We're way beyond the Leave It to Beaver era of bullies who steal milk money and pull ponytails. While those kinds of bullies surely still exist, modern bullies are a new breed of terrible.
You've probably heard the recent news about cyberbullying following the suicides of cyberbully victims Tyler Clementi (a Rutgers University freshman) and Phoebe Prince (a Massachusetts high schooler). My heart breaks over these stories.
But have you heard about the newest form of peer harrassment: allergy bullying? That's right – kids who tease their classmates with allergies by taunting them with the food they can't eat. It sounds strange and even silly, but is potentially life-threatening to the child with a severe peanut allergy who gets a peanut butter sandwich shoved in his face (this actually happened in a Washington high school two years ago). A new report in The Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says that one in four kids with allergies who they surveyed has experienced allergy bullying. Cafeteria monitors, be on the lookout!
The scary thing about these new forms of bullying is that they can be tough to detect, usually taking place away from adults. Plus, they bring a new level of embarrassment to the victims.
To me, these sad stories are a call to action for students to get a stern refresher on good judgment and the golden rule. Sounds pointless and old school? Tell that to the child who has had hurtful things published for all to see on the web for eternity. Schools and parents need to educate children early and often about human decency (beyond just manners, sharing, and following rules when an adult is around). Schools' antibullying policies should cover these modern forms of bullying, and kids should be encouraged to talk with an adult about repeated teasing, even if it's just through text messages or on Facebook.
Here's an amdendment to the old saying "If you have nothing nice to say [or do], don't say it [or do it] at all": Especially don't say it on the Internet, where it will wound your classmate – and implicate you – forever.
I'd guess that some of today's bullying victims would gladly trade their experience for the occasional black eye.
Learn more about bullying here.