Television Bullying and the Role of the Media (continued)
Once again, facts reveal this to be based more on social prejudices than actual reason: Research done by our organization, along with that of many other child welfare and abuse specialists, repeatedly shows that things like divorce, being raised by a single parent, living in poverty, having a parent who drinks or uses drugs, conflict within the home, family dysfunction, parental depression, verbal abuse, physical abuse, physical or emotional neglect, improper discipline practices, the modeling of unhealthy habits that result in a child being obese - all of these things frequently create more enduring problems and harm among kids than does the average, non-violent molestation. (GCF, 2012) So I wonder: would society feel as good about such condemnation if it attacked more mainstream shortcomings? What if we were to create a campaign against divorced parents, labeling them as evil “monsters” and “predators against children” on account of the fact that studies show 25% of children who experience divorce will show serious emotional disturbances in adulthood, which is anywhere from 2.5 times to 8 times the 3% to 10% rates of serious disturbance that are typically found in adult populations of children who were molested? (ibid) Or might such behavior, when turned against a much more common shortcoming, suddenly reveal itself to be rather cruel, sadistic, and entirely unhelpful for the goal of creating better communities while enriching the lives of others? And wouldn't we, through our self-righteous hatred, end up doing just as much harm through our stigmatization and negative messages as those we're upset about?
All throughout television, hostile acts, intentional humiliation, condemnation, and other forms of bullying behavior are cloaked under various story plots that conveniently justify the behavior. Yet at the end of the day, cruelty is cruelty (even when perpetrated in response to a hurtful act or against those we deem as deserving of it), and most of our reasons for this hostility fall well short of factual proof. Even when such condemnation is necessary for community safety, we certainly shouldn't be celebrating or glorifying the destruction of another human's life. Yet this is exactly what occurs. All throughout their lives, children are being conditioned with the idea that persecution of certain individuals or groups is a righteous thing when one claims to be on the side of good.
It's a dangerous message we instill in our youth when just about every television program portrays the hero as the person who uncovers those who deserve it (according to their own ideas of right or wrong, their own particular reasons) and then somehow, through some strange nonsensical magic, makes the world a better place by making those evil “others” suffer. It's a deceitful message that encourages destructive ways of problem solving while also teaching kids that hostility and inflicting torment on others is OK, so long as they deserve it. Now tell me: Can you name a single television program where the hero is someone who helps others overcome their shortcomings or deals with problems in a non-judgmental, compassionate manner? Or is the hero always someone who hunts down the problem people, judges them, and then makes it their mission to destroy them?
All of the aforementioned shows exist so that people can watch the humiliation of someone we deem as the “other,” which helps us feel a little bit better about ourselves. It's the classic bully mentality, hidden under excuses for why someone else's torment is actually an act of good. But when we constantly make excuses for why it's ok to abandon compassion with certain individuals and exact suffering against one subset of people based on the presumption that they're deserving of harsh treatment, it opens the door for teens to make excuses to bully their own set of outcasts, just as they see us adults do on a regular basis.
Monkey see, monkey do: When kids model what they see throughout the media
We should find it no surprise, then, when our children do the same thing: inventing their own reasons for why certain kids deserve it, and then setting out to destroy these people. We shouldn't be surprised that kids make sexuality the #1 topic of bullying, and will tirelessly torment any youth whose sexual identity or orientation seems even the slightest bit off. After all, they've been primed with a million examples teaching them that tormenting someone because of a sexuality deemed to be abnormal is not just ok, but a heroic gesture of good. They've been taught that such "others" need to be shamed, humiliated, and treated in the harshest fashion. We, the supposed adults, have set the example. The youth in this nation are merely following in our footsteps.
The examples herein are but a small sampling of the many different ways that media can encourage a bully mentality. Any show that glorifies hatred, persecution, intolerance, an us versus them mindset, or which encourages viewers to take pleasure in another person's humiliation or torment can prime kids towards bullying behavior.