In cases of school or cyber bullying, the focus is put on what can be done to end the problem. New programs of teaching peers how to stand up or speak out, or new policies in online communities or schools are made to try to combat the issue, but this is all afterthought. Why is it that there is rarely any consideration of what is causing the problem between the bully and the bullied in the first place?
In this past week alone, there have been two fights between students at Palmer High School. The joke about Palmer is that it’s a small farm school and all the kids get along. This is generally true, but recently my attention has been drawn to the presence of the opposite idea.
As I was at lunch on Wednesday, enjoying a conversation about who knows what, a quiet fell over the cafeteria in only the eerie way that everyone knew something was about to happen. When I turned in my seat, two girls and some friends were beside the table, face-to-face in some sort of dispute after one had slapped another across the face. Principal Winter quickly stepped in and defused the issue, each girl being sent to the office. On Thursday, yelling echoed down the hall and a story spread minutes later as the next bell rang about two girls getting in a fight.
These weren’t the first fights I’d witnessed at the school, but they were two of few, and the only between girls. Why were they happening so often, and what was causing them to happen in the first place?
I considered the need for such behavior and didn’t connect the dots until coming upon a study done by the Girl Scout Research Institute of America.
The study, which surveyed more than 1,000 girls across the country ages 11 to 17 about their television-watching habits and their attitudes in life, came to find that about half watched reality television — popular shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” — and assumed it was real and unscripted. In their expectations of peer relationships, how the world works and importance of physical appearance, the girls who watched reality TV were more likely to have skewed views from those who did not watch reality TV.
More specifically, the girls who watched reality TV were much more likely to say that gossip is normal, girls are naturally catty and are overall less likely to trust other girls.
So, as an observing member of the reality TV-crazed generation, I see these traits happening regularly as girls whisper and laugh about others around the classroom, talk breezily about “hating” a girl based on what she’s wearing or the way her nose looks, or have inconsistent friendships. And, though blame can be made on reality TV, I think what all this distaste comes down to is a lack of respect for themselves and others.
In light of Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Paramo’s recently unveiled action plan to combat bullying in schools through improving the school climate, this thought fits in. The program local schools are beginning to follow, Dr. Randy Sprick’s “Safe and Civil Schools,” touts its very first belief in the course of action as treating students with respect, the idea being that when respect is given it will be reciprocated.
Buddhists may call it karma, others common sense, but I believe respect is of the utmost importance in the function of a healthy society. When I was younger, “The Golden Rule” was laminated proudly on a poster in almost every classroom I’ve attended since second grade. Whatever it is about how we live — the shows we watch, the food we eat, etc. — today that has moved us away from this, I believe we should make an effort to return to it. To show respect is to accept things about others and treat them well regardless, with simple human acknowledgement, basic esteem. And beyond practicing it, we should teach respect and responsibility for actions, not just tolerance for others. This requires a constant effort in a way of re-teaching yourself how to be, but if the possibilities are a positive environment of well-functioning schools and workplaces, I believe the work is worth the incentive.
Dylan Gette-King is a senior at Palmer High School.