A study was released today revealing a startling number of middle and high school students who cyberbully themselves online. I really thought that was some kind of weird euphemism when I first read it, but no, it’s exactly what it sounds like. About 6% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 admit that they anonymously post mean comments to themselves on the internet. Sometimes, apparently, the fake bullying victim will even engage in an angry, schizophrenic back-and-forth with his fake bully. It would be funny if it weren’t so disturbing and sad.
Interestingly, according to the report, gay teens are three times more likely to harass themselves in this way. We hear a lot about the alleged epidemic of homophobic bullying in our culture, but it turns out that a good chunk of the anti-gay bullying is as phony as the anti-gay hate crime hoaxes.
That, of course, is a related phenomenon. It seems every other week the media tells us of racist graffiti on a college campus, or a homophobic note left on a receipt, or some other similar sort of thing, and then a few weeks later comes the inevitable follow-up: It was fake. Obviously. It’s almost always fake. This website has been cataloguing phony hate crimes since 2012, and they’re up to 327 already. That’s one fake hate crime every six days. Add in the fake cyberbullying and a picture begins to form of a country filled with people utterly desperate to be hated.
Researchers, always eager to categorize and medicalize human failings, have already come up with a term to describe this behavior: digital self-harm, they call it. And why do these kids engage in this “digital self-harm”? Scientists are stumped. Most of the boys say it’s a “joke.” Most of the girls say they’re “depressed.” I don’t think either explanation is exactly true.
Here’s why they do it: they’ve been taught that victimhood is power. These kids spend their time inventing fake bullies because victimhood is the highest form of social currency in our culture. Kids collect and count their bullies like they used to collect and count Pokemon cards. Maybe they still collect Pokemon cards, I don’t know, but collecting bullies is new.
It seems that we’ve been so zealous and exaggerated in our fight to stop bullying that we’ve made it appear desirable to be bullied. We went on and on about the “bullying epidemic,” insisting that children today have it so much worse, and are bullied much more often, than children of the past. It was never true — just ask anyone who went to school in 50’s — but we succeeded in getting our message across. We told our kids that they’re victims and their lives are hard and nobody has ever had it tougher than they, and they believed us. We coddled and pampered the “victims” so much that now everyone wants a slice of the victim pie. Can you blame them? Being emotionally traumatized can even get you out of tests these days. I’d make sure to be traumatized every day if I were in their shoes.
I hate to do the “when I was a kid” thing, but, seriously, when I was a kid things weren’t like this. When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be the bully, the dominant one, the alpha. You would be embarrassed to call yourself a victim. Even if you were bullied, you wouldn’t tell anyone because you didn’t want to be seen as weak. This is how it was for boys, anyway. It was not a particularly good situation either, but at least a boy’s desire to be the top dog on campus is natural. You wanted power over others, you wanted them to do what you said, so you tried to be stronger and better than they. It was straightforward, if nothing else.
Everything is flipped on its head now. Kids today want to be the submissive, the persecuted, the pitiful. They wield power by not having power. They put themselves over others by putting themselves under them. They dominate by being dominated. They want pity more than they want to be admired or liked by their peers. They’d much rather be the bullied than the bully. And not because they are selfless and humble — quite the opposite. They are as arrogant and self-obsessed as ever, but also calculated, conniving, and dishonest on top of it all.
Of course, it is not good to strive only for admiration and respect. But the quest for admiration may, on the bright side, involve some amount of self-improvement. The quest for pity and sympathy, on the other hand, has absolutely no bright side. It does not require self-improvement. It more likely requires the opposite. A kid in search of admiration will strive to be the best athlete on his team, the best student in his class, the funniest guy at the lunch table. A kid in search of pity will shrink away to a darkened corner and invent social media alter egos to bully him. There are no accidental benefits to this new way of doing things.
Maybe we went about this the wrong way. Rather than glorifying victimhood, perhaps we should have encouraged the real victims to fight back. We should have taught our kids that bullies only have power if you give them power. Maybe, God forbid, we should have even taught our kids to punch a bully in the nose, if all other methods fail. Don’t let yourself be a victim, we ought to have said. But that involves putting some onus of responsibility on the victim himself, and we simply can’t do that. We mustn’t “victim blame.” All we’re allowed to do in the face of bullying anymore is weep and wail and rage at the world for being so unfair.
Now, for our efforts, we have a generation of sniveling crybabies who want so badly to be bullied that they’ll create a bully out of thin air. We did this to ourselves.