Last week, many of us were shocked by the news that 16 year-old Amy Joyner was beaten to death at her high school. Some of the questions people have: Why didn’t anyone intervene? How come no one stopped it from getting out of control? Where were the teachers?
For those of us who have been bullied, this unfortunate news isn’t shocking. Bullying consistently happens on the bus, in bathrooms, in locker rooms, in hallways, in neighborhoods, and yes, in classrooms and other public areas, too. Every bully victim understands school administration can only do so much because bullies are constantly on the lookout for their chance. No safe zone exists.
Policing can only happen through the audience-at-hand or other students. This raises the question: “Why do bystanders do nothing?”
While I can’t provide all of the answers, I was bullied, I’ve been bullied, and I’ve also been a bystander who did nothing. Here were some of the thoughts that ran through my head as a bystander.
Why bystanders do not stop school bullying:
- I don’t want to lose my acceptance.
- I don’t want to stand out because I might get bullied, too.
- Thank God it’s not me this time.
- This is not my responsibility.
- This is entertainment (and today, people pull out their phones in the name of social media).
My 8th grade year, I was finally in the popular crowd. I had achieved a legit jerk reputation my 7th grade year by publicly grabbing Amy’s over developed boobs. But, getting involved in an extracurricular activity called Young Life was about to put a major damper on my social life.
While I was enjoying my newfound popularity, my Young Life leader noticed something different and special within me. “Kris, you are better than your group of friends,” John said. “These guys aren’t going anywhere. You’re going places.” I didn’t understand this at all. I was finally in the exact spot I always wanted to be socially. My family moved to a small town, and as the bigger city kid, I finally had the attention I’d always wanted.
But, I was also really enjoying being mentored by my Young Life leader. I felt chosen, and since my parents were extremely busy, I finally had someone I could talk to. I actually began to believe that I was valuable.
My mindset began to change. Now, this special needs kid with big ears and a hearing aid was about to change the course of my high school social life.
Gym class had just gotten out, and the new ring leader of our group was taunting Ben after all the other students had left. He was pulling at his ears, making fun of his hearing aid. Ben wanted to leave, but we had formed a small circle around him. Mark could do whatever he wanted, and he was taking full advantage. He shoved skinny Ben down. We were all laughing.
But in that moment, I caught a glimpse of that Young Life leader walking down the hallway, outside the gym.
I knew what I had to do.
“Mark, leave him alone!”
Pause. “Huh?” Ben scrambled away.
I should probably mention at this point that although I was wearing the right clothing brands and in with the right people, I was also the second skinniest guy in my class.
His finger dug into my chest. “You’re such a little p$@!&, Wolfe!” And I got shoved this time.
I’d just upset the alpha of our public school pack. I’m sure I had other odds stacked against me at this point, but that cataclysmic event somewhat sealed my popularity fate. Within a couple of years, I was the one being bullied.
The truth is, while many go to public schools, private and secretive cliques (even gangs) are prevalent, and with them come many unspoken rules which affect group dynamics. As a recent Times article points out,
“When the actions of a group are public and visible, insiders who behave in an unacceptable way — doing things that ‘contravene the norms of the group,’ [Mark Levine, a social psychologist at Lancaster University in the U.K] says — may actually be punished by the group more harshly than an outsider would be for the same behavior.”
But, when the group is private, the tendency is for everyone to cover up for individuals to protect the group. And so bullying continues undeterred until something undeniable and tragic occurs.
Looking back, I don’t understand why I felt the need to adhere to what was popular. In fact, I wonder how much more I would have accomplished had I not cared what others thought.
If more people recognized their self-worth apart from group dynamics, I think it would help prevent bullying because high school students often find their worth in popularity and through groups.
Self-worth can only happen in the home and through self-development. Also, as a good guy and gentleman, understand you are already standing for something counter culture. A good resistance movement will certainly dispell the allure of a secretive clique or gang.
Group mentality can only be overcome by individual confidence.