The word “bully” brings to mind nostalgic notions of Biff bugging George McFly in the 80’s classic flick Back to the Future. You know - the archetypal high school bully from a bad family that picks on the weakling until the weakling has a confidence building ephiphany and stands up to the bully. The story ends sweetly with the bully working for the former weakling later in life.
Or the ad featured on the back of comic books where the bully kicked sand on the weakling on the beach until the weakling took up weight lifting and came back looking like Atlas. Then he got the girls and all was well with the universe. How quaint.
But there is nothing quaint about today’s bullying. George McFly was not subject to online harassment campaigns, brutal beatings, or character assassinations through social media and body building certainly doesn’t stop these social media attacks.
Most importantly McFly and the weakling on the beach were never bullied to the point of contemplating suicide.
But kids today are committing suicide because of bullying. What had changed? Are they weaker? Do they lack social skills from their parents to handle a bully? Is society just too soft these days - not requiring kids to “man-up” and deal?
I reject all of these antiquated notions. Technology and changes in our culture where kids have access to adult media and adopt adult behaviours at an earlier age, makes bullying by boys and girls so insidious that it is causing wonderful people to end their lives.
So what can be done? One bullied boy in Eastern Canada stopped going to school until the school held a rally to raise awareness and support him.
Some schools go beyond the weakly enforced “zero tolerance policy" to create safe spaces and support groups.
Parents can learn to talk to their kids assertively about school and pay close attention to telltale signs their child is being victimized.
But I think we can do better. As I said on the show, in any other context in our society bullying is assault.
Let’s stop using the “schoolyard bully” language and the rite of passage nonsense it conjures up, and call this cruel, soul crushing behavior what it actually is - “assault”.
Maybe once we give it a serious name we will start treating it seriously.