Bullying is as old as Cain and Abel, one middle-school teacher said. A retired high school administrator called bullying “the flavor of the month.” A journalism professor questioned whether, in 2012, there was much new to say about bullying since a project on the subject had been published 15 years earlier.
Yes, there is something new. The past 15 years have been a turning point in bullying.
In 1999 at Columbine High School near Denver, two students killed 13 people and themselves in a stunning spree of school violence. Within four months, Georgia passed the first school anti-bullying law in the nation.
In 2001, the book “Bullycide: Death at Playtime” coined a new word for people who take their own lives after being bullied. Canadian educator Bill Belsey is credited with coining the word cyberbullying that same year.
In 2001, in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks of that year, the Patriot Act criminalized the use of computers to threaten security. Those laws have been used in bullying cases.
In 2003, MySpace was founded.
In 2004, Facebook was launched.
In 2005, the video-sharing site YouTube was created.
In 2006, Twitter began.
In 2010, Georgia updated and expanded that first anti-bullying law.
In 2011, the White House and the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services held a national conference on bullying.
Laws, technology and taboos have changed in important ways over the past 15 years. These developments have changed bullying forever.
The bullying that happened 50 or even 20 years ago is not the bullying we see today. Some examples:
- More frequently, student suicides are linked to bullying. Although hard to track, anecdotal evidence and greater publicity indicate the number is rising.
- The first generation to grow up with constant mobile and social media can send and receive bullying messages 24 hours a day, wherever they are. Cyberbullying is widespread, it is real and has had tragic consequences.
- It has become OK to talk about bullying openly. Schools that whispered about bullying to protect their image now hold rallies opposing it. News media are more open about teen suicide, too.
- Students now produce anti-bullying messages that are seen by hundreds of thousands.
- News about bullying and support for its victims is exchanged globally.
- Internet searches for bullying information are up markedly.
- Bullying has become an open issue in business, legal and governmental offices.
The past 15 years have clearly changed bullying. Yet, a generational disconnect persists between today’s adults who were bullied as kids and today’s students who are experiencing a new kind of bullying.
At Michigan State University, an advanced journalism class reported on the new bullying and created a website and this book.
Kevin and Tammy Epling, whose son Matt, 14, took his own life after being bullied, helped us understand that we can contribute to the discussion by describing the new bullying.