The New York Times has an interesting article on how schools are responding to incidents of "cyber-bullying" (what a 90s term) that happen among their students, whether or not it occurs on school grounds. It's obviously a difficult issue for educators, parents and youth workers to deal with, since it involves actions that can occur anywhere and anytime that a young person is online or on their cell phone.
I found the article lacking in examining how youth themselves are positively responding to these new forms bullying among themselves. Kids are endlessly creative, and as much as they come up with new ways to torture each other, they can also come up with new ways to support and defend each other as well.
And where are the adults in the lives of these youth who are helping suggest more positive responses to these conflicts, beyond punitive measures against the alleged offender?
For example, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, in their 2008 report on teens, gaming and civics, reported that teens frequently experienced both "anti-social" and "pro-social" behaviors while gaming online:
The majority of teens who play games encounter aggressive behavior while playing games, and most of those teens witness others stepping in to stop the behavior. Among teens who play games, 63% report seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing,” with 24% reporting this happens “often.” Of those who have had these experiences, 73% state they have seen or heard other players ask the aggressor to stop, with 23% reporting that this happens “often.”
So not only do teens get bullied while gaming, they also see their peers intervene to try and stop it!
Which brings me back to my own (non-digital) experiences when I was a teen.
As a short, geeky, minority adolescent, I was naturally subject to the occasional bully in my life. Most of the bullying was of the "give me your lunch money" variety, rather than physical violence or ongoing harassment. Still, I can think of bigger kids who made my walk from school to home fraught with terror and dread. I didn't really have any adults in my life who were helping me to know how to respond to these bullying actions. That is, until I found judo.
Some of my friends and I started taking judo when we were in junior high, an after school activity that has had positive impacts on my life that endure to this day. Judo taught me not only how to respond to someone attempting to injure me, it also taught me self-confidence and poise in the face of potential adversaries that defused situations before they could become violent. It taught me how to walk away from someone who wanted to fight, and how to channel my own aggressive tendencies in ways that didn't cause harm to others.
I remember one incident where one of the school bullies at my junior high was trying to grab me around the waist, perhaps to dump me in the garbage can or something. Not even thinking about it, I turned his own momentum against him, twisting while putting a leg behind his and dumping him on his butt. He lay on the floor confused and then tried to bear hug me again. And again I threw him to the ground. This time, he got up and stalked away, presumably in search of easier prey.
It couldn't have last more than five minutes. But it's one of those instances that alters the trajectory of your entire life.
I'm not suggesting that youth today who are subject to cyber-bullies start taking martial arts lessons. But I do wonder where are the places that young people can go to get equipped to deal with these new forms of aggression and violence? I'd like to find a way at Global Kids for us to develop programs to make sure our own teen leaders are able to not only cope with bullying behavior, but also be positive role models for their peers in how to treat others with respect, and even to be peacemakers in their communities.
But first I'd like to find out who is already doing the work in preparing young people to deal with bullies? More precisely, who helped you as a young person to deal with bullies in your life?