Young gay males have a disproportionately higher suicide rate than do young straight males. They often deal with being bullied, harassed, and tormented by their peers, unless they hide their sexual orientation. Even then they are often bullied. Sadly, suicide and violent retaliation become the desperate measures of where these young men turn. However it does not have to be this way. Recently, there have been campaigns to challenge this problem, such as the “It Gets Better Project”. The idea is a good concept that deals the symptoms of the bullying problem for gay youth. Although this is a great starting point to tackling this very issue, this campaign is just scraping the surface of a much larger problem.
Who holds the responsibility for the safety of our youth? Teachers, parents, neighbors? Music, TV, movies? Until we all take some responsibility, this problem is not likely going to change. Until recently, our primary responses appeared to be ignoring the issue altogether, or blaming others. To fix the problem, it is time to ask ourselves tough questions. For example, “what would I do if I came across one child bullying another?” “What if my child was the bully?” “What if the school refuses to do something about my child being bullied?” Rather than blaming, we can start to get answers by taking responsibility for an overall societal problem.
At this time, one of the best options is to provide training and education to parents and teachers so that they can recognize and address bullying. People often know that bullying is taking place, but they do not know what to do about it. As adults, our responsibility is to teach our children about the consequences of bullying, and how to stand up for themselves. It is also our responsibility to recognize changes in a child’s behavior and mood and address this. If a child goes to you with a bullying concern, we have to take it serious. If a child reports that they are going to respond with violence, we have to take it serious. Being trained to equip children with ways to verbally respond to bullies can also go a long way in empowering children.
Again, I am not opposed to the “It Gets Better Project.” It is a step in the right direction. However, for an age group who has a difficult time avoiding impulsiveness as it is, it is a little unrealistic to simply rely on telling them that “it will get better,” and being satisfied with that. As a society, we have to learn to shed our “boys will be boys” attitude about bullying. This is not a problem that only young, gay men deal with. Throughout the years, I have worked with many individuals who struggle with self-esteem problems, relationships problems, marijuana abuse, and alcohol abuse. Many of these individuals come to realize that one of the origins of their problems is the trauma that they experienced from bullying, which they previously refused to acknowledge because of a perspective that “real men cannot be victims.”
Bullying is not a behavior that is new to human kind. We have vague definitions as to how we characterize the differences between bullying, teasing, and harassing. The answer lies largely in the perspective of the child. If the child feels that this is impacting his life, then we need to help him through this. Many children learn at a young age that tattling is wrong. We have to let children know that notifying someone of bullying is not tattling, and nothing to be ashamed of. For those who do bully, we need to help them with their own self-esteem and self-image so that they do not meet their needs by tormenting someone else. Empowering our children to take care of each other, tolerate differences, and find common ground will not only help children through the difficult adolescent years, but through their adult lives as well.