One of the things I enjoy most about Facebook is that through a simple “Accept Friend Request” you can see exactly who’s still involved in childish drama that was once entertaining as a teen, but is now plain pathetic. On a positive note, you can also see slivers of success from not just the over-achievers, but the underdogs who are having the last laugh. But what also becomes apparent in my adventures in social networking is the need for people to obsess over their glory days in the high school hallways, because clearly their adult lives are paling in comparison. I’m not talking about joining a group to be updated about the ten-year reunion or occasional passing memory about a beloved teacher who passed away. I’m talking about the folks who are trapped in their prom king/queen reign while the rest of us are living real life.
I bring this all up to say that high school was definitely not chock full of my fondest memories. In fact, I don’t even remember much of it. While I wasn’t exactly bullied, there was a clear defining line between the “cool” kids and everyone else. I had my moments, but I definitely didn’t make the cut for senior superlatives. I wasn’t drowning in ridicule but I wasn’t sunbathing on the shores of the socially elite. With a few close friends and some funny memories, I happily spent my school career staying afloat somewhere in the middle.
Today’s teens are definitely growing up in a different element. I have my fair share of awkward memories of classmates rubbing my five-head like a genie lamp and joking about premiering movies on my high hairline. There was a guy or two who publicly rejected my silent love letter advances. But even on my worst days, I knew that when that bell rang at 3:00 p.m., I could return to a place where people loved me and not have to deal with any of that nonsense for at least 18 hours. Today, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are giving teens their own digital spotlight and making it difficult for them to at least just blend in somewhere in the middle. Either you’re the most popular person at school with 2000 followers to prove it or there are message boards dedicated solely to unite people who hate you for the most random reason. Social networking at its worst is giving cruel kids more opportunities to bully even after the last bell rings.
Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University. The CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost seven percent have attempted it. As a result, more and more parents are opting to home school their children or allowing them to enroll in cyber school, but I question if this is helping or hurting the problem. Whether you’re dealing with a Twitter thug or a good old-fashioned jock stuffing a student into a locker, three things are usually true:
- Bullies thrive in numbers. You may have a ringleader, but they usually crumble if they don’t have a crew to back them up.
- Bullies thrive on weakness and intimidation. Your fear is their motivation.
- The best defense is a good offense. Bullies don’t have nearly as much influence on someone dealing with someone who is self-assured and has a strong support system in the first place.