One of my amazing co-workers shared with out students last week the story of Amanda Todd. Now, if you watch the news, you probably already know the story, but if you're oblivious to current events like me, I'll share the basics. Amanda Todd was chatting online as a 13 year-old. For parents, I know this is a red flag. As a girl looking for some attention and approval, she very much enjoyed the compliments made by her online buddies about her looks. After chatting with an individual for a while, he asked her to flash him. She did, and that person used the photo to blackmail her. The picture circulated around the internet, and she began to be tormented and bullied by kids at school. After battling depression and attempted suicide by ingesting bleach, kids continued to laugh and to make posts about her, saying that they hope she succeeded next time. Eventually, she did. But not until she made this youtube video describing her experience.
I know we hear a lot about bullying in the media, and you've probably told your kids that bullying is wrong. The issue is not whether it's right or wrong, but what is it? During our conversation, I began to see how this could be debatable, because we were operating on different ideas of bullying. Everyone agreed that they wouldn't tell someone to kill him or herself, but laughing when someone does something stupid seemed acceptable to most.
I know we laugh a lot at people who are clumsy or say blonde things, but at what point do those comments become bullying? Is there a numerical equation for how much is too much, or should you be able to judge how much a person can handle? Webster defines bully (v.) as "to treat abusively; to affect by means of coercion or force." "To treat abusively" seems like another hard-to-define phrase, because abuse looks different to people. I don't think someone who laughs at that girl who walks out of the bathroom with toilet paper on her shoe is abusive, but that could be psychologically damaging to her if everyone laughs especially if it's not the first time.
My definition of bullying is currently unresolved. I would consider any harmful thing said to another in order to express your superiority (social or physical) is bullying, but maybe there should be another term to define those "lesser" offenses. I do think that kids having no issue with calling each other names based on their weight, height, religion, or sexual orientation is disturbing, though. This tormenting (if it's not bullying) seems to be common and maybe just as harmful as bullying. Instead of using a term like bullying to teach our youth what not to do, maybe we should just use God's own words:
Love one another, as I have loved you. -John 15:12
No matter if you call if bullying, tormenting, or name-calling, it's not called love, and we are called to love.