Yes, bullying has been around for a long time. When I was growing up, there were places in the woods where kids would meet for a "fight". Some would come to watch, while two boys went at it, sleeves rolled up and fists in the air. It was a fair fight, with punches, some take downs and yes, some bloody noses and occasionally a bruised rib. These were rights of passage fights, which rarely had impact beyond making for good gossip the next day in school. But it got worse when several kids would corner another on the bus, or would wait for a smaller boy headed to the locker room after gym class. This was an evolution which lead to far greater humiliation and hurt. And yet, the bullied somehow got over it, hit a growth spurt or moved on to other stages in life.
Fast forward however to today, where children bring guns and knives to school, where children are brutalized with humiliating actions such as being urinated on, tied up, labeled with euphemisms for weak and gay and sometimes actually driven to suicide. How and why has school bullying evolved to such a disturbing level, where parents are removing their children from school just to keep them alive?
Unfortunately, the drive towards more serious and disturbing attacks on children is not dissimilar to the drive for the evolution of CYBERBULLYING, but while the motivational factors may be linked, there are other components which have lowered the dam of possibility, making the unthinkable more plausible. Corporations have fought the cliche blames on violent video games, explicit and violently suggestive music lyrics, but the reality is that our society has been progressively desensitized to violent, aggressive and incendiary behavior. Or, to view things historically, the sensitivity that modern society has created for hurting others, has been allowed to decay. After all, medieval societies (and some not so medieval if you travel to certain parts of the world), took human life, dignity and empathy with a grain of salt. It was nothing for a solider to run through a village, slaughtering women and children, an act which, if done even once on our western shores, would make headline news. This of course begs the question whether modern society is the exception to history, or is a true evolution of culture. Whichever way one chooses to look, there is a general consensus in the Western world that we would prefer happiness, safety and opportunity for ourselves and our children, rather than war, violence and hate. So, while I can't claim that this is the universally correct state of affairs, I'm going to take the liberty of assuming that we agree on it being the preferred one.
There are three major factors driving the newer trends in school bullying. As discussed above, the first one and the only one which would be considered the motivational component, is discussed at length in the Joseph Project Bullying and Youth Suicide document. In summary, history has written a chapter of discontent, recession, war and unrest in our societies - creating stress and unhappiness - placing greater pressure on both parents and their children, and resulting in behavior that is typical of the resulting anxiety and depression. This portion will not go into depth about the motivational elements that are driving more dangerous in school bullying (and when we refer to in school, we extend this to school yards and peripheral school environments as well). Instead, it will focus on the two other elements, which are more directly linked to violent and disturbing bullying, rather than cyber bullying.
FACTOR I - DESENSITIZATION TO DISTURBING AND COUNTER-EMPATHETIC BEHAVIOR -THE "JACK-A** AFFECT"
MTV helped us reframe some things for kids, that perhaps didn't need reframing. It's no secret that one way to get people to watch TV is to shock them. And it generally works for a time, until they become desensitized and the opportunity expires. Then your choice is to find something increasingly shocking or give up. Reality shows such as survivor, which put humans in conditions where they had to survive, upped the ante on what people would do to get thrills out of an audience (not to mention, to win some money along the way). As this got boring, other types of reality shows from romantic to funny on street antics, further entertained audiences as people did things that were outside of societal norms, to then capitalize on the shock and surprise of onlookers. Generally, this was done in good humor however, with the "punk'd" victim eventually being told the whole story.
Enter however, the show Jack-A**. This show took things to another level, where people agreed to be physically or mentally abused in some way, to entertain an audience. The mentality necessarily for this, is not much different than getting a tattoo or a body piercing, a risk taken and pain enduring, in order to receive some sort of reward whether entertainment or money. In extreme cases, a prisoner might endure the pain of a barbed wire fence to escape captivity, or an injured solider might endure the pain of suturing their own wound to prevent bleeding to death.
But there is a risk in overcoming pain that has been all but ignored and it needs to be brought back into focus:
Pain, whether emotional or physical, is an evolutionary adaptation to survival. There is a reason why the spinal cord is able to process extreme heat messages before they even get to the brain and this is of course because every microsecond counts when moving your hand away from the fire. Pain, is intended to alert our bodies to unsafe conditions, and when operating correctly, is supposed to be processed in the brain as an impetus to remove the pain. If a heavy object falls on us, we want to move it. If our finger is bent back too far, we want to straighten it. If the noise is too loud, we want to quiet it. If the light is too bright, we want to dim it. Our skin, our organs, our eyes and our ears, among other body parts, are all protected by our ability to process pain correctly. There are a few exceptions such as from certain neurological diseases, but generally speaking the purpose of pain is to motivate us to protect ourselves.
So, what happens when we bombard these normal neural paths with a counter message, that pain is there for fun? Does a daredevil teenager stop feeling the burn of gasoline when he lights his hand on fire? Obviously not, but the reframing of the event by certain types of entertainment and media, have created dangerous trends in our cultural desensitization.
Lets take a more mundane, but demonstrative example: The most common punishment for children, until the 21st century was a spanking. Parents slapped their children, be it across the face, or on the buttocks to a degree that it hurt and the child received a strong message. Children did not want a spanking, feared it, and were motivated to prevent it. Now by contrast, lets look at the fairly recent invention (thanks to middle school boys most likely) of "sting pong". For the uninitiated, the game of ping pong is modified, so that the loser of a rally must endure being pelted on the back or stomach with a ping pong ball by the other opponent. Teenagers will voluntary play the game, knowing full well that they will probably receive skin welts, and smacks with the ball that may actually draw tears. Having myself both observed it and been roped into playing once, I can tell you from experience that the ball hurts but that one generally SMILES, finding humor in how much it hurt. But how is it possible that an action, which universally causes pain, can sometimes be a punishment and other times be a voluntary game?
FACTOR II - SUGGESTION PROPAGATED BY TECHNOLOGY AND GLORIFIED BY MEDIA