Kudos to VH1 for doing an anti-bullying ad that doesn’t make me want to hit my head against a wall. Most articles that have accompanied the viral blaze of this video include the notion that not everyone is sold on its effectiveness. Does it perpetuate a cycle of bullying by having the nerds promise their future revenge on the brutes that antagonize them? While I don’t think the video touches on the more intensive forms of bullying that occur because of technology, it does brush off an old adage that seems to have been forgotten in our politically correct world. When students are expelled for fighting back, made into even more of a target for going to teachers, is it really such a bad thing to suggest they think to the future while being bullied?
“Sara, those kids who make fun of you are the ones that won’t get far in life.” This was general advice I was given when I would come home after a long day of being picked on. In middle school I was heavy, enjoyed reading during lunch, and had a normal up bringing with parents who were still together. As a result of these attributes, I was bullied on a daily basis by a group of girls who resented me. They formed a “We Hate Sara” club, which had a surprisingly large membership. One girl who sat behind me used to enjoy grabbing hold of my braid, jerking my head back and putting a pair of scissors to my ear so I would worry about my hair being cut off. Often my possessions would go missing during class and held hostage until I threatened to go to the teacher. I was often “moo-ed” at, despite the fact that two of the girls in this gang were larger than me, an irony they did not appreciate to have pointed out to them. On field trips they would walk behind me and put large globs of body glitter in my hair and down my back, ruining the shirt and forcing me to try and painfully pull dry glitter from strands of hair. The three-way calls occurred as well, when you would be tricked into a phone call where one person prompted you to talk about a third person who was listening in. At some point I stopped asking “why are you mad at me” because the answer was always “if you don’t know we aren’t going to tell you.” Ah, the psychological warfare of schoolgirls.
It was hard at times to see how I would overcome these cruel actions. The years between 5th and 8th grade were difficult. I was lucky when I got to high school, by that point I had developed a thick skin and a sense of humor. A few attempts at bullying began but were quickly abandoned because those middle school years had taught me how to deal with these problems when they arose. If someone came at me with an insult, I came back with a joke. My attitude had change and made me untouchable.
Now let’s be realistic, bullying will never be a thing of the past, it will always exist in some form. The thing is the solution has remained the same: don’t engage, don’t give them the satisfaction, and develop a barrier to keep these things from hurting you. For me it was as simple as reminding myself of the advice my parents gave me and their parents gave them: these bullies are not going to go far in life. However, this advice is now considered to be unfair to the bullies. There are PSAs that encourage kids to try and understand their tormentors. As an adult it’s easier to think don’t hate them, feel sympathy for them because they have to lash out to feel superior. It’s much harder to do when they have you locked in a dark supply closet. I don’t remember sitting in there thinking “they only do this because they have a difficult home life.” No, you think, “I hate these people and can’t wait for high school when they’re going to become the small fish in a bigger pond.” In a world that now punishes kids for standing up for themselves or each other, suspends and expels them from school for fighting back, what is wrong with a PSA that tells them “okay, don’t fight back, just focus on the future?”
This video doesn’t perpetuate the cycle of bullying so much as it gives the bullied something to look forward to. Something to truly make them believe that it will be better. This is tried and true advice that for some reason has faded away. And to be honest, the notions of revenge that children have now while receiving swirlies and being run up the flagpole will fade in the future. Memories of the embarrassment will motivate them and when they reach success they’ll remember how it felt to be picked on. The skeptics of this video seem to have the impression that the childhood desire for revenge is more powerful than a moral compass. This video also gives the bullies something to think about, what they want their future to be. Some of them will come around and apologize, others won’t. Instead the latter will make anguished Facebook posts wondering how their own children can be so unfairly targeted for bullying. They’ll have to answer their children when asked, “Why are they doing this to me?” I hope they don’t say, “If you don’t know I’m not going to tell you.”