By K.A. Daleman. It does not take a social scientist to make the revelation that bullying occurs in virtually every social species on the planet, mammalian and otherwise. Chances are that if an organism lives in a social group environment, there will be cases of bullying that occur that we, as human observers, deem to be an animalistic necessity to establish a hierarchy within the pack. This innate propensity also exists in humans which, as much as we would like to disbelieve, does not put humans much further up the evolutionary ladder than a pack of wild dogs given the atavistic perpetuation of bullying in our society.
As devastating as her death is, Amanda Todd has been a martyr for the issue but no more so than Dawn-Marie Wesley was twelve years ago, never mind the numerous other cases that never come to mass public attention. These bullying-motivated suicides initially inspire a Tsunami of public discussion on bullying, youth suicide and mental health issues only to ebb away in a matter of months. We, as a society, have failed miserably – the message that Dawn-Marie sent to us has not been heeded. We have had a full twelve years to take her lesson to heart and that has not happened; I daresay that the bullying problem has actually worsened.
Contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe that parents are raising bullies at home any more than they are raising victims. I can again make the comparison with dogs – the reserved, well-behaved canine at home suddenly has a completely different personality at the dog-park, much to the surprise of the dogwalker, simply because it is in a different social environment. Humans are capable of similar dispositional shifts depending on the social environment, how ingrained their self-control and what behaviour they believe they will “get away with”; the hockey riots would be enough said to substantiate this claim – not one of those riot participants behaves like that at home, I am sure.
Bullying appears to be an adaptive behaviour that a child learns to use to his or her advantage when he or she enters a different social environment; to be blunt, the majority of kids are learning how to “get away with” bullying when they first start school. To be fair, I am not saying that they learn the behaviour in Kindergarten but I am saying that they learn that is acceptable by default in that it is not squelched at the outset. I do not know if the elementary school teachers simply cannot recognize these behaviours as bullying in its infancy or if they choose to look the other way in the hopes that the issue will resolve itself, but either way the child learns that the bullying behaviour is acceptable because it has not been clearly addressed to the child as unacceptable. Fast forward the situation from Grade One to Grade Ten and the problem grows exponentially. Teachers encourage the student victims to “stand up to the bully” when the teachers themselves fail to do so and thus I would suggest that the next time one of these teachers is threatened, assaulted or intimidated by another adult that they do not call the police and file a report but rather “stand up” to their assailant themselves.
It would be too easy to point a finger at teachers and blame them when realistically laying blame is a blatant attempt at shirking one’s own responsibility; instead, I would argue that we, as a society, have to actually address the issue with some concerted effort lest Amanda’s death –like her predecessor Dawn-Marie – be in vain. If it means that we have to staff the Kindergarten classrooms with behaviourists or police officers or Cesar Milan then so be it, but if the adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true, then preventing a child from learning that they can bully others is surely easier than trying to deal with the behaviour once it is ingrained. An aggressive dog is disciplined and immediately removed from the company of other canines by the responsible handler at the first indication of trouble and preferably before an injury occurs. Conversely, an aggressive child is scolded with a few sharp words and the rolling of eyes after another child is injured. I highly doubt that this latter style of reprimand would be well-received at the dog park nor would it be viewed as responsible dog ownership, so why is it acceptable adult methodology for addressing bullying in the classroom? For any teacher that balks at the idea of giving up control of their classroom to a supervisor I would counter that the teachers never do have control of the class – the bullies do, which is confirmed every time a bully is reprimanded with a few sharp words and the rolling of eyes.
Wednesday, February 27th is Anti-Bullying Day in BC and I would suggest that we do more than just wear a pink t-shirt and talk about bullying amongst ourselves. It is high time that we, as a society, come to terms with the magnitude of the situation and actually do something about it – we owe that much to Amanda and Dawn-Marie and the countless other victims who suffer from the abuse of bullies. Our society does not need more policies or t-shirts or funerals; what we need is to stop the bullying.