Friday, April 11, 2008

A new kind of violence, a new kind of conversation

Last night I was sitting in my office; it was near the end of the night and I was getting ready to go home and I hadn’t seen a student in about half an hour, so I was scrolling through the news. My eye caught a headline that said something like “Teens charged in Youtube beating”. I clicked. I felt sick.

I’m not sure what I want to say about this—other than the fact that I feel shocked and a little bit nauseated and then simply naïve. I have worked in high schools since 2001 and I can’t imagine the girls I know exhibiting this kind of behavior. But then I stop myself—can I? I literally feel dizzy when I look at stills from this video taped in a Florida home, which is why I haven’t posted a link here. Because by viewing this video, are we sensationalizing a deeply personal and hurtful experience? Are we contributing to undue fame and recognition for teenagers who have committed a heinous and unbelievable act? Does talking about these things—even writing on this blog—contribute to such events as a videotaped beating of a girl by her peers? I don’t have an answer but there is an underground culture of violence and hunger for recognition that is getting stronger and stronger and that we as a community have a responsibility to combat. I have written about bullying for years—first as a student pursuing my M.A. in Counseling, as a fiction writer, as a school counselor developing curriculum. I have researched and talked about how the way boys bully differs from the way girls bully, how this behavior changes with age and maturity, I have worked with colleagues to develop methods for discussing and punishing the new-ish phenomenon of cyber-bullying, which so often happens off of school grounds. But this is something all new and asks us all tore-examine the way we communicate.

What about this? What about bullying for fame and recognition? This is something that parents and educators alone can only begin to discuss—this poses a question and brings to light an issue that is so much bigger than all of us. There is something very wrong. I know that by writing on this blog, by talking in person, by posting comments and hosting real roundtables and initiating conversations we can only start. But it is the way we use ever-changing technology that needs to be addressed. It is part of education now. It has to be.


Anne Spollen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne Spollen said...

I think this problem has been around for a very long time. I attended New York City public schools, and I remember learning how to avoid bullies and their sidekicks very early on. We never talked about them to our teachers or parents.
I think technology is now serving to illuminate this behavior. The bullies we grew up with did have a certain amount of fame - limited to our schoolyard - but fame and power nonetheless. As schools openly discuss forms of bullying, kids will learn strategies to deal with them and hopefully disempower them early on.

April 12, 2008 9:02 AM

Heather said...

Anne, I completely agree that bullying is NOTHING new, and that strategies for disempowering bullies are exactly what we need to be instilling. What scares me, what IS new-ish I feel, is the way that a very public and widespread kind of fame and the promise of an audience can inspire the most terrifying of behavior... technology is illuminating some secret behavior but sometimes I just wonder, is it making it WORSE too?

Anne Spollen said...

Absolutely tech is making bullying worse. But sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.
While YouTube and those type of venues play right into a bully's perverse delight, they also serve to call attention to their behavior. Bullies need secrets and silence to thrive. Hopefully, the recent attention will result in steps to prevent, and eventually eradicate, their behavior.

Joy said...

i have to agree with anne spollen.
this behavior has been around for ages.
walking around in a uniform skirt back in the day when only catholic school or private school kids wore them believe me it made you a huge target.
but all that said the age of technology has caused the demise of many aspects of our society--we've talked about this heath. in taking a spin from what warhol said everybody kind of wants their fifteen minutes except know everyone has an immediate way to get it. whereas before "fame" was little harder to access, now anyone can consider themselves famous or a star with access to a computer.