Why is Our Society Overreacting to Bullies?

Me as a child, around 8-10 years old. When your head is almost 1/3 of your body, you tend to get picked on.

Apparently the modern thought on bullying is that if you’re picked on for a certain attribute, the onus is on you to give in and change that attribute. At least, that’s what the parents of 9 year old Trenton Vance thought when they elected to give him plastic surgery so he could avoid being picked on at school for his ears. As shocking as that is, if one were to read the comments (both on their site and on Facebook), one would quickly deduce that hardly anyone is shocked by the parent’s actions. Almost every single comment is one in support of what the parents did. Which leads me to believe that I need to explain why the parents are wrong before going on in this post.

First, the parents are wrong because they just told their son, “The bullies are right, your ears are really bad, so we need to change them.” They admitted to their son that he had a defect that needed to be fixed. What kind of message does this send to him for the rest of his life? “When going gets tough, just change whatever it is about you that’s making it tough.”

Secondly, what message does this send to the bullies? It tells the bullies that they actually do have power over him, enough power that he’ll change to whatever they criticize. But take it from someone who was bullied as a kid, no matter what you change about yourself, you’re still going to get bullied. That’s because that’s how kids are – it’s how they were in 1500BC, it’s how they were in 1200AD, it’s how they were in 1950, and it’s how they are today. They’re going to see something different about someone and immediately start bullying the person for it, so when you undergo surgery to change that aspect of the person you validate the criticisms the bullies had.

Third, there’s a scene in the movie Bruce Almighty (I can’t remember if it made it into the movie or if it’s a deleted scene) where Bruce is shown the consequences of saying “yes” to every prayer request. One of them is that he said “yes” to the prayer of a young boy to stop being bullied. “God” points out to Bruce that by being bullied the kid would grow up to write great poetry based on those experiences. And there’s a lot of truth to this sentiment, especially with bullying: A lot of people make positive comments on the stuff I say or the poetry I write, but had I not been bullied then none of this would have come about. When I was bullied as a kid I ended up reading books on history, a ton of Star Wars novels, and even engaged in writing fictional stories. Through that pain I developed a love for learning and art. Today I am on my way to an advanced degree, contemplating writing a fantasy novel and a science fiction novel, and have a very bright future ahead of me. I wish I could tell some of those who bullied me “thank you,” but last I heard one of the most vicious bullies (who did hit me quite a bit, yet shared the same first name as me) was in jail.

As you can tell from the picture, I was a very awkward looking kid (some would argue I’m a very awkward looking adult; I would argue it’s impossible to be awkward looking if you have a glorious beard [see: James Harden]). The reality is when you have glasses that take up half your face and your head takes up a third of your body and you’re growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, you’re going to get bullied. I know it’s popular to think that we can somehow change this, that we can end bullying, but we can’t. So long as humans exist and begin their lives as children, there are going to be bullies.

The difference is how we handle bullying. Rather than overreacting and calling for lawsuits against the parents of bullies (who sometimes don’t even know what their kids are doing), or getting plastic surgery, or telling the victims of bullying to “never befriend those who bully you, ever” (yes, this is actual advice that I’ve seen given quite a bit), we need to look at the causes of bullying and handle it that way. In most cases, a kid is bullied because he is different. Due to our fallen state whenever we encounter someone who is different our first reaction is fear and the way we handle fear is we mock it. Thus, in most cases of bullying, a kid is picked on because the other kids haven’t learned what tolerance is. It’s up to the parents, teachers, and other adults to teach these kids that it’s okay to be different and that we shouldn’t mock people for these differences. In this manner, bullying is a natural part of growing up because that’s how humans develop, it’s how we learn (or should learn) to tolerate those who are different from us.

Another cause for bullying is that the bully is seeking attention, which is often caused by problems in the home. I’ll never forget getting picked on by this one kid in the fourth grade, he was relentless. I found out that his parents were getting divorced during the time he was bullying me (some other kid mentioned it) and so one day, when I had enough, I simply said, “Well at least my parents aren’t getting a divorce.” I remember this instance very well because the kid broke down in tears and I felt horrible about what I did. But the truth behind this is that the kid as bullying me because he didn’t know how to handle the situation he was in. Now, the victims of bullying (at a young age) aren’t typically going to understand this, but the adults should. The adults should pick up on this and address the situation. In some situations the kids are bullies because they’re abused by a parent or both parents. This is really when adults should pay attention.

The overreaction to bullying, however, simply has to stop. The biggest irony is that in overreacting to bullying we’re promoting bullying. We tell the victims to not befriend the bullies, ever; we say we want the parents to go to jail or face fines for their kids being bullies (because parents are responsible for how their kids act when not under their supervision?). These are overreactions. We hate bullying not because it leads to adult intolerance, but because it hurts a kid’s “self-esteem,” which is the highest virtue one can have in our society (it’s the only virtue really). To be quite honest, I’m not all that concerned about a kid’s self-esteem because I think it’s more harmful than helpful to try and develop it; America ranks the highest among industrialized nations in terms of self-perception among teenagers, but near the bottom for anything related to education. We feel really good about ourselves, yet we’re failing more than any other generation or nation. What concerns me about bullying is that the kids who do the bullying need to learn to celebrate differences and realize that these differences are a good thing.

So yes, bullying is wrong and needs to be addressed, but it’s not this epidemic that we think it is. Furthermore, there’s no reason at all to ever undergo corrective surgery because you’re getting picked on for a physical attribute, especially at 9 years old. We need to teach our kids to fight through difficult times, to ignore what the naysayers say, and that they’re fine as they are and don’t need to change a thing about them.


One thought on “Why is Our Society Overreacting to Bullies?

  1. Good analysis Joel. What parents are doing often IS overreaction. What schools and law enforcement are doing in reaction is criminal.

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