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Bullying as True Drama

Published: September 22, 2011

THE suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, the 14-year-old boy from western New York who killed himself last Sunday after being tormented by his classmates for being gay, is appalling. His story is a classic case of bullying: he was aggressively and repeatedly victimized. Horrific episodes like this have sparked conversations about cyberbullying and created immense pressure on regulators and educators to do something, anything, to make it stop. Yet in the rush to find a solution, adults are failing to recognize how their conversations about bullying are often misaligned with youth narratives. Adults need to start paying attention to the language of youth if they want antibullying interventions to succeed.

Jamey recognized that he was being bullied and asked explicitly for help, but this is not always the case. Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

In our research over a number of years, we have interviewed and observed teenagers across the United States. Given the public interest in cyberbullying, we asked young people about it, only to be continually rebuffed. Teenagers repeatedly told us that bullying was something that happened only in elementary or middle school. “There’s no bullying at this school” was a regular refrain.

This didn’t mesh with our observations, so we struggled to understand the disconnect. While teenagers denounced bullying, they — especially girls — would describe a host of interpersonal conflicts playing out in their lives as “drama.”

At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.

Teenagers say drama when they want to diminish the importance of something. Repeatedly, teenagers would refer to something as “just stupid drama,” “something girls do,” or “so high school.” We learned that drama can be fun and entertaining; it can be serious or totally ridiculous; it can be a way to get attention or feel validated. But mostly we learned that young people use the term drama because it is empowering.

Dismissing a conflict that’s really hurting their feelings as drama lets teenagers demonstrate that they don’t care about such petty concerns. They can save face while feeling superior to those tormenting them by dismissing them as desperate for attention. Or, if they’re the instigators, the word drama lets teenagers feel that they’re participating in something innocuous or even funny, rather than having to admit that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. Drama allows them to distance themselves from painful situations.

Adults want to help teenagers recognize the hurt that is taking place, which often means owning up to victimhood. But this can have serious consequences. To recognize oneself as a victim — or perpetrator — requires serious emotional, psychological and social support, an infrastructure unavailable to many teenagers. And when teenagers like Jamey do ask for help, they’re often let down. Not only are many adults ill-equipped to help teenagers do the psychological work necessary, but teenagers’ social position often requires them to continue facing the same social scene day after day.

Like Jamey, there are young people who identify as victims of bullying. But many youths engaged in practices that adults label bullying do not name them as such. Teenagers want to see themselves as in control of their own lives; their reputations are important. Admitting that they’re being bullied, or worse, that they are bullies, slots them into a narrative that’s disempowering and makes them feel weak and childish.

Antibullying efforts cannot be successful if they make teenagers feel victimized without providing them the support to go from a position of victimization to one of empowerment. When teenagers acknowledge that they’re being bullied, adults need to provide programs similar to those that help victims of abuse. And they must recognize that emotional recovery is a long and difficult process.

But if the goal is to intervene at the moment of victimization, the focus should be to work within teenagers’ cultural frame, encourage empathy and help young people understand when and where drama has serious consequences. Interventions must focus on positive concepts like healthy relationships and digital citizenship rather than starting with the negative framing of bullying. The key is to help young people feel independently strong, confident and capable without first requiring them to see themselves as either an oppressed person or an oppressor.

Danah Boyd is a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and a research assistant professor at New York University. Alice Marwick is a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research and a research affiliate at Harvard University.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 23, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: Bullying as True Drama.

What do you think?

What did Lady Gaga say about this?

Did any other celebrity say something about this? Do some reasearch and share it with the class.

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15 Responses to Bullying!

  1. juli molmenti says:

    i´m very sorry of the boy, and for the familly. but i thinkthat hewas is only one of the bulled kids how comit suicide but one of the millions that are being bullied.if you are special you are different and if you are differtnt you are not acpted that shoud be change because if all the people whow are sufering becauuce of this suicide al lot of pople would be died. in somme countrys bulling is more comon that in others i fell that in argentina bulling is not so common but there still boy ans girls who are descriminated ant hit by other justo for being different special in some way.

    lady gaga was very sad about it. she saidthat bulling must stop and that it had to came iligal because it is a hate crime.lady gaga has a meeting to decuse the topic and she also
    dedicated the song hair to him.
    “The ‘bullying’ (bullying) must become illegal. It’s a hate crime “, claimed the singer, who is a fervent fighter for the rights of sexual minorities.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62FHKY7Ctbs (i have found this video that tells al the story and id very usefull)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okq8xHrIZ8I&ob=av2e (this is the song that lady gaga dedicated to him)

    I just wanna be myself,
    And I want you to love me for who I am.
    I just wanna be myself,
    And I want you to know, I am my hair.

  2. abril lopez says:

    1) I think that bullying is something that have to stop, it is horrible that the people, the teenagers feel discriminated only because a bully need to call attention of the people and he choose someone to bother it is unfair in this case only for being gay or another things they bother him, i think is the worst stupid thing someone could do to someone I think is very sad and i don’t like at all.
    2) What Lady Gaga want to make bullying an illegal thing beacues of this suicide. this as her words wich i took them from this page http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/22/lady-gaga-wants-to-make-bully-illegal_n_975653.html

    “”The past days I’ve spent reflecting, crying, and yelling. I have so much anger. It is hard to feel love when cruelty takes someones life.”

    “Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying,” she wrote linking to his “It Gets Better” video, “Bullying must become illegal. It is a hate crime.”
    i dindnt find so,mething wich said other famous people but i find a video of lady gaga singing for Jamey the first part is very emotional then the song start and it a song but is not just a song i think it is a song very special. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1c7IhfWsME

  3. Delfina D says:

    I think this is very serious. Bullies bother people just for fun, and they really got hurt inside and outside. The worst thing is that bullies say that the teenagers they bother are doing drama, explained in the text, and they ar only having fun. Yes, they are. With someones else feelings! Ireally don´t understood why a teenager could be so deconsiderated and bad to someone of they same age!
    At iHeartradio Music Festival Lady Gaga say this words for him: “I wanted to take a moment, because we lost a” little monster “this week. Jamey, I know we’re watching and you know you’re not a victim, give us a lesson to all. ” Then she dedicated the song Hair. Jamey loved her songs, especially Born this way.
    Lady Gaga also talked with Obama to make “bulling” ilegal.
    Ricky Martin also expresed how bad he was toward bulling. He changed his Twitter profaile pictuere to one of Jameys and tweeted to his followers: How many lives do we have to lose to finally stop the harassment, hatred, bigotry, abuse? #BULLYING #MakeALawForJamey. This were his words for Jamey.

  4. josefina says:

    Lady Gaga told us that Jamey wasn’t a victim, but a lesson to bullies from all over the world. She told us that bulliyng is for losers and that your identity is all you’ve got when your in school so you shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to be youself. In my opinion, like Jamies sister said, no one deserves to be bullied because we are all diffrent and are all worth the life we’re living. No one should be ashamed of who they are so you shouldnt care what others think about you.
    We should all me treated equally.
    R.I.P Jamie

  5. Clara says:

    I think bullying is very agresive now a days and I feel sorry for the people who take the decision of end with them lives because of this problems.

    Lady Gaga felt so sorry about this because the kid was a fan of her. She dedicated this kid her song “Hair” and she pronunced some words in his name. She also asked to join Obama to stop the kids bullying

    Yes, Ricky Martin was very sorry to.

  6. candela zufriategui says:

    I think that the teachers have to control the pupils to see if they are bother by his/er partners. They could give explanations of what it can affect a person, put a psychologist for the pupils, and finally if a boy was/is bother/ed, teachers have to warn his/er parents and punish the bullies.
    Lady Gaga became present to the iHeartRadio Music Festival where during his action it produced honoring to Jamey Rodemeyer. The singer said a few words before dedicating the song Hair: ” I want to dedicate him a moment, because we have lost a ‘ small monster ‘ this week. Jamey, I know that you see us and you have to know that you are not a victim, you give a lesson to all “.

    Lady Gaga, which is openly a defender of the rights of the gays, wants to ask the North American leader to create a legislation that crime should consider to be the harassment to any age. “The past days I’ve spent reflecting, crying, and yelling. I have so much anger. It is hard to feel love when cruelty takes someones life.”

    “Jamey Rodemeyer, 14 yrs old, took his life because of bullying. Bullying must become be illegal. It is a hate crime.”

    “I am meeting with our President. I will not stop fighting. This must end. Our generation has the power to end it. Trend it #MakeALawForJamey”

    Lady Gaga has over 13 million followers on Twitter. #MakeALawForJamey is now trending worldwide on Twitter after Lady Gaga’a tweets.
    Other celebrities have joined in Lady Gaga’s call for action. Ricky Martin made the profile picture on his Twitter an image of Jamey and tweeted in English and in Spanish to his 3.8 million followers, saying, “This needs to stop now.”

  7. Mechi Anelo says:

    1- I think that this shows that bullying is very bad and i hope this make bullys recognize that what they are doing is very bad.

    2- Lady Gaga paid tribute to Jamey Rodemeyer and dedicated her song “hair” to him.

    3-Yes, Ricky Martin : http://perezhilton.com/2011-09-26-ricky-martin-outraged-over-jamey-rodemeyer-suicide-death-tweet-obama-about-it

  8. Ignacio Gallegos says:

    1. I think this is very sad. People made a classmate suicide becouse they were bullying him. He asked for help and nobady gave it to him. He was desparade. Even Lady Gaga talked to him. He was a big fan of her. But he suicide.
    2. She said that Jamey was not a victim, that he was a lesson for everyone. She even sang in the boy’s funeral. Lady Gaga talked to him on Internet.
    3. I didn’t found other celebrity who wrote about this but I found two webpages about this that I think they are good:

  9. Tadeo Helou says:

    I think that bulling had converted in something that nobody knows how to stop it without putting pressure to the boy. Many boys had died this year because bulling. Bulling is not making good to anyone. I think that is very difficult for a boy to recognize that he bullied. Lots of persons are suffering, crying all nights and even they do not want to go to places that would bullied. This does not allow bullied kids to continue with their normal activities. I would put a psychologist for each school to stop BULLING. I am feeling a lot of pain because this death guy. What we can do from ours homes is pray for his life and be calm because he is with God now.
    Lady Gaga’s reaction was one of the cutest things I have ever heard. The last days she had felt a bad time. She cried and shouted. She dedicated him a song in a concert. She said that it must be a law for not bulling. She said that she has so much anger that it is difficult to feel love when cruelty takes someone’s life. So she really felt his death. She is fighting for him. She will meet with the president to pass a new law against the bulling and to commemorate Jamey. She will not stop until that law is passed.
    This is a video of the song in which Lady Gaga commemorated Jamey:
    Justin Bieber.
    He helped in a campaign Anti-bulling. He filmed a street fight that will be part of propaganda for the campaign. He is very sad because what happened.

  10. mateo vidal says:

    1. I think its really good to protect the people that are being bullied wether their reputation its affected or not they must be protected every moment they are bullied.

    2. She wants to help Obama to fight against bullying.

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