Of course, the reason that these well meaning programs will fail is not for a lack of trying. Rather, these programs will fail because they neglect to address the much larger and more present issue: the culture of bullying that already exists in our society. This culture, which is created through our continued production of media that is negative, attacking, or harshly critical of other people, is sustained through our perpetuation and unquestioned support of this media despite its negative messages. This media then teaches our children, whether we counter it or not, that teasing, taunting, and bullying are acceptable actions with few, if any, negative repercussions.
A perfect example of this culture at work is in the case of celebrities and other television personalities. It is no secret that celebrities are subject to a fair amount of abuse, both inside and outside of media representations. Sometimes these concerns can be chalked up to whether we like or dislike their work, but far more often the discussion steers away from such constructive criticism and opinion and towards attacking them as a person. When this happens we start criticizing the person for gaining or losing too much weight, questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, calling their fans names for enjoying their work, complaining about the clothing choices they made, or something else to that effect.
We start discussing these topics back and forth amongst our peers, joking and laughing about how gay Justin Beiber is, how Kristen Stewart can’t display emotions, or how stupid Jessica Simpson is. We joke, in full view of our children, about the people from the Jersey Shore. We publish facebook statuses or forum comments that claim hipsters are nothing more than entitled kids who need a bath. We openly air our biases about women, children, trans* people, other races, foreign nationals, or people we just disagree with. And then, when it comes time for these children to go to school, we expect them to know better than to tease, taunt, or bully someone else.
We expect, even though we live and take part in a culture that actively bullies, criticizes, and debases others, that our children shouldn’t do the same. We assume, despite watching television networks that develop and produce shows designed specifically to allow the audience to talk about the misgivings of the characters, that our children will somehow not take this as permission to say the exact same things to their teachers, friends, or peers. This is why these anti-bullying campaigns will ultimately fail: because systemic problems require systemic solutions.
So, until we, as adults, understand that to end bullying amongst youth we must first end bullying amongst ourselves, we are merely telling youth to do as we say, but not as we do. And, that has never worked.