Bullying as a Factor at Columbine

Bullying is often cited as a key cause of the tragedy at Columbine. Yes, by most accounts it was. Harris and Klebold left behind many complaints about how they were teased, harassed, and bullied.

I won’t dispute that they were bullied. However, I really have a problem, at some level, with those who say that bullying was a cause for what happened at Columbine. Harris and Klebold are not the only students ever to be bullied! (In fact, I'm sure that Daniel, who was thin, quiet and a bit nerdy, was also bullied at times.) But most victims of bullying have not resorted to murder. More important, being bullied does not justify murder; or looked at another way—bullying is not a crime punishable by death.

Let’s get it straight. I agree that we should do something to reduce bullying. However, the reason we should do so is because it’s not the proper way to treat each other, not because some kids might turn into murderers.

I think the time has come to acknowledge that bullying is on the rise, as is the inability of some victims to emotionally handle being bullied. Why are these things so?!? Well, I think the answer depends on one’s perspective, which is often politically based, and in citing the reasons I’m sure I’ll be goring just about everyone’s ox. Among the reasons cited:

With the increasing number of single parent households due to divorce, and the increasing number of households with two working parents, kids don’t get enough quality time or counseling.

  • The school system doesn’t spend enough time with kids, is too preoccupied with allowing kids to “be themselves,” is too busy focusing on standards exams, and is intimidated by parents who refuse to be told their precious child did something wrong.
  • The media glorifies violence and highlights images of people who get revenge when wronged.
  • Kids think they are expected to be tough, so bullies think it’s okay to harass those who are weaker, while victims are reluctant to tell others of their agony.
  • We live in a society that glorifies the individual, lacks moral and values training, and promotes an “anything goes” attitude in which kids think they are free to do whatever they feel like they want to do.
  • There was bullying in past generations, but those who were bullied usually did not fight back directly, unless they were willing and able to use their fists. They either complained to people in authority, learned to deal with it, or were damaged by it. But they didn’t murder those who bullied them. But today some kids who are emotionally unable to deal with it feel they are empowered with new weapons, thanks to the easy availability of handguns in America .
  • There is a general lack of civility in American society. It’s common to see and hear people treating each other rudely on talk radio, on “reality shows,” and in road rage incidents. Yet our reaction is mild, we are either entertained by it, sharing in it or not shocked when we hear of it.

My belief is that each of these factors, as well as others, are to blame in varying degrees. That means we cannot wish it away or preach it away or punish it away. Bullying has been around a long time. It is an unfortunate part of human nature—looking down on others, demeaning them, teasing them, harassing them, trying to feel better about oneself by devaluing and demeaning others.

It is ridiculous to think that we can end or even greatly curtail bullying so long as our nation is so impersonal, and so full of violence and incivility.

The problem I have with an overemphasis on bullying is that the message often seems to be that ‘we need to stop bullying in order to stop youth violence.’ The problem is that we seem to accept that those who are bullied will seek to punish others for bullying. But both bullying and revenge are wrong.

Finally, it must be emphasized that Harris and Klebold sought to kill other students en masse. They meant to kill hundreds, they did not target specific students in their plans. To say that hundreds of students were responsible for bullying them is preposterous, and to say that even those who did bully or wrong them deserved to die as punishment is even more preposterous.

Let’s work seriously on bullying in America , but let’s do it for the right reasons and with a willingness to deal with its many root causes.

It’s a sad commentary that in America we have children killing children. It’s good that our schools and other institutions are looking more seriously at the issue of bullying. But rather than concentrate too much on the prevention of bullying, I think more attention has to be given to a better understanding of why certain bullies and bullying victims throw away basic social mores and take such drastic violent action.

I also think we must ALL work to try to better identify those kids (and adults) who may be at risk of such violent behavior. But because we cannot guarantee that we will be able to identify them all, and because we may not intervene once we find out what leads to such drastic reaction, we should then take some preventive steps, such as reducing access to guns and bomb making materials; discouraging bullying; promoting civility, and encouraging parents to be more tuned in to their kids’ lives.

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We are all Columbine!