Newton North High School is just one of the many schools around the country that engages in anti-bullying lessons throughout the year. Despite these lessons, bullying is still incredibly prominent among students at North. That is mostly because the lessons are not targeting the type of bullying that happens most often.
As high schools students, we have long days. Most of our time is spent in class or doing homework. When we get a break, our brains are screaming for any kind of mind numbing distraction. So much so, that we end up exchanging foul gossip about those around us, calling them awful names and making unfair generalizations. It is not uncommon for me to hear “well everybody pretends to like her anyway,” and “she’s a loser.”
While the material that is discussed in lessons is anti-bullying, it is material that is no longer relevant. High schoolers are too clever to push people into lockers and too savvy to throw one anothers’ books on the floor. When we want to hurt someone, we do it in one of two ways: on the internet or behind their back.
Despite the rise of social media, I think that talking about someone behind their back is the single most popular way to bully. Just seconds after someone leaves the table, another person strikes up a conversation about them. Teenagers don’t seem to realize that saying “she’s so stupid she’s never getting into college” or “he’s such trash he’s never going to make the team,” is bullying. These are opinions we should either keep to ourselves. They are the statements we have no business in making.
The driving force behind such talk is that it lifts the speaker up. It makes them feel better, smarter, and more connected. They know what’s going on, they are high enough above you to pass judgement and have friends that do the same. But poor you, so out of the loop, so left out. Saying someone is ugly makes you feel prettier. Saying someone has no friends makes you feel more popular. It is an easy way to bring yourself up and someone else down. It is an easy way to seem connected and cool. You are so high up in the high school food chain that you are qualified to pass judgement on everybody else.
I was recently out at a restaurant with friends when we saw another group of people that we knew waiting in line near us. One of them started to waved to me, but another kid pulled his hand down and, although we were a mere three feet away and clearly within earshot, said, “Ew, Sophie Ravina? She’s such a —.” The third person in the group turned and stared at me quite obviously before saying “Yeah he’s right, nobody likes her.”
It seems important to mention that I have not had any contact with those two people since fourth grade. We do not go to the same school or run in the same circles. However, I’m sure that saying that nobody likes me made them feel better. I’m sure that passing judgement on me helped them feel more secure in their decisions. In previous bullying lessons, no teacher has talked about these types of comments and classified them as bullying, but it was bullying. Me standing in line; them making nasty comments. The curriculum that most schools employ, watching an animated film clip or two, and then discussing why you shouldn’t push people down the stairs, simply cannot keep up with modern day teens anymore.
The second most prominent forms of bullying is cyberbullying, or bullying that occurs online. Teachers address this form of bullying, but not as harshly as it needs to be addressed. According to the New York Times, over half of teens and adolescents say they’ve been cyberbullied. That’s 21 million people, 21 million people whose stomachs have plummeted when they turned their phone on, 21 million people whose eyes filled with tears when they look at the nasty message they’ve received.
One of the leading ways to cyberbully is through Finstas. “Finstas,” or fake Instagram accounts, are accounts that people create where they post things with abandonment. The Huffington Post notes that “even the most level-headed and socially responsible teens eventually succumb to the temptation to use their Finsta as a tool of immorality.” Usually, only close friends follow each other’s Finstas, and one can post whatever they desire as a way to let out their feelings, seemingly with total privacy. They feel it is a place to cultivate an alternative persona. They can act one way towards teachers and parents and then completely different online. Teens use it to create a “sorry, not sorry persona” where they feel they have complete privacy to say or post whatever they want.
About a month ago, I received over eight text messages with the same screenshot from a girls Finsta. She had found a picture of me from over two years ago and posted it with a horrible caption. I had never spoken to this girl in my life and if that wasn’t enough, I had been told she recently moved across the country. But now, here she was. Posting old pictures about me with nasty comments and thinking I wouldn’t see it. I was shocked, but more than that I was disappointed. The “privacy on” setting had really tricked people into thinking they had privacy. Teens are now throwing themselves wholeheartedly into Finstas.
Huge numbers of people post on their Finstas about others, not mentioning people by name, but making it quite obvious who they are talking about. They truly feel that the horrible things they are saying about others can stay there, private and without creating conflict. However, thanks to the ability to screenshot, these posts are not private. They get around.
The very term itself- bullying- is so outdated that we conjure up pictures of kids being stuffed into lockers when we hear it. People tune out during the lessons because if they haven’t shoved anybody down the stairs, they aren’t a bully.
Our anti-bullying classes are now a waste of time. They are not mentioning the information that teens in 2018 need to hear. It is the same material that has been drilled into us since fourth grade. The sad truth is that bullying, like everything else in our world, has been modernized and changed so that it is hardly recognizable by traditional standards. And until adults find a way to combat it, or teenagers stop gossiping, nothing will change.
My laptop screensaver is Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote- “nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent” And that is true. But they will sure as hell try.
By Sophie Ravina