I’m sitting in a plane at 34,000 feet and even here I can’t get away from the topic of bullying. In this week’s People Magazine, there’s an article profiling four families who lost their children to bullycide in 2010. What the article doesn’t mention is that we KNOW of 34 documented suicides in 2010 caused by bullying. And those only list the ones we know about or can prove a connection to bullying.
For me, the irony is that I’m reading this article as I’m flying to Iowa where I’m presenting both a 3-hour pre-conference workshop on “The Many Faces of Bullying: Traditional and Online — Causes, Effects and What to Do about It” at the Iowa Library Association’s Annual Conference. As is typical of media focus on bullying, the article is high on tragedy and “awareness” but does nothing to suggest a solution. Of course, the implication is that when you read these stories you’ll be left thinking,” Well, this is horrible! We have to DO something.” Yes, we do. But, how long after you watch Anderson Cooper’s latest show on bullying, or once you close the magazine cover will this passion stick with you? Enough to actually take action?
Probably not. Life is notoriously fickle when it comes to change. Bullying is not a new problem. And, in the past several years, it has received an increasing amount of attention, partly because the extent of the tragedies and the impacts not only on students and families, but entire communities, is become more visible. Increasing amounts of dollars are being spent on programs, policies and even legislation, but we haven’t seen a real dent in either the rate or the severity of bullying.
So, why then do we continue to have this epidemic? That’s one of the things I’m going to share in my conference workshop — it has everything to do with the approach and timing of the intervention. Anti-bullying deals predominantly with managing the problem once it’s out there. Some of the programs do try to implementation prevention strategies, but it’s still in the context of “we have a problem, NOW what do we do?” Instead, we have to work on changing the underlying culture that allows the bullying to start and to continue. And, yes, that not only CAN be done, but it MUST.
Look, we are all AWARE that there is a problem, but at what point do we decide that what has been done to date isn’t working and isn’t enough? It is a solvable problem; it just has to become enough of a priority that we demand not only that “something” be done, but insist that the “something” is proven to be effective. Right now, we may have state mandates that all public schools have some sort of program or policy in place, but that mandate never goes so far to say it has to be something that has been shown to work. So, schools continue doing the same “anti-bullying” thing they’ve always done, even if it doesn’t work, because they can legally say they are doing “something.” Heck, you might be able to treat a cancer patient with sugar-water and say you are providing “treatment,” but does it count if the patient dies because they didn’t get real medicine?
So, my hope is not only that many people attend the workshop, but that I can do a good enough job that I not only inspire people to know that we can solve this problem NOW — within current time and budget constraints, — but also that I galvanize them into taking action. Because we can’t hope that bullying will just miraculously end, we have to do more than wish it away.