There is nothing good to say about bullying. The very definition (picking on those weaker) is anathema to humanitarianism. Exposing bad behavior is almost always a good thing. However there is a fine line between discussing an issue responsibly and throwing a buzz word (in this case “bullying”) over everything.
Tossing buzz words around is irresponsible. We saw this happen with the word “stress” about a decade or more ago. Stress became synonymous with anxiety and is now only deemed as negative. “I’m stressing” became an actual expression. Between us, there is nothing negative about stress. Positive excitement is stressful to the body and mind as well. Is bullying ever good? Certainly not to my mind. But suggesting that an adolescent girl killed herself because of bullying…on Facebook, is absurd. It diminishes her troubles and pain (whatever their genesis) and demonizes the abstract. Suggesting that she was a victim of her computer and that her screen drove her to death is a wretched portrait to paint of a troubled teenager. In fact, suggesting that anyone was driven to end their life due to bullying smacks of complacency.
No doubt, as adults we may not remember the turmoil of adolescence. Everything was Very Important and permanent and fraught with drama. Rarely were we our best selves. Our identities only existed as they were reflected back to us by our cohort. What an awful time it was. Adolescents (particularly girls in the middle school years) can be pretty nasty as they claw their way to relevance. When we layer this anthropological phenomenon with the current social climate, things can get dire.
Most of us did not grow up in an age of digital cameras and instant (permanent) exposure. We probably did not grow up in a world of celebrity (for no apparent reason) suggesting we should all live in the spotlight, behave badly, always be styled and airbrushed and party like it’s…you get the idea. We probably didn’t grow up during a time when college was seen as a given, and the only path to income, yet was academically and financially unattainable to many. Many of us did not grew up with parents simulating aircraft above our heads. We were independent-ish and expected to manage our own social and even academic world. (Note: personal responsibility is the key ingredient for self-esteem.)
Adolescence+increased external pressure+diminished internal resources can add up to a troubled teen. Luckily, their world is populated by adults. Teachers, nurses, administrators, coaches and guidance counselors see the good, the bad and the ugly. Parents are in the best position to see the unhappiness in their child. Many do and struggle with how best to care for their child. Depression, either clinical or non-clinical sadness, is frightening in a population known for their lack of impulse control. A teenager who has lost interest in pleasurable activities, and/or has changed his/her sleeping/eating patterns should be seen as in crisis.
Bullying can most certainly push a vulnerable teenager over the edge. So can a bad grade or a romantic break-up. However, when the media hauls out bullying experts our limited attention shifts to the external. It is the at-risk adolescent that warrants the attention, not the behavior of others. A healthy and supported teenager will not log on to Facebook if it brings unhappiness. A healthy and supported adolescent, no matter how quirky, will not be driven to self-harm by the comments of others. Bullying will always exist, empires were built on it. Where we need to focus is on those adolescents who need support.