of spite or the intent to hurt can be on the person's home page before they get home.
4. Social networking makes it possible for bullies to leverage a far larger assault than their immediate neighbors. The realm of attacks online can include people who do not know the victim and barely know the bully. But joining in a barrage of horrific things makes the attacks more devastating.
5. The ability to edit images and audio files and their inclusion on social media makes it possible to create lasting, harmful images. Photoshop a victim's face onto an animal or ugly body, dub their voice onto the image of two animals having sex - the methods of attacking someone have expanded and reach a deeper level than a few words that might be forgotten the next day.
The Rise of the Self Esteem Culture
1. Criminals tend to have higher self esteem than the general public. Telling them that they were always right and that the blame is with others or a generic "society" teaches them to blame others for their mistakes and builds a toxic sense of entitlement. The self esteem culture does not turn all children into bullies. For those with narcissistic, self-centered and bullying tendencies, the culture of self-esteem feeds the personality traits and personal views that encourage bullying.
2. The self esteem culture assumes that those who make bad choices are not inherently bad but acting out of an emotional void. Therefore, the solution is to pour on more self esteem - feeding their narcissism but not punishing them severely as would curtail future attacks on others or dissuade others from doing the same.
3. Telling victims that they should try to understand the bully's point of view validates the bully while diminishing the harm to the victim. This doesn't stop the bullying; it merely trains the victim to see themselves as partially at fault for the harm they suffered.
4. Efforts to treat a bully by seeking to further build up their self esteem backfire, reinforcing the personality traits that are part of the root cause for their bad behavior. At best, the bully stops bullying for a while to avoid more lectures. Mediocre results of self esteem activities is a shift from physical assault to verbal abuse. At worst, the bully is empowered because they are not "bad", just misguided, now backed by a teacher or counselor who has validated their view that they are OK even if they attack, harm, steal, lie, cheat, trick and threaten.
Treating All Violence as Equally Bad
1. Treating all violence, regardless of reason, as equally bad has fueled the rise in bullying. Defending one's self against a bully stops the attacks by the bully at that time and often for the future, as well. Punishing those who physically defend themselves as well as the bully stops the one act with a high likelihood of stopping the bullying.
2. When self defense is punished, the bully gains another threat to hold over the head of the victim. "If you defend yourself, I'll get punished, but so will you." Good kids now suffer the abuse because they cannot go to the adults who should protect them for fear of being punished.
3. Punishing self defense makes it enables the bullying. This is similar to prosecuting those who use a gun to stop a would-be home invader, rapist or murderer. Criminalizing self defense make the potential victims helpless while the criminals now act with greater impunity. Knowing that victims are helpless makes it easier for bullies to act.
4. Punishing those who physically intervene when a bully is attacking others, whether it is a rain of fists or pushing someone down the stairs, trains those who would defend the innocent that physically protecting others is bad. Victims now find that few are willing to prevent an assault from growing worse for fear of punishment, increasing the potential harm that can befall a victim.
Misappropriation of the Term Bully
1. When disagreement is no longer a debate but called "hate", true communication is no longer possible. This not only stifles free speech but causes tensions to build until they erupt at less opportune moments. These outbursts carry frustration and anger as well as disagreement, adding negative emotion to the discussion when it does occur. This makes outbursts easy to label as "bullying", when free discourse would have kept the discussion calm and reasonable. When dissent against a majority view grows in strength and their ability to speak is stifled in the name of “fairness” or “equality” or “justice”, the anger at not being allowed to speak grows. This makes any outcries by the politically incorrect angrier and thus easier to mistake for an attack.
2. When political weight is added to certain views in addition to the social norms of right and wrong, those who disagree with the politically correct view are not only wrong but bad. Those who try to share politically incorrect views are not just wrong but seen as committing a bad act in trying to convince others. When someone holds views deemed politically incorrect and tries to tell others they are wrong and convince them of the non-PC side, it is interpreted as an assault, not the right to try to convert others to one's own view. This makes honest attempts to change the views of others “bullying”, making it seem a greater problem than it is.
3. The term bully is inherently weighed with visions of an older child beating up a younger one for lunch money or stealing their designer tennis shoes. Labeling the dissenters as bullies is like labeling them racists or haters - the name calling is used to label the other side as extremist and shut down their views. Calling the opposition bullies is one step above calling them Nazis; using the word “bully” says they aren’t just wrong, they’re evil. Calling those who disagree most vocally bully is an effort to silence them as well as providing justification for any group retaliation against them. When those who disagree vehemently are labeled bullies, the number of so called bullies grows. Calling those who have legitimate disagreements and grievances bullies in an effort to silence them may silence some but anger others.
4. Classifying those who disagree as “bullies” and bad has consequences. Free speech and freedom of belief be damned, they’re a “bully”, and thus fair game to shun or punish. Actions taken against politically incorrect “bullies” adds to the legitimate grievances of that group and their anger, making them more likely to take social, political and even physical action against those who are trying to shut them out or shut them down. Thus labeling those who merely disagree as “bullies” can create the very violence originally prefaced by the name.
Darkproxy from Ohio on June 14, 2012:
Oddly the only real way to end bullying from what I have had seen is to take down the bully. Our school systems gladly ignor any problem a victim has, with bullies.