Jarrett Guarantano, quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, met with Keaton Jones and shared on Instagram
Stand for What? Our Delusion of Supporting Bullying Victims
It’s happened again. A video is posted of a child talking about how bullying affects them; pleading for people to be nice to each other. This time it’s Keaton Jones when his mother records him describing the bullying he regularly experiences at his school. His questions of why people bully are heartbreaking. Not surprisingly, the video goes viral–people around the world pledge their support and encourage him to keep going. People share their own stories on social media platforms. But as cathartic as sharing our experiences can be, the larger impact of what we do in reaction to these videos is counterproductive. What we are really doing is tricking ourselves that we are morally right to go after the bullies, parents, school administrators, and anyone else that’s a convenient target. By posting our outrage online, we are deluding ourselves. Here’s how:
1. Most of us struggle at best to confront bullying in our own lives, hold people in positions of power accountable for bullying, or hold ourselves accountable for our own bad behavior (or our children’s). So we tweet soundbite encouragements like “stay strong” to a boy we’ve seen for two minutes… and convince ourselves our actions make a difference.
2. Self-righteously posting the name and phone number of the school so other people can bombard the school with nasty comments is only an immature attempt to get revenge. The truth is, there is nothing helpful about doing that. All we’re doing is making ourselves feel better because in our minds we have stood up for the victim. We have worked with schools caught in these crossfires for years and no one, as in no one, changes their behavior when they are being shamed and yelled at.
3. We dehumanize the people we believe are guilty or somehow the problem--effectively doing the same thing we are accusing the bullies of doing. But when we do it we justify our behavior.
4. These videos go viral when a celebrity sees and comments on it. Worse, celebrities seem to jump on the bandwagon outdoing each other with the best, most “generous” offer. What does this really do? It makes the celebrity feel good about themselves, they can outshine their celebrity peers for the appearance of their kindness and generosity, and the victim feels special because of the attention. What none of that does is actually address the problem. The celebrities leave, the special events pass, and the child has to deal with whatever is left behind. Sure, the week after, no one in school bothers him but once the spotlight goes away, the bad behavior will probably come right back on this child or someone else.
5. When the “world” descends on the school with rants and threats (which again is using the power to humiliate and the definition of bullying), people in the community tend to resent the victim and/or his family. We have seen time and time again that the people in the community, while feeling bad for the child, will also feel that their experience doesn’t represent their community. Because it doesn’t, they will be so distracted by their resentment and anger that they will be that more challenged to address the problem they have. Adding to that, is people in the community usually believe they know the backstory–something that makes the target not as credible–or in this case, the mother.
All of us need to remember that it is probable that there is a child in our community who can relate every day to Keaton Jones’ experience. So, instead of adding to the thoughtless, self-righteousness and trite soundbites that surround us, we need to ask the following question: What can I do in my own community to make life better for children and teens? As I walk down the street, in my workplace, where I volunteer, what can I do, concretely, do make things better for the kids in my community? Because posting a tweet about a boy you don’t know in a community you’ve never been to is not the answer; it only adds to the problem