Bullies in the 21st century

Gregory Moffatt

I was bullied from the third grade through my senior year of high school. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Some of those years weren’t too bad and what I endured was usually innocuous compared to some of the bullying that goes on today, but at the time, it scared me to death.

I didn’t know how to fight and I just assumed that in a fight I’d come up on the losing end. Some of those school days were so frightening to me that I dreaded the bell. In the classroom I generally felt safe, but in the hallway, on the playground, or in the locker room or bathroom I was completely vulnerable.

Some who bullied me waited for me on the way home from school. If I knew they might be there, I’d walk or ride my bike a different way home. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Even in my senior year of high school I had to manage several bullies.

A knee surgery took me out of school for a period of time. I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to walk the halls of my high school for at least a couple of weeks as I counted down the days to graduation. School was like a cage where I was forced each day to enter and close the door behind me, locking myself in with a bully that terrified me.

That was a very long time ago. No bully ever seriously hurt me physically, but the fear I lived with all those years was possessing.

Bullies still exist and still cause great damage. Approximately one in four children are victims of bullying and each year several children in the U.S. die as a result of bullying.

But I had an advantage in the 1960s and 1970s. My bullies only had access to me in the school or at school events. Avoiding them otherwise was quite simple, even in the little town where my family lived. Children today not only have to deal bullies like mine, but they also have to contend with cyber bullying 24/7.

In a 2014 study, one in four children were cyber bullied – a statistic that is as high as bullying face-to-face. Cyber bullying through Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, or other social media can be devastating. When I was cornered by my bullies, the humiliation of my fellow students seeing me quiver was almost as upsetting as the fear of being hurt.

But witnesses to my victimization were always finite – a dozen or two at most – and the bullying they saw didn’t last long. With cyber-bullies, the witnesses are infinite and those cruel words logged onto social media sites might be there for days, weeks, or longer. If removed, these words can be easily re-posted.

There is almost no way to escape this type of bullying without also isolating oneself from peer culture. Consequently, some bullied children end their own lives. The most recent was a 9-year-old girl in Alabama just this past December.

Another frightening statistic regarding bullies is that only one in ten teens trust an adult to help stop bullying and even fewer trust a parent to deal with such a challenge. In fact, a parent is the very last person a bullied child wants to tell about being bullied.

It isn’t that children don’t trust their parents at all. Instead, children are afraid of a parent’s intervention because they don’t believe there is anything the parent can do and they fear a parent’s involvement will only make things worse. Sometimes they are right.

I know we want to respect our children’s freedom and privacy. When Facebook was new, I wrote in those days that parents should have access to their children’s Facebook page. I’ve softened on that a little, especially with older teens, but with this issue, it is important that a parent know what is going on in their children’s on-line/digital world.

So talk to your children about bullying and bullying solutions. Ensure that they are not participating actively or passively in bullying of any kind themselves. If your child identifies as anything other than heterosexual, you can know the statistics for bullying as well as suicide are far higher than what I’ve addressed above.

And of course I encourage you to periodically monitor your child’s phone where 80 percent of cyber bullying takes place. But also their tablet and laptop, as well as texts, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

If you aren’t monitoring all of your child’s digital devices and platforms, it would be easy to miss a chosen bullying format.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., (gregmoffatt.com) is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He has taught at the college level for over 30 years.]