How the Media is Contributing to the Bullying Fad Craze

Posted by on September 21, 2010

A father is labeled a school bus bully to fight for his child who is being harassed.  Five teen suicides focus questions on bullying.  A state legislator plans for more legislation on bullying while Congress has introduced its own federal anti-bullying laws.

“We talk about bullying every week now,” one local news anchor said in his on-air comments following a story about a teen who committed suicide and the news focused on it being a result of bullying.

Yes, indeed, every week — if not every day — I see multiple news stories about bullying in schools.  You’d think bullying came into existence this past year and no one ever heard of it before now.  So why is that news anchor talking about bullying every week now when, three to five years ago, the word may never have passed his script and lips?

Bullying is Today’s School Safety Fad

The answer:  Bullying is today’s school safety fad.  Yes, I said it: Fad.  Few people want to say this publicly out of political correctness and fear of appearing insensitive, but it’s true. 

So there: I’ve said it for the many people in education, prevention, and law enforcement who have been saying it to me at lunch meetings, workshops, and elsewhere.  Saying that bullying is a fad does not mean it is not a legitimate school safety issue.  And saying it is a fad does not mean it is not a serious issue.

What it does mean is this is the flavor of the year in school safety.  A decade ago, following the Columbine tragedy, the fad was talking about police officers in schools, emergency response drills, and recognizing early warning signs of threatening student behavior.  Today, that fad is bullying.

The media is an active participant in creating this fad.  Assaults are not referred to as assaults, but instead the victims are victims of bullying. Suicides are not mental health issues, they are caused by bullying.  A father who storms a bus threatening the kids who have harassed his daughter is not trespassing, threatening children, and acting inappropriately — he is referred to in the news as a bus bully.

This bullying fad, and the media coverage of it, is being fueled by special interest advocacy groups using bullying and school safety to further their social and political agendas.  This bullying fad is also being fueled by legislators, both state and federal, who have jumped on the bullying bandwagon to create legislation which is typically an unfunded mandate, not helpful to the front-line school administrator in addressing bullying, and creates a false sense of hope for parents who are legitimately frustrated with safety in their kids schools. And the fad is being fueled by the U.S. Department of Education which has proposed skewed policy and funding toward bullying, climate, and incivility.  I have covered these angles in-depth in blog posts over recent weeks.

Policies, Laws, and Strategies Already Exist to Address Bullying

As I have written extensively, school policies, student codes of conduct, and school climate strategies already exist to deal with bullying. Criminal and civil state and federal laws exist which can be used, as appropriate, to bring charges in harassment cases. 

I have recently asked educators at every one of my workshops if there is any tool they need to address bullying which does not already exist without a new state or federal law.  Not one has raised their hand.  Not one.

This, Too, Shall Pass – But How Much Damage Will Be Done?

Make no mistake: The fad will change.  It may not be today or tomorrow, but there will be a new fad.  It is just a matter of time. 

We are a roller coaster society.  We have roller coaster public awareness, roller coaster public policy, and roller coaster public funding.  The problem is that this roller coaster approach is not conducive to sustainable, meaningful, balanced and comprehensive school safety policy and funding.

Today we’re riding the bullying roller coaster.  What will the ride be named two years from now (or before then if there is a major school safety crisis)?

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “How the Media is Contributing to the Bullying Fad Craze

  1. Melissa Smith says:

    I agree, there is a lot of talk and publicity on bullying. But I think it is a popular topic because of how bullying has taken off in the virtual world. The long lasting marks of an online bully hit differently than the bully on the playground. What seeds the bully sows is spread globally. Teenagers and young children whose brains have not developed to fully understand time and have the experience due to age don’t understand that bullies don’t win in the end, their behavior leaves them in a life they’ve built that is sad and mean. I think parents and educators are aware of the virtual bully and are starting educating progrmas on what to do, how to react, etc to cyberbullying. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be in papers and in the media. It is a serious “fad” that needs to be highlighted to make grown ups aware of the fact that we need to teach others how to handle it. Teach the kids that we can help and they don’t have to keep the bullying to themselves to the point where they don’t see any out except to end their life. So I suppsose I support the publicity of this “fad” in an attempt to get all on the bandwagon to educate kids on how to handle it. And when it wasn’t a “fad” we didn’t teach those skills.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Melissa. I appreciate your thoughtful insight. Like you, I agree bullying is an issue, needs to be addressed, and children should be educated on it. Based on my experience in working with schools for over 25 years, though, I disagree with the idea that, “And when it wasn’t a ‘fad’ we didn’t teach those skills.” I have seen school climate strategies, along with school policies and discipline codes, in place which deal with bullying. Today, anything and everything from teen violence to teen suicide is being slapped with the label of “bullying,” due to the media and other craze around this issue. Over a decade ago, after Columbine the fad was to talk about police in schools and emergency planning. Today, funds for police in schools have been dramatically cut, emergency planning is on the back burner in many districts, and the fad had changed to bullying. Will the focus be on bullying five years from now to the extent it is today, or will the funding and focus be pushed to the back burner then for something else? My experience suggests the latter: We’ll be on to another fad. Schools have the policies, student codes of conduct, and climate strategies already available to deal with bullying. New laws and lawsuits are not needed. Leadership, both within the school and at home, are needed to effectively address bullying. And it needs to be sustained for the long haul, not just in response to the latest TV or politically-correct conversation of the day. Just my take. I appreciate you reading and providing some feedback. We can’t change the climate if we don’t change the conversation, so thanks for sharing your perspective. Ken

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