Department of Sociology Athabasca University
The following little editorial is a response to an article in our local small town newspaper, the St. Albert Gazette. They write a response to current issues called “Our View” and in the one I am responding to, they make some statements about the causes of, and solutions for, bullying. There is nothing particularly wrong about their take, but it does have one glaring blind spot and that blind spot is the lack of personal and social accountability. Their account places all the blame on a) absentee and irresponsible parents, b) social media, and c) insufficient consequences (which may itself be just a euphemism for insufficient violence if, by consequences, they mean physical violence, shaming, psychological disregard, or similar forms of “consequences”), but they miss the biggest contributing factor of all which is that society models violence to its children! We, as a global society will never stop the growing statistical reality of bullying and the painful, increasingly suicidal, consequences of that bullying until we admit that we are the problem. As I say in my response below, it is the violence we perpetrate, except, and excuse in our daily lives that is the real root of the violence that children perpetrate upon each other. Children are violent because parents, the media, the school, the church, and all the other institutions of our world are violent. We, as a society, model violence.
You can read my comments on this issue below. Sociologically there are a couple of relevant points.
- The article and commentary points to the reality of social violence, in the form of bullying. Sociologically, even psychologically, it is important however to be aware that bullying is only one form of violence, usually understood as the violence of a child directed at another child. If you aren’t aware of a larger category of violence, or if you pretend it doesn’t exist, then it becomes easy to come to erroneous conclusions about bullying, like it is result of a few bad apples, or all we need to do is beat the bullies and it will all be better. However, put bullying in the wider context of social violence and your thinking expands as well. If you see the reality of social violence then it is much harder to point the finger at others without also being aware of our own contributions to the problem.
- We need to pay attention to the actual consequences of violence. The article that I comment on points to bullying and the consequences of that, but the larger question of violence and its consequences looms ever nearer. In particular you may want to consider the growing body of evidence on the negative consequences of violence in childhood (Sosteric, 2013). The consequences are far reaching, pernicious, and (if this is the first time you’ve ever considered the problem), stunning. Regardless of your stomach for the issue though a Sociologist (or as as sociologists we) would take a closer look not only at the consequences of bullying per se, but on the consequence of interpersonal violence more generally.
Anyway, you can read the original article by clicking this link. You can read my response to their editorial below.
In the Saturday Aug 17th issue you state that bullying is here to stay, and getting worse. You identify the superficiality of social media, lack of attention from parents, and lack of consequences as the primary culprits. While it is certainly true that these things contribute, the psychological reality is, the experts final word is, that children learn what they they see and experience, and what they see and experience is, from day one, a violent and bullying world. Parents hit, yell at, push around, speak down to, and speak in aggressive and belittling tones to their children and their spouses. Our teachers isolate, exclude, rank, punish, and dismiss. Our police use clubs and guns. Our politicians send armies off to war. Our media glorify violence. Our games make beating and killing out to be fun. Our priests speak about the violence of hell and God in the heaven is the worst of all, threatening the violence of eternal damnation just because you don’t follow some rules. Justify and excuse it all you like, but the reality is, it is our collective violence, our psychological acceptance of it, and our ideological justification of it, that is the root of, and the model for, the bullying child. And while it is certainly true that parents need to “go out of their way to teach their kids that such behaviour is not acceptable,” the lesson starts with the actions and behaviours of the adults of this world. You want to reduce the problem of bullying, you want to end intimate violence, you must recognize the physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual violence in your life and end it there first.
Sosteric, Mike (2013). Sociology versus Psychology – The Context of Psychological Pathology and Child Abuse. Socjourn. [http://www.sociology.org/columnists/michael-sosteric/sociology-versus-psychology-the-social-context-of-psychological-pathology-and-child-abuse]