Watch “Brotherly Love Goes Viral, Big Time Rush Surprises Bullied Sister” on YouTube

Even young children get it. What happens between then and teenager hormones to change all of that? And what else can we do to keep it from changing for the worse?

In honor of Spirit Day 2013, a revisit of one brother’s love and concern for his sister, and how that grew into something bigger.

Bullying over Food Allergies

Now this is absolutely vile and ridiculous…taunting and physical violence notwithstanding, this is cruelty at its highest. ANYONE, child or not, that thinks it’s cool to do this should automatically be up for attempted murder.

And the beating, sadly, goes on…..

Today is GLAAD’s Spirit Day, to raise support for and awareness about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people–and specifically the bullying they endure. Since the 4 part bullying series I wrote revolving around the now defunct daytime drama One Life To Life, I have been collecting articles to write on–the sheer number of links and cases of escalating bullying activity and suicides has been overwhelming. I do plan to start posting on the subject again, because it’s THAT important. I have been reading this week about the entire sad saga of young Amanda Todd, and my heart continues to break for her and anyone suffering such severe mistreatment. Any traumatic experiences I had as a semi-ostracized teen pale so far in comparison that I wonder if I could survive being a teen in THIS age.

Something MUST be done. And I MUST do something. Let my voice be a start.

Bullying as an epidemic, part 4

As promised, a return to the focus on victim retaliation….

Inspired by an adult survivor of bullying and teasing, Shane Morasco (the bullied teen on One Life To Live I’ve been discussing all of these months) has talked his mom into letting him get a gym membership to strengthen his body (and ultimately his confidence). One of the bullies, a young smartass named Jack Manning whose character has inexplicably shifted from precocious and snarky to just outright mean, finds out from another bullying cohort that Shane is at the gym and decides to go in to further harass Shane. Now I’d like to back this up a little and recount a few things about the fallout that followed the discovery of the bullying, keeping in mind that it is the nature of soap operas to suspend a little disbelief and bend reality to suit their purposes and move plot. So the fact that after being punished by his mother and custodial parent with no cell phone, computer or online account plus being grounded from going anywhere but school and home, how this young man not only has a cell phone in his possession to get a phone call from the friend about Shane but also manages to successfully lie to his mother about going to the library to study (with her knowing exactly the kind of character her son has) just baffles me.  However, the writers had to get him to the gym somehow, so I’ll let it slide….

Prior to the latest confrontation, Shane gets yet another adult peer testimonial from the guy training him, who tells him about growing up a minority in a tough neighborhood and being into art.  He tells Shane that while training to defend himself is admirable, he should focus more on building strength and being able to choose conflict avoidance instead of fighting back.  Though the fighting back scenes are funny and pretty admirable, in my opinion–right on cue Jack comes in and starts teasing Shane about working out and using “baby weights.”  Shane, finally tired of the taunts, gets a good zinger back in on Jack and drops the dumbbell on Jack’s foot.  Now of course, retaliatory violence is not the answer, and as a responsible adult I should  probably not be doing the mental cheers and backflips at Shane’s actions.  But damned if that little pissant didn’t deserve a little catchback.  Even the little cohort laughed at Jack holding his foot and writhing in pain.

Of course this is going to lead to escalating tit for tat behavior, which as a model for real-life applications is not exactly the path we want to take if we want to find a positive and socially relevant avenue to resolve and eradicate the bullying problem.  I’ve even seen a few videos where the bullied kid gets revenge–one particular favorite of mine is when the shorter kid bullies a boy bigger than him in size and weight, then finds himself being bodyslammed onto the concrete. Now while answering a hit with a hit doesn’t solve anything, it was the impetus of many a lifelong friendships between boys (and some girls) of my generation.  Not only did the concrete face plant and embarrassing post-stagger on YouTube not elicit an apology from the smaller boy, he actually had the stones to make a response video indicating how not sorry he was for his behavior. This, I guess, is a textbook example of the contempt concept outlined by Barbara Coloroso (and mentioned in part 3 of this series)–this little pipsqueak feels superiority to fat kids, and thus sees neither the need to be apologetic nor does he see anything wrong with his behavior in the first place. (I realize my phrasing in the last sentence can be seen as inflammatory or insulting–this was intentional on my part.  The phrasing, that is–not the insult. Find and watch the video–it’s an accurate description.)

As predicted, Jack nurses his grudge against Shane along with his foot and devises yet another plan to entrap him–he poses as a teenage girl who is a comic book fan that takes an “interest” in Shane. The intent is to string Shane along and eventually lure him out to an abandoned basement with a fake party invite, hoping Shane will be frightened and cry (and possibly have an asthma attack from the amount of dust and cobwebs present) from being locked inside. The problem is that Shane catches on that the “girl” isn’t real and is Jack trying to trick him, and then Shane’s mother Gigi finds out about it. Gigi, already incensed about the way her kid has been treated, has already refused Jack service at the diner where she works…and now that she knows about this latest stunt she goes off to the “party,” loaded for bear. Of course, in true high-drama soap opera fashion, she gets mistaken (thanks to a raincoat left in the car) for Shane and shoved into a room in the basement, where the kids jam a chair under the doorknob and lock her in. Outside, Jack has a slight twinge of conscience about leaving “Shane” locked up, but his friends talk him into leaving him there longer–one (naturally, a smaller boy) even taunting Jack with the nickname “Gimpy” to squash his compassion and get him to agree. Gigi tries to be resourceful; when efforts to pick the door latch open with a nail file fail and she finds no service on her cell phone, she discovers an old generator in the basement. She starts it up and finds a lamp to connect to it so she can better see how she can get out–not knowing at the time that it poses a serious danger of emitting carbon monoxide, particularly in small, enclosed spaces. And–you guessed it–nobody knows where she went.

I’d like to say this story will end well, but a) because it’s a soap opera and b) because I already read the plot synopsis so I could finish this blog, that is not to be. Storywise, the fallout resulting from this incident will resonate in many other plot circles, but I’m not sure how this will impact the strength of the bullying component. Parts of the story made great pains to emphasize that revenge and retaliation would not solve the situation and could make it worse, yet we have a grown woman admirably but foolishly taking action against the bullies who tormented her son. In a perfect world, we would want our kids to resolve their own conflicts and manage to form better relationships because of it–or barring that, be able to step in with reason and adult authority to guide them to such a solution. But not only does that utopia not exist, adults can operate with the same emotions their kids experience and want to seek retaliatory action. How do we manage to stop vindictive bullying, bolster self-confidence and self-esteem, erase the apathy and contempt that fuels this behavior and protect our kids–all while managing our own senses of self-control? It will be just as interesting to find the answers to these questions as it will be to see exactly how the presentation of this storyline will aid in our search.

Bullying as an epidemic, part 3

Latest installment took a while–a few other plot twists and real life got in the way….

OK, so when last I posted, the bullied teen character had been talked off the roof by his parents and they were all wading through the waters of therapy and the “new normal” that follows a suicide attempt.  A few high drama events have stalled the impact of the story, but it seems to be picking back up.  The main bully character’s father awoke from his coma just in time to chastise his son about his bullying behavior, admonishing him to not follow his former example.  He further emphasized to his son that there is no circumstance EVER where someone deserves to be victimized (this particular character was the ringleader of a gang rape when he was a college student, a crime for which he was eventually found guilty and sentenced to prison time; continued interactions with his victim have been all over the map, as each character’s child found their way into a relationship and now have a child of their own–REALLY long and convoluted story).  This caused the bully to roll his eyes and declare that aliens must have taken over his father’s body and made him spout this “feel-good nonsense.”  Considering at the moment there’s a plot line that calls the father’s identity into question, the kid may be right.  This unfortunately lessens the impact of the parental influence, basically nullifying the model parent’s words.

The story has taken a rather interesting turn, however–community support has kicked in.  In many cases, a kid will not believe a high opinion spouted by his or her parents, but hearing the same message from an outside source tends to lend some credibility.  A male adult character overheard a conversation between the bullied kid and his mother, and decides to talk to the kid about his own experiences.  Now this particular character is pretty much eye candy with a sketchy track record in the human decency department–but the writers’ use of him an as example actually made good sense.  Though he has an air of confidence and some modest life successes, his history with a drunken, abusive father and an absent mother colors his views enough to have empathy with the teen.  He recounts his experiences as a scrawny kid with secondhand clothes, being picked on and teased by the kids in his school.  He goes on to tell the boy about getting a construction job over the summer that took care of the scrawniness but added a new problem: some of the boys still gave him a hard time, but now it was because the girls now noticed (and appreciated) his new physique and gave him a different kind of attention.  Given a renewed sense of self by this exchange, the boy later asks his mom about joining a gym to help build him up physically–a first step in the process of regaining his confidence and positive self-worth.  This is leading into another direction where the teen starts to fight back against his bullies (as well as his mom striking her own blows toward them), but I’ll get back to that spin in a later blog.

I want to expand a little more on the influence of outside opinion.  I’ve started reading Letters To A Bullied Girl about Olivia Gardner’s experiences and the efforts of sisters Emily and Sarah Buder to encourage and uplift her.  I’ve read through the forewords and all of the letters from former bullies, and gotten part of the way through letters from fellow bullying victims, most of whom deeply empathize with and relate to her experiences.  One person was a 72 year old former victim teased for the shape of  his nose.  The worldwide scope of this project has given hope to a young girl who might otherwise have believed the taunts hurled at her and reacted negatively–and possibly helped other kids experiencing the same thing.

Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, The Bullied and the The Bystander, mentions in her foreword of LTABG that contempt is the primary motivator in bullying behavior.  Contempt, as she defines it, is a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebodyconsidered worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect–and breeds the atmosphere for bullies to commit heinous acts without any shame or compassion for their targets.  I suppose this explains the how but the why is still beyond my grasp.  What possible experiences could be had in the first decade of life that can encourage a child to vicitimize another, and not only NOT feel bad about their actions but find fun in it?  What kind of culture breeds children with so little respect for authority or peer figures that victimizing others is the thing to do?  And what do we do to change these outlooks?

I’m sure there were other kids in my high school that were teased as mercilessly (if not more) as I was–I distinctly remember some particularly biting criticisms of appearance, intelligence and general behavior quirks that were caricatured in various skits during our Senior Class Night performed the name of “good-natured ribbing.”  And to some extent, I do believe there was not a great deal of intentional malice behind some of the things said and depicted.  That didn’t make them any less hurtful, and I have to wonder whether or not those jabs colored our views of acceptable teasing and bullying behavior in addtion to any damage done to the self-esteem of the intended victims.  I know I still see shades of that “bright-skinned, bald-headed majorette” regardless of how many people tell me I’m beautiful, obsess over the “fat girl” in the mirror no matter how many people wish they could be “skinny” like me, and wonder whose judgmental eye looks down on my hairy arms and legs–the one physical feature that doesn’t bother me save for the stark contrast of dark hair to light skin.  In the end, I guess I’m just trying to figure out the best way to accept myself as a worthwhile and damn fabulous human being while trying to understand our past behaviors and their current mutations–and how to best reconcile both.

Bullying as an epidemic, part 2

So this storyline on One Life To Live is getting pretty good–at least the performances have vastly improved and the situations seems a lot more true to life.  The young man did allow his parents to talk him down from the roof, and an avalanche of emotional fallout came down on all sides–the father angry at the situation, the kids involved and the school administration; the mother frightened and shaken that she might have forever needlessly lost her only child; the classmates in varying degrees of disbelief and denial; the mother of the bully wondered about her child’s future and her contribution to his actions.  It’s proving to be a pretty realistic picture of the different views.  The next sets of scenes showed the beleaguered family at the hospital, getting the young man checked out physically and emotionally.  I think the writers did a pretty thorough job with those scenes, showing the need for total family counseling and portraying the reticence of the young man to vocalize his anguish.

I never got as far as the emergency room, but I do remember being dragged to the psychiatrist’s office after a particularly tense family fight/suicide attempt.  I never did open up to the psychiatrist–my mother spent a whole lot of money paying someone to play Scrabble with me. LOL  Nowadays, I do wonder how much more well-adjusted I might have been had I actually talked to my shrink; after all, she was a particularly nice lady and really did want to help me.  Maybe that teen/Fresh Prince mindset that “Parents Just Don’t Understand” is a universal sentiment….but we’ve somehow got to break through that.  There are so many people in pain who believe no one could ever relate to what they’re going through, and that talking about their feelings will make them seem more strange and outcast than they already feel.  How do we set up a support system strong enough to keep bullying from being so destructive?

Bullying as a epidemic

This week one of the storylines on one of my soaps comes to a head, and I’ve been pondering on this subject for a while now.

On One Life To Live, the writers have been tackling bullying and cyberbullying–the young man at the center of it has given up on things getting better and is taking drastic measures to get them to stop; as of Tuesday’s episode, his parents were attempting to talk him down from the high school’s roof.

Storyline logic difficulties aside, I know that this is a subject that needs to be addressed and discussed.  Anytime the White House has a panel on the subject, it must be pretty serious.  But I’m at a loss to fully understand.  Bullying has been a problem for ages–I wasn’t particularly targeted but I do know what it’s like to be picked on and thought of as an outcast.  Even drove me to a suicide attempt (luckily, my intense allergy to pain kept that from happening).

I don’t fully understand the cyber aspect–coming from my generation, I could at least escape any tormenting endured at school once I got home.  Today’s kids get barraged on their cell phones, Facebook and web pages, YouTube, etc.  Some of these taunts have been serious enough to drive kids to successfully end their lives.  I know that it feels like the end of the world when everyone is pointing at you, saying and doing horrible things to make teenage life seemingly unbearable.  What I don’t know is why these particular taunts are so damaging.

I know a lot of people who believe in the “man up” or “woman up” theory–teaching kids to stand up for themselves and to not take the harsh comments of their peers so much to heart, and to some degree I can see the merit in that.  I would think that standing up to the bully or bullies in question, or even reported them to the adults in charge, would begin to take away that power, thus empowering and transforming the victims into their own champions.  Maybe I need to talk to a teenager to get a better perspective.

I’ll be doing some more research into this, so there will definitely be another blog to come….feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.