Bullying: The Problem Lies Not within our Apps, but in Ourselves

Another child committed suicide this week in the aftermath of bullying. Can Miss America doing something about it?

It’s happened again.  A child cyber-bullied into suicide. It is a terrible thing – a child so distraught that she takes her own life. Unimaginable loss for the parents.  My heart aches for her…and for those she left behind.

But before we get hysterical, blaming the bullies, the parents, the apps – the internet itself  – consider this; suicide rates have remained steady for the past decade — particularly among teens.

Of course cyber bullying is awful.  And of course suicide is tragic – especially that of a young person.  I’ve written how the internet has made sexual assault and abuse worse in part because, when something exists on the internet – as cyber-bullying and photos of sexual assaults often do – it means there is no past. The pictures – or in this case – the evidence of the bullying, live on forever. So I’m not minimizing bullying. Not at all.

But that doesn’t mean I think the internet is to blame. Remember – the suicide remained steady from 2000-2010, the same period social media sites surged in popularity. So if  it isn’t the internet, and if the apps aren’t the problem, as my friend Rebecca Levey so gracefully argues in this post, what is?

We are.

Our society is rife with bullies.  A recent, shocking example is the Twitter bullies who, on Sunday night, when an American woman of Indian decent was crowned Miss America, took to the social media site with overtly racist, xenophobic zeal.  “Miss America? More like Miss 7-11!”  one scoffed.  “An Arab is Miss America!” said another.  And, showing a photo montage of white, blond haired Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, a tatooed army sergeant who is fond of hunting, many wrote “This is what Miss America looks like.”  These are not hormone-addled teens, abusing the internet.  These are grown people.  Grown bullies.

It’s very easy to say “the parents should have known,” when a child commits suicide in the aftermath of bullying.  But despite our best attempts – parents can’t know everything their teenagers do.  It comes with the territory of parenting teens.  It’s convenient to say “those apps are responsible,” but we all know that for good and bad, people will use apps in ways in which those apps were never intended to be used. It’s simple to run screaming in fear from the internet: the source of all evil. But the internet also brings education to those in far flung places, information to those in need, communication in crucial moments.

What’s hard is looking at ourselves.  What’s hard is acknowledging that we see and ignore bullying every day.  In life and on line. We sit idly by, vaguely disgusted when Blurred Lines, a song that demeans and objectifies women, rises to the top of the charts. And we do nothing.  We shake our heads when we see someone being rude to a waitress, avert our eyes when someone makes a racist joke at a cocktail party,

And when we do nothing, we are saying something;  that bullying – in its many forms – is acceptable.  That we don’t want to get involved, or be rude.  That we’d rather let someone be abused than step up and speak out.

And our children hear us.  We shouldn’t be surprised that kids – who take to the internet so easily – take their bullying there, too.

So we can take the easy route – and blame technology.  Or we can take a hard look at what we are teaching our children by our actions – and lack of action. We can teach kindness and tolerance not just on the internet, but in every day life.  And Miss America can help.

I’ve never given much weight to the power of Miss America, but Nina Davuluri, who was crowned Sunday night, has a chance to do something big.  She can wipe away the false smile of pageantry, and speak out against bullies – cyber or otherwise.  She can rise above the hate not with silence and dignity, but with the rage, anger and indignation it deserves. Miss Kansas can do the same – tell people she resents being a prop in their racist tirades.  I hope they do.  I hope we all rage against it.

They say that every little girl dreams of becoming Miss America.  Well if  Nina Davulri uses her reign to rage against the the madness of indiscriminate hate – then let’s hope every little girl, every one of  us – achieves that dream.

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