The way we talk about bullying hasn’t been working

I remember in 7th grade we had an in-depth presentation that focused on gossiping and its ripple effects. They divided us by genders. The video they showed us touched on different girls’ stories, from teenage pregnancy to cyber bullying. The morals of the stories were the same, don’t bully and love each other. I misjudged it at first, pegging it as another repetitive anti-bullying video. But it really affected all of us. I mean 6 years later, I’m still referencing it.

I swear for at least a day, people were extra nice to one another. I remember people wrote notes to one another, acknowledging the issues they had with each other and made amends. I was guilty of it too. I tried to make up for all the times I talked bad about my ex best friend, lowkey hoping that some good karma would make its way into my life.

I got a couple of notes and sent a few. It was really healing. For the next couple of days, I saw people who I knew at one point extremely disliked each other, embrace the other person. It was the weirdest thing. For the first time, I felt peace resonate with everyone at WJHS.

To be honest, I thought all hell was going to break loose, like the one “Means Girls” scene when Regina George exposed the Burn Book pages. But for the first time, our school system actually did us right.

I’m not saying to repeat the whole program here, but I feel like we should use the idea. Instead of having middle aged people preach the detrimental effects of bullying which we just ignore, we should have people our own age openly talk about it.

I know it’s a sensitive issue and it’s hard for some people to admit, but if we want real change we actually need to have a conversation with people our own age. The Identity Project is a good start. Although I don’t remember much of the details from freshman year, I know the bigger picture was to represent that regardless of our backgrounds and reputations, we all face similar struggles that are often magnified by social media.

Because the majority of us have some kind of social media, almost everything we do or say is online. It’s an open line of communication and it’s inevitable that someone will abuse it. We aren’t living in an era where the majority of bullies body-slam someone into a locker and demand lunch money.

The older generation tends to project the idea that it’s our civic duty to stand up for the kid getting teased on the playground, and while we should, it’s an outdated scenario of bullying. Nowadays, bullying is more likely to happen online or behind the victim’s back.

A girl in one of my classes recently reached out to me and told me she’d been humiliated on social media. People she didn’t know well would record her and post it on private Snapchat stories and the New Trier geo-stories. She kept reiterating that there was nothing she could do about it, which was the worst part. That she had to watch the photos and videos spread, while the administration scrambled to take down everything.

Perhaps social media isn’t to blame completely. I think it’s simply a platform where the insecurities we all have get the better of us.  No matter how many comment restrictions or blocking suggestions Instagram enforces, it doesn’t change someone’s instinct to want to hurt someone else.

Online, a simple username or profile picture enables a person to say whatever they want to whoever they want. You can’t really confront someone from social media in person, or at least it’s difficult to. So in a way, it enables us to build a wall from one another and dissociate ourselves from any guilt.

From what I’ve noticed, people won’t directly tell you in-person that they have a problem with you. They resort to gossiping with their friends or spreading it online. There’s obviously a lack of courage when you can’t look someone into their eyes and tell them straight-up you have a problem with them.

Even though we’ve all been through the repetitive seminars and the assemblies about bullying and a lot of effort gets put into them with the best intent, the efforts are inefficient. It’s hard to fully empathize with the issue when it’s the same, cliché ideas being repeated.

We should impliment more of these programs for 9th-12th graders. They clearly sparked conversation because we were forced to be vulnerable. It offered us an opportunity to be honest and empathetic.

The Identity Project and the assembly I did in 7th grade exposed the source of the bullying problem: us. We are the one’s who continue the cycle; we are the ones who gossip or hit ‘send’ on a nasty message; but we’re the one’s who have to change it.