This phenomenon was well defined in the PBS Frontline documentary The Merchants of Cool featuring media correspondent Douglas Rushkoff. He alluded to what we are seeing as the rise of the New American Bully when he declared that youth culture and media culture are now one and the same, and it becomes impossible to tell “which came first, the anger or the marketing of the anger”.*
With the backing of the extensive empire of wealth that supports youth culture, the new style of bullying behavior rarely occurs in isolation. It operates within a context that is supported by the entertainment and fashion industries, professional sports, politics, corporate America and more. The victims of the behavior may at times feel that their abusers are part of society in general, not simply the negative choices and aberrant behaviors of select individuals.
Moreover, bullies today easily feed on peer pressure. That pressure, when combined with the power of popular culture, can sometimes be interpreted as a license to insult, abuse and injure without consideration of the consequences.
These behaviors, which include dismissals, exclusivity, put downs, profanity, threats, and even physical violence may not even be seen as bullying, but rather a normal part of their existence, and in some cases, a means to survival in the growing “in your face” world.
Those of us who have worked in an office or other work setting understand the penalties for creating a hostile workplace. Why aren’t these same “hostile work environment” rules applied in other public and private places?
“The rule book and the whistle need to be put back into the game”
So how do children and teens escape this new form of abuse?
At one tragic extreme, some have ended their lives. For others, reactions range from depression to acting out.
Finally, for some, they escape by transforming into a bully themselves.
We face relentless pressure that this behavior is the “new normal”. The bullying culture has become so prevalent and dominant that we feel reduced to bystanders.
To extend a sports analogy, the rulebook and the whistle need to be put back into the game. This need comes from set expectations of behavior and stated sanctions for those who do not abide by those expectations in places where we have a say — at home, in school, in the workplace, in recreational and competitive sports and in our neighborhoods.
The scope is difficult to get our arms around. The State of New York announced a 2011 survey of high school students that showed 18% of them reported being bullied on school property in 2010 and 16% reported being bullied electronically. That’s more than one third of students reporting a bullying experience. And of course, that doesn’t take into account what’s not reported.
Bobby Kipper and Bud Ramey have co-authored two books and numerous articles on the crisis in youth violence plaguing our culture, addressing “best practices” for making a difference in the gang crisis and bullying epidemic that is impacting an entire generation. Over 4,400 young people committed suicide last year, largely due to the bullying epidemic. Their books, No BULLIES : Solutions for Saving Our Children from Today’s Bully and No COLORS : 100 Ways to Stop Gangs from Taking Away Our Communities, offer advocacy for at-risk youth.
Bobby Kipper, Director and Founder of the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence, is a career law enforcement officer with extensive experience in the area of preventing youth and community violence nationwide. His background includes working on a number of key national initiatives with the White House, Congress, and the Department of Justice.
Bud Ramey is the 2010 Public Affairs Silver Anvil Award winner of the Public Relations Society of America—the highest public affairs recognition in the world. His grassroots public affairs and humanitarian successes and advocacy for at-risk youth stretch across three decades.