This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald. Click here for the original article…
“Regarding bullying, reality is, it’s killing many through suicide. Why is it so rife?” Concerned
Bullying is a word that has been redefined, a word we used to associate with schoolyard taunts, and the singling out of one child for physical attack is now synonymous with the cruel online attacks that seem to increasingly put the lives of young people, and adults, at risk.
But is it any different? Or is online bullying (as tragic as the outcome can be) just more visible, and therefore more easily reported? And how does it drive some to such intense distress that they take their own lives?
Singling someone out with the aim of running them down, humiliating or attacking them is as old as social groups, and yet in some ways we are only just starting to understand the impact it can have, especially on our emotional development.
Traditionally dismissed (think “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”) just a generation ago, children were encouraged to ignore it, and not let it get to them.
But more recently research into the effects of all kinds of “adverse events” on emotional development suggests sustained bullying can almost be as harmful as physical and sexual abuse, and it’s consequences just as long lasting.
To me there are some really key differences with cyber bullying. The first is it is much harder to escape. If you’re being picked on at school, you can always escape it outside school, or in other social groups. The nature of social media means, for those who use it, it’s always on. And that makes users more vulnerable.
READ MORE: • Why are we becoming so narcissistic? Here’s the science
Many social scientists have also found a gradual increase in narcissism culturally in the west, and with it a decrease in empathy. Some believe social media is a cause, and some believe it’s an outcome of this trend, but what is clear is that the very nature of social media, with the absence of physical proximity, the ability to read physical and facial clues, means we all risk responding thoughtlessly online (I know I have).
For all the wonderful things social media brings to our lives, in my view it can also amplify the risk of bullying. It can make empathy for others harder to generate, and harder to sustain, and it also makes it harder to know when enough is enough.
Ultimately it falls on all of us to not only make sure we protect each other from bullying, but to also accept that within all of us lies the ability to respond without empathy, to feel justified in attacking rather than engaging, that within all of us lies the potential to both be the victim and the bully.
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Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.