Nadin Khoury was brought to the United States ten years ago by his mother to escape the cruelty that accompanied the Liberian Civil War. Last month he was left suspended by his coat from a seven-foot-high fence after being punched, dragged, kicked and beaten in a Philadelphia suburb. His shocked mother said, “One of the reasons I came to the U.S. was (so) that these horrible things wouldn’t happen to us.”
Here we go again. Sadly, it seems every time we turn around there's a new case of bullying in the news. Back when I was growing up, bullying seemed to be almost a rite of passage for every new kid at school, a type of hazing to validate your acceptance. Of course, the big difference in those days was that the bullying was usually only at the schoolyard and typically petered out quickly. Now, in the cyber world there is no respite and bullying has taken on a much more sinister tone.
Today kids have to deal with not only physical confrontations, but are also virtually pounded 24/7 via Facebook, Twitter and cell phone by text, calls and voicemails. In some cases (think TylerClementi) personal situations are videotaped and posted on the internet for all to see. In others (Phoebe Prince) the bullying lasts for months on end. In addition, as in these two cases, suicide is being seen more and more as an end result with these kids.
The largest study ever on bullying was recently released by the non- profit Josephson Institute of Ethics, covering 43,321 kids from 15-18 years of age in both public and private schools. The results show that nearly 50% of kids reported being "bullied, teased or taunted in a way that seriously upset me at least once".
Another 50% reported they had "bullied teased or taunted someone at least once". Also, 52% of kids had hit someone in anger and 37% of boys and 19% of girls say it's OK to hit or physically threaten another who angers them. Other shocking stats reveal 60% of kids have cheated on a test and 27% had stolen something from a store.
Quite simply, what we learn as 'normal' we learn as children, and today that is all about violence. It's ubiquitous and it's often glorified through internet, movies, video games, TV, and song lyrics. When kids are exposed to violence they accept it as a normal way to resolve a conflict.
Also, we are becoming meaner as a society. A recent study from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, looked at 72 studies that gauged empathy among 14,000 college students in the past 30 years. They found that empathy (identifying with the feelings, thoughts or pain of another) has DECREASED a staggering 40% in college students since 2000!
Reasons range from the decrease of face to face communication as a side effect of technology to the hangover effect from the boom economy which fed our narcissism to want, what we want, when we want it and screw you if you get in my way. Social networking sites are all about "look at me, me, me."
Reality shows like "Real Housewives" and "Jersey Shore" show backstabbing, rude and crass behavior on a nightly basis as a source of comedy. In sports we have a win at all costs (including cheating with performance enhancing drugs) mentality. Business is about CEO's maximizing their personal wealth at the expense of the rest of us and as for politics "All's Fair" to win an election. Is it any wonder that bullying is so prevalent in our 'only the strong survive' culture?
So, how do we stop this epidemic of bullying? the pundits will tell you that you have to start with the legislature, the court system and the schools but the simple truth is it starts with the family. Period. Parents must talk, talk, talk with their kids about bullying just the same way they should be discussing alcohol, drugs, safe sex and personal responsibility. We also need to talk with our kids about empathy, about the feelings of others and that we are all in this together and that kindness is a virtue. As those of you with kids know, you have to bring up these subjects over and over.
We must reinforce that it's never ok to bully or use physical violence to solve a problem and that words can be hurtful to others. It's even more important to have the child know that if they are being bullied, they have every right to speak up, and they can count on YOU to come to their aid.
In today's modern world we need to understand that what was once a way to initiate new kids into a peer group has now taken a cruel turn, with potentially grave consequences. America should stand as the role model for the rest of the world that if you come here your children will be safe. The time is now to just say NO to bullying.
Dr. Dale Archer is a psychiatrist and frequent guest on "FoxNews.com Live." For more, visit his website: Dr.DaleArcher.com.