Her name was Morgan Dunbar, and she was bullied by her classmates mainly over Facebook. A further sad twist in this story is that Morgan was an identical twin, and her twin sister is the one who discovered her body at home. Now her sister has post-traumatic stress disorder, and she will surely be affected for her whole life - it's almost like two deaths instead of one.
Social media is a huge enabler of bullying, and cyber bullying is arguably even more insidious than in-person bullying. There is no escape from online bullying, there is no refuge. It allows evil and hatred to invade your safety zone at all times of day and night. It degrades and humiliates you not just before a small group of snickering squash-heads but in front of all your online friends. It is no wonder that Facebook bullying can rip people's self esteem to shreds.
On the other hand, social media is not actually the cause of the problem. It is a powerful weapon that enables the bully to track down the victim everywhere, but it doesn't make a child into a bully. So why are there so many child bullies today?
This is a hot topic with various conflicting theories. Here is the explanation that makes most sense to me, based on the powerful insights of Dr. Gordon Neufeld:
Adults have disappeared from the world of children.
The most significant adults in children's lives are no longer available to form strong and lasting attachments to individual children. With both parents on the hamster wheel, rushing about from workplace to the dinner scramble to the mad whirlwind of chores and activities over the weekend, there is so little "down" time for bonding. In broken families, there is still less time as kids split their weeks between two homes. And many extended families are too dispersed to provide children with alternate adult attachment figures who would naturally offer unconditional love to the child.
When significant adults are not available to form attachments, children are rudderless ships. They start to fend for themselves, to fill the void of their emotional wasteland. They turn to their peers for the kind of leadership and authority that ought to come from adults: they become peer oriented with disastrous results.
Today, peer orientation has become the norm. The result is Lord of the Flies, especially in schools but also online. Cliques and popularity ("coolness") are key to survival. Anyone who shows weakness is a sitting duck.
In a peer-oriented world, the anti-bullying words of adults (whether teachers, guidance counsellors or parents) keep sliding off our children. They don't care what we say because they are not attached to us. They are far more influenced by the opinions and attitudes of their own peers, and that is whom they try to please.
Along these lines, I recently heard a song playing on the radio that nicely puts into words the phenomenon of peer orientation. Here is the music video:
Assemblies can't do what parents can do
From this perspective, there is only one good way to end bullying. Parents have to step into the role that is rightfully theirs. We are accustomed to paying for many services that substitute for our own efforts, from home cleaning services to ready-made meals. But this is the one piece of the puzzle that cannot be successfully outsourced: parents need to reconnect and build up those fundamental relationships, one child at a time.
Deep within, many of us already know this is true: we shower our kids with stuff, but what they really need is time. They need us to get off our smart phones, to focus our minds on them, to look at their faces when talking to them. They need us to play games with them, to hang out with them.
The school system works against parents
Attaching our children to adults may be the hardest challenge of all. Many parents are hanging on by their fingernails and doing the best that they can. What's more, the school system actually works to increase and support peer orientation, thwarting parental efforts to form relationships with their children.
One example is the digitized classroom environment. Today, many kids no longer have textbooks and their homework is all online. This means that after school, they come home and retreat to their bedrooms with their Chromebooks. Parents have no idea what their children are doing online, and they can't cut off the Internet because their children need it for school work. Facebook, Twitter and other social media keep kids connected and under the influence of their classmates even during home hours, which makes it much harder for parents to break the hold of peers over their children's lives.
Homeschooling as an option
For parents who are wondering how to change this seemingly hopeless situation, one good option might be homeschooling. I personally know some families who have made that choice for children who were bullied, and such families keep increasing. Homeschooling is healing and saving many children from lasting psychological harm.
But homeschooling is effective for more than just the victims. It is also a great choice for the parents of bullies, or for those kids who are going along with the wrong crowd and who are under the influence of bullies. As Dr. Neufeld explains below, it is through attachment to significant adult figures that a bully's heart gets softened and the bullying behaviour disappears.
Children need close relationships with adults far more than society would have us believe. So parents, don't give up influence over your kids, even when they are teenagers. Don't let the school system steal them from you. Don't let their peers rob you of your natural, crucial role in your children's development and maturation. Keep trying and never give in. After all, what other work in life can have greater significance?
Top photo: Sharon Mollerus via photopin cc Print PDF