NOT ON: Bullying can affect any age group and comes in many guises, from teasing and ostracism to physical abuse. Photo: Getty Images
NOT ON: Bullying can affect any age group and comes in many guises, from teasing and ostracism to physical abuse. Photo: Getty Images

OPINION: Tackling that toxic beast of social burden

Life as I know it: By Lesley Apps

BULLYING is an insidious beast that can rear its ugly head at any time in life from its most famous haunt in the school yard to those taboo places like aged care facilities or the family home.

It's a cheap attempt at power from pathetic individuals who derive some sort of sadistic gratification from the humiliation and intimidation of those they deem weaker, quite often stemming from a deep fear of failure themselves.

Whatever the breeding ground is for this human e. coli, their rather under prosecuted actions can have far reaching consequences ranging from a few shitty memories dredged up every time you avoid a school reunion to suicide.

While watching the docu-film Bully this week, the helplessness felt by its protagonist Alex was tear-inducing while his clueless parents and spectacularly ignorant school board were seethingly frustrating. It was sobering to see how broken down children could become and the various mechanisms they resort to in order to cope with it, from becoming so desensitised they stop feeling altogether to picking up a gun (it was an American documentary but weapons comes in all shapes and sizes when you're pushed to your limits). It got so bad for young Alex, the filmmakers feared for his safety and had to show the footage to his parents and the school to enlighten them about what was happening. And as far the law enforcers were concerned, the teenage girl who resorted to pulling a gun on a bus after enduring extended periods of harassment was the criminal because to them bullying only equated to having the crap kicked out of you.

The documentary was filmed openly over the course of a year, the children slipping back into their routines there within the first couple of weeks which goes some way in demonstrating the bravado and entitlement some of these bullies felt.

With the amount of toxic exchanges sprayed liberally over social media every few seconds, the playground for bullying has escalated into the stratosphere. It's no longer resigned to the 'kick me' notes patted venomously onto the backs of those kids or the calculated ostracism by popular peer groups. Now it's open season for nastiness across an audience that can grow to thousands, even millions. Minders of young minds needs to reach out more than ever before, and provide a clear channel where they are comfortable to disclose what is really going on without fear of being called a wimp or difficult. Lessons in resilience and recognising tipping points while they are still young are skills that are just as important as maths and English.

On the flipside, perpetrators need to be held accountable no matter what their age. It's never going to be easy given it can be intergenerational and what they learn in the school grounds won't necessarily be followed up at home but when the end result is that kids find it less painful to whip up a noose and end it all rather than asking for help then some serious overhauling needs to take place. The most telling moment in the film came when it was pointed out that students mocked the actions of a 17-year-old boy who took his own life by arriving to school with hanging devices around their necks and the principal knew nothing about it. That kind of naivety isn't going to cut it anymore.

* This week's book giveaway is written by Australian James Fry, former victim and now bullying crusader, who provides some insight into the complexities and carnage that comes with growing up with bullying.

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