It’s not a small thing

Until a few days ago, I had a picture-book image of bullying: a mean kid in the school halls who shook his fist in your face while demanding your lunch money.

Until a few days ago, I disregarded cyberbullying as anything of great consequence to most of us. The result of teenage folly. An interesting topic for morning talk shows with some social media “expert” who gives tips to parents. Something for kids and parents to sort out on their own, maybe.

But the word “bully” doesn’t really cover what it is we’re talking about when we hear Amanda Todd’s story, or the stories of so many others. It’s not as simple as “Sticks and stones…” on the playground. What’s actually happening is much scarier than the unkind and judgmental comments that we have each experienced through social media. It’s way beyond the word “bullying.”

To accurately describe what is happening, we need a new vocabulary in place of the word “bully”:

  • Harass
  • Abuse
  • Terrorize
  • Torment
  • Torture

Because what we’re talking about is the deliberate, persistent, unrelenting pursuit, harassment, threatening and torment of children and teens. When their vulnerability is abused and the terrorizing begins, youth are left with fewer and fewer resources to sustain their mental well-being. And it can often feel like there is no escape.

What’s happening is too big, too dark to put into a picture book. I am ready to call it what it is… because when I do, I can no longer act like it’s a small thing.

It’s torture, and it has to stop.

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