Bullies play a different game these days

By Steve Boggs, publisher of The Saline Courier

Have you ever seen a belt line? They don’t exist anymore, but when I was kid, our school’s FFA chapter made the belt line part of its initiation process. Freshmen who wanted to join FFA had to learn the creed and recite it before being accepted into the chapter. Those who failed to learn the creed had a choice: Run the belt line, or wash out.
The belt line persevered, back in the day, because those who survived it wanted to keep it alive so they could return the favor. They figured if they had to go through it, so did the next class, and so on.
That type of thinking still exists today when the subject of bullying comes up. Older people – those who ran their own version of a belt line when they were younger – tend to dismiss the notion of being bullied as a rite of passage. Many, not all, figure if they could survive it back then, why can’t today’s kids?
We all encounter a bully at some point in our lives. For most of us, it’s usually being picked on by older, stronger kids. I got tossed into a mud puddle by a kid six years older than me once in grade school. Later, I did the same to kid younger than me. I figured since I survived it, so could he.
Bullies and bullying have changed, however. No longer is the chief concern a knuckle sandwich on the playground, or a wedgie in the gym locker room. It’s much more sinister these days.
We read with increasing frequency about high school age kids, tormented by bullies, who take their own lives. It’s happening more and more, and the stories are tragic. When did bullying become blood sport? More importantly, why do some kids get targeted to the point of wanting to commit suicide?
There’s no question that technology plays a huge role in amplifying the consequences of being bullied. A smartphone and social media can send an embarrassing photo or video around the world in an instant. Rumors, once spread by idle chit chat, become urban legend in an instant.
Armed with technology, and emboldened by anonymity, bullies today push the boundaries of bad behavior. They are organized, vindictive and feel no guilt for their actions. It’s frightening, because they can turn on anyone at any time, and victims are virtually powerless to fight back.
It is this type of bullying that schools and workplaces are targeting, and that’s a good thing. It’s no longer about losing your lunch money, or getting stuffed into a locker. Today’s bullies seek to destroy lives permanently for no apparent reason. It is criminal intent, plain and simple.
I sometimes think back to the first time I saw the belt line in action. I dreaded the time when I would have to recite the creed or face the firing line. I learned the creed early on, and got to skip that painful rite of passage. Getting lashed 15 or 20 times by upperclassmen was one heck of an incentive.
But would I have taken off my belt as an upper classmen and punished the freshman behind me? It would have been an earned right to do so, as so many before had done. Thankfully, I never had to make that choice.
Bullying today is not a rite of passage. It’s not something our kids will survive just because we did. We can no longer cling to long held beliefs that it toughens them up.
They’re playing a different game these days, and the stakes are much higher.

Steve can be reached at sboggs@bentoncourier.com.