In mid-April, Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr., 14, of Primghar, Iowa, killed himself after being bullied. Oftentimes, the parents of these victims do not realize the full extent of the abuse until they have lost their children. That was the case with Weishuhn's untimely death. His mother, Jeannie Chambers, said to the Sioux City Journal, "When I talked to him, he blew it off like it wasn't a big deal."
Now, it is too late for Chambers to have an open conversation with her son about overcoming his bullies.
Weishuhn is just one of many young teens who have committed suicide to escape the emotional humiliation and pain of being a victim of bullying. These stories continue to be noted by journalists across the country, which raises a question: bullying is receiving more attention, but why is that the case? After all, hasn't bullying been an issue for decades, even centuries? (Just consider the recent story, which has caused quite a stir, about GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's admission that he was a bully in high school).
Since Romney's time in high school, however, the way in which people bully has dramatically changed. In fact, bullies have more access to their victims, thanks to social media. Because it is out of control -- due to the Internet and other forms of technology (for instance, cell phones and texting) -- bullying affects one's personal and intimate spaces in ways that are more far reaching than before. Furthermore, it is far easier to bully, as it merely takes a few seconds to hit the "return' key and send nasty, abusive comments about individuals ripping across social media sites and the World Wide Web. These remarks can be read by thousands, if not millions, of viewers in a matter of seconds. For young people, who are already facing great challenges as they navigate school and maturing, the emotional impact is devastating.
In a way, it seems that the idea that a child has a right to attend school or any other venue without being attacked by vicious people has been lost on all of us. But thanks to an increased awareness about human rights, and how it relates to the issue of bullying, we as a society are now prone to calling people out and insisting that they be act responsibly and respectfully towards others. When it comes to bullying, the voices of the anti-bullying movement are calling for the protection of all people who feel threatened, unsafe, or distressed by someone who feels they have the freedom to hurt others. In raising awareness, there is an important point being made among those in the anti-bullying movement: it is not your right to attack others. In addition, the idea that bullying is somehow a rite of passage is as anachronistic as the notion that it is appropriate to hit a child for punishment. Most of us now recognize that hitting children is abusive. The same sentiment should be expressed when we discuss bullying.
Indeed, bullying is a socially unacceptable behavior. However, not everyone realizes the dangers of this malicious form of behavior. That is why the anti-bullying movement is so important -- it is helping victims of bullying understand that they are not alone, while shining a light on a crisis and discussing it openly. That is one of the problems with such forms of abuse; the victims often remain silent, suffering alone, while being overwhelmed by their predators. Like Weishuhn, those who wish to help don't ever have that chance, as the victim winds up dead.
But many victims, and even those who bully, have begun to discover a space to talk about the bullying crisis. The anti-bullying movement continues to grow. There are now several movies including Rats and Bullies, and The Bully that have documented the issue, and they are being screened at theaters, community events and in schools across the country. In addition, a number of books have been published on the subject, and talk show hosts and journalists -- both on television and in print -- are addressing it as well. At the local level, and in communities all over the nation, rallies are being held to denounce bullying.
And yet, we are still losing young people like Weishuhn. His suicide, and others who have recently taken their lives, are a testament to the fact that we still have a long way to go. In a word, my work continues. But I am confident that one day soon those who bully, whether they be children or grown adults, will find themselves ostracized for their behavior. It would be a blessing if this were to be the case now. We know the reality -- we're not there yet.