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Is Bullying Getting Worse?

While on tour, I was recently interviewed by a Nebraska news station. I’ve been interviewed by TV news stations before. They all usually ask the same questions: Why did you start doing this? How is your message different than the normal “anti-bullying” messages, etc. But, this reporter asked me a question that almost stumped me. I had to think for a second before I gave my response. 

“You talk a lot about your story and what you went through as a kid. Do you think there is more bullying now than there was 20 years ago?”

My first thought was, “Of course. That’s why I’m out here doing what I’m doing.” Luckily for me, marriage has taught me to have a filter between my initial thoughts and actually speaking. So I thought for a moment.

Why is Resilience Important?

I imagine that my brain during this brief second would have looked like this: The hamster waking up like a lethargic teenager, flipping on the coffee, pouring a cup, taking a sip, getting on the wheel, walking around the wheel, which slowly beings turning the gears, jogging the memories of as many experiences as I can recall. It was almost like finally getting your old VCR to work and then having to adjust the tracking to get those annoying silver lines off of the screen. But, after everything was running properly, I was watching a lightning fast movie of the last 20 years of my student life, teaching experiences in the classroom and my travels to schools all over this country. After reviewing all of the footage in my head, here was my response:

Is bullying the same as it was 20 years ago?

I don’t think so. There have always been mean kids and mean people. There has always been teasing, name-calling, mean jokes, pushing and shoving, rumors and exclusion. We see those things today just like we saw them on the playground and in the hallways growing up. Some kids do it and some kids don’t. So no, I don’t think there’s more bullying. However, the climate is different now. I have found that people are less resilient nowadays. Kids are reporting mean behavior more than ever before because they don’t know how to handle it properly. So, with the decrease in resilience and the increase in reporting, it seems like there is more, but based on my experience and in my opinion, there is not.

A very wise and wealthy man once told me that, as long as you preface something with “in my opinion” or “based on my experience”, you can say almost anything you want. I get what he meant. My statement was a bold one. Some may even say that they disagree, and they have a right to. That’s fine. But, again, based on my experience and in my opinion, I do not think there has been an increase in bullying.

At this, many will shout, “But, then why do we hear about all of these kids who are killing themselves and others because of bullying?! It seems like it’s getting worse!”

I agree. It does seem like that, absolutely. But, consider that first question: “Why do we hear about…?” One word: Media. I’m not saying I’m anti-media. Let’s not play politics. But, I will say that the media (on both sides) does a great job of somehow leaving out a great deal of positive news and focusing on the negative that gets people’s attention. If it bleeds, it reads. The reason you hear so much about bullying and its consequences is because that’s all you’re fed. That’s all that is put out there. Rarely do we hear about the millions of kind acts that happen on a daily basis in schools all over the country. Rarely do we ever hear about all of the resilient kids who are not effected by mean behavior. Nope. We only hear about the ONE kid that decided to make a horrible decision because of the negativity in their life.

I’m not downplaying it by any means. Yes, it is a shame that these things happen. But, because that’s all we hear about, and with the way people tend to think, one single negative bullying story automatically turns millions of people into social-emotional experts with a Ph.D. in bullying.

Is a lack of resilience feeding the bullying problem?

So, yes, it does seem like there is more bullying. But, are we doing it to ourselves? Kind of. Think about it. (I’ll elaborate more on this point in my forthcoming book, The Big, Bad “B” Word.) If you look at how the definition of “bullying” has been packaged lately, plus what kids are generally being taught in school about how to handle mean behavior, plus a decrease in people’s resilience, plus the lack of training that teachers and staff actually get on the subject, you have a recipe for disaster.

Kids are believing that any mean behavior is “bullying.” (Including something as small as sticking their tongue out and making faces.) Kids are told to report any and all mean behavior. So, they do! And now, they’re reporting it at a rate that has never been seen before.

The lack of resilience in people everywhere is astounding. All you have to do is turn on the TV for two minutes and it becomes evident that people (adults and children alike) are offended much easier than ever before. Unfortunately, that is spilling over into our children and in our schools. They don’t know how to handle the negativity of life, including the mean behavior of others. (Obviously, I’m not talking about everyone, but everyone can think of at least one person who fits this profile.)

The result? All of the mean behaviors are taken personally, blown up and documented as bullying incidents. So, it’s easy to think that things are getting worse.

But, don’t freak out. I can’t tell you how many teachers, counselors and administration that I have talked to that have all told me the same thing in more or less words: “There is no bullying problem. There’s a resilience problem.” Resilient kids are bully-proof.

There have always been mean people. There will always be mean people. Not everyone. Not everywhere. Not every time. But, there will always be that one person. How do you win?


About the Author: Chris Scheufele is one of the most sought-after youth speakers in the United States. He’s a comedian with a license to teach. With more than a decade in the classroom, Chris has developed clever interventions that resolve conflicts instantly and promote a culture of resilience.  He makes social emotional learning fun! His entertaining and educational programs have been recognized by educators nationwide, and have earned him several awards including “Teacher Of The Year”.