Today’s news headline was that a 14 year old boy handed his bags to his school friend, laid down on a railway track and was killed by a train in front of his peers. Shocking as it is just on it’s own that a child felt so miserable to end their life this way, the reason for which he did it was even more angering.
I’ve talked before about the impact bullying has had on my life, and how it still continues to affect me not only in my self-confidence, but in my working life and my personal relationships many years on. I was bullied throughout my entire school education and even experienced bullying as an adult at the hands of my managers in the workplace. There seems to be no end to how some believe they are entitled to treat people and make others feel and the problem is only worsening with the ever-increasing demand for social media to take over every aspect of our lives.
There is some sort of general belief that bullying is a normal part of growing up; that kids learn to respond and stick up for themselves because of bullies. But that is not the case – was never the case when I was at school and most certainly is not the case today. I was fortunate to grow up in a time where you could go home, turn on your computer and not have to think about school again until bedtime, worrying about what tomorrow was going to bring. But children today, with social media being so intrinsically linked to every part of our being, there is no escape and there is no down-time. Their bullies don’t finish for the day at the school gate, or when you get off the bus – they’re on their phones, their laptops, on Snapchat sharing embarrassing pictures around or making Facebook posts singling out their peers so everybody else thinks it’s okay to pick on them too.
There seems to be no challenges for bullies to overcome – it’s almost too easy to bully others. You can hide behind an online identity or an anonymous profile. And it isn’t just children’s peers doing it, we are surround by it all the time. We live in a society where it’s seen as okay to be nasty to somebody on their Instagram comments or make posts about people slating their appearance thinking that it’s ‘banter’ and that the person in question won’t see it. But they do – and once one person starts the trend, the rest follow until nobody questions right or wrong anymore. People aren’t allowed to be upset or offended anymore, they’re too afraid to be labelled a ‘snowflake’ when in reality, being upset about being singled out over the way you look and being made to feel you’re at your lowest point is not okay. It strikes me as hypocritical and strange that whilst we live in a society that is pushing for openness, kindness and an environment for those struggling to speak out, we also live in an environment that normalises bullying for ‘banter’ and chastises anybody that speaks out against it.
High profile suicides, such as those of two Love Island contestants as well as countless others over the last few years brought on such a huge outpouring of public grief and anger, yet their deaths changed nothing. A new series of Love Island started as normal, and just as before, posts called contestants Shrek because of their misaligned teeth and making nasty jokes about contestants were rewarded with likes and shares which normalised the behaviour. Yet if that was someone saying that to your child in the playground or your sibling at work, you would be outraged and would demand something be done. So why do we treat these differently? Bullying is bullying – just like there is no between-the-lines when it comes to racism or homophobia.
It’s because of this free-for-all attitude to bullying that is present today that I still have not forgiven nor forgotten my experiences of bullying both as a child and as an adult. I would have thought and hoped that as time went on and we moved into a more open society, encouraging kindness and acceptance, that bullying would become much less prevalent – yet it seems the opposite is happening. And I strongly believe that the rise of it is entirely down to social media and the lack of liability for those who are doing it.
There needs to be severe repercussions for those who bully others. When I look at those who used to bully me in school, how they made my life hell and made me into the un-confident, self-loathing person I became, I wonder if they have changed and grown up. I look at their profiles and the values they publicly claim to possess, and wonder if they ever feel guilt or think about what the people they chose to pick on are like now. I highly doubt it – and that’s because they weren’t made liable or accountable for their actions. My experiences were constantly brushed under the carpet by school because they had no way to deal with the problem. Schools don’t seem to be equipped to deal with, especially, modern-day bullying and the advancement it has had with our constant connection to each other online.
There needs to be more done. Why are children resorting to hanging themselves, taking overdoses or laying down infront of trains in order to escape the torture others are imposing on them? What sort of world are we creating and why are we normalising bullying by calling it banter? IT. IS. NOT. BANTER. It is BULLYING. Your words have such a huge potential to cause harm to somebody else, a lot of bad things have happened because of words and it’s important to recognise the power your words have on somebody else. Your words have the power to build someone up or destroy them completely. It is entirely your choice but I know what I would rather do.
The Government seem pleased with their current laws and procedures for tackling bullying but, after today’s headline and others in recent times, it clearly is not working and bullying is ever further away from being resolved than it was when I was leaving school 12 years ago. 12 years sounds like a long time ago but I remember very clearly how I was made to feel on a daily basis, and the impact those experiences had on me have stopped me from being able to forget and move on.
It is because of stories like today’s headline that makes me realise I shouldn’t have to forgive and forget. How can I allow myself to forget what I went through when millions of others continue to experience what I did? There is no learning from what I and others have been through. And today’s news will shock, until tomorrow’s news and that poor little boy’s experience becomes meaningless once again. Today’s news is tomorrow’s chip shop paper. It should not be like this. We can’t keep letting bullying go un-dealt with. A burden like that is so much easier to bear when you can see that you went through what you went through in order to change things for someone else. But when nothing is changing and is only getting worse, then my experiences become lost in a sea of everybody’s else’s experiences. Like it doesn’t matter because it’s never going to change.
But every single person has the power to change it. One person at a time can change the future. And it starts with kindness. Instead of chastising someone for their differences and making fun of them, appreciate your differences. Appreciate that not everybody looks the same, dresses the same, acts or thinks the same. Instead of joining in for a laugh at someone else’s expense, take a step back and think how you would feel in their situation. Offer a kind word, tell someone you like their pretty dress or how they’ve done something well. It pays to be kind and nice. We need to stop normalising bad behaviour and nasty attitudes. It isn’t sassy and it isn’t funny. Your words and your actions have so much power so use that power wisely.