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Why don't support the "It gets better" campaign.

I was in high school in the 1980s. If you recall, there were some highly visible suicide attempts and it was a hot topic in educational circles. One high school had a circle of friends attempt suicide the same week and rumors of "suicide pacts" among students were blown out of proportion. If you said "I couldn't live without my best friend" you were rushed to the school shrink.

In reaction to all this, school across the country adopted "suicide education" programs. I know my high school did. Heath class added a 2-week segment where we learned all about suicide. Why people do it. How many people do it. How people do it. The 5 most common ways to do it (in graphic detail... including facts like which techniques don't work and are just "a way to get attention" vs. the techniques that really, really work!) Intense stuff!

And what happened? The number of suicides skyrocketed! Yes, it back-fired. Being in high school sucks for most people but it's just "a bad day" and you move on. Unless, of course, you've just gone through half a month of instruction on that includes graphic details of which direction to slice your wrist for the greatest dammage (yes, Ms. Lally my teacher gave us that detail).

As you can imagine, schools panicked but eventually changed the curriculum. The new curriculum focused on teaching kids to identify the signs that a friend might be suicidal, how to talk with them about getting help, and where those sources of help are. That's what finally reduced the suicide rate.


When you are being bullied you don't believe it will ever end and you believe it has no solution. I'm not a shrink but shrinks have told me that people in that situation talk about suicide but don't do it because they are so depressed that they don't believe they will be successful. Nothing else is going right, why would that? It's ironic but people tend to commit suicide when things get a little better, they feel empowered, and that empowerment lets them do something they've been wanting to do for ages. Sad but true.

The videos were saying, "you're right... but it gets better if you wait it out". If I had been told that when I was being bullied I would not be here today. It just re-enforces the futility of it all. "You're saying I'm right that it really doesn't have a solution?? OMG! I have to wait until I'm an adult? That's centuries from now!" Remember when you were 15-16 and it felt like adulthood was a million years away?

Luckily when I was bullied I was given different advice. My next door neighbor was a police officer. I don't know if my parents arranged this or if he decided to do it on his own, but he took me aside and gave me two bits of advice. First, bullies only respect other bullies. Second, a punch to the nose doesn't damage a person permanently but a nosebleed is super dramatic and everyone will remember it. It's red and messy and looks really impressive. As a kid that got a lot of nosebleeds I totally understood what he was saying. He gave me a quick lesson on how to throw a punch, instructing me that every punch should be aimed at the nose, anything else is a waste of energy. One good hit, a little blood, and nobody will ever pick on your again.

So the next week at the bus stop when Keith and Landon came to pick on me I was ready. I "put up my dukes" and started hopping side to side. I saw an opening and threw a punch. I didn't connect, but my fist in his face shocked the hell out of him. "That kids CRAZY!" Keith said. "You could have hurt someone! Daaaaamn! We were just kidding!" said Landon. Oh yeah, "kidding"... months of picking on and hitting me was "kidding". Nice rationalization, guys.

For the rest of the year Keith and Landon, two of the biggest bullies in the neighborhood, stayed on the opposite side of the bus stop each morning and never came near me.

Four years later I got picked on again. Locker room. Swing and connect. Nosebleed. Principle's office. He looked at the two of us, assumed the effeminate kid (me) couldn't possibly have been the trouble maker so I was off the hook.

So, here's why I never made my own "it gets better" video. I didn't want to say "it gets better... just wait for it". I didn't want to be Ms. Lally with the well-intentioned but back-firing advice. I wanted to explain how to throw a good punch. Let some blood splatter. Make a statement.

But in the middle of seeing all those videos with the happy adults I figured... well... maybe I should wait 6 months and then make my video.

Oh, and by the way... the next town over from where I live a gay teen committed suicide on Thursday. She was head of her school's Gay/Straight Alliance. No exactly the bullied, down-trodden, lacking-for-support kid you'd think would end it all.

I didn't know her but I wish I could have taught her to throw a punch.

Tom Limoncelli, Nov 21, 2011

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Thanks for this message... for kids to do something to protect themselves.

Thanks, Geri. I was wondering how people who (unlike me) are knowledgable about psych stuff would react.

Yes! It's about empowerment.

Probably the best thing I've read about the "it gets better" is http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-reasons-life-actually-does-get-better/ -- the point being it gets better because when your older, you are more empowered.

My problem with the "it gets better" movement is that it feels like it's one more lie we're telling teenagers to get them to stop doing stuff we don't like. Because it doesn't necessarily get better, but you will have more power.

The advice from the cop reminds me of the movie My Bodyguard, which if you haven't seen, you should.

I agree with you on this! One of the things about the "It Gets Better" campaign, is yeah we want kids to not commit suicide. But you know, even as an adult, it's not guaranteed to get better.

Sure, the school bully won't physically pick on you anymore, but you could still be talked about behind your back, passed up for promotions, terminated without cause (though I'm sure they will find one), have bricks thrown at your windows, graffiti on your car or house, friends and family abandon you, ADULT people who treat you poorly, and still---STILL be at risk for physical attacks that a simple punch on the nose wouldn't stop.

Except this time, instead of being dragged to the principal's office (what a "pal"!), you could get arrested and thrown in jail, and if they don't like you "Defending Yourself" could instead be turned into "Assault" even if you didn't start it.

SO yeah, I'm all for telling kids whatever we need to in order to get suicides down... but it doesn't get freaking better, necessarily. That's not guaranteed, and LGBTQ ADULTS still kill themselves.

So. Yeah.

My experience is as yours, only a) I was being picked on just for being a bookworm and nerd rather than any sexual/gender questions and b) I didn't have a friendly adult person teach me to throw a punch, I lost my temper in homeroom and gave him a right claw across the face.

Happily, in the kangaroo court ruling on a physical confrontation between a 5'3" girl and a 6'4" vocational automotive boy, the girl wins.

on the one hand, yeah.

on the other hand - what it says most powerfully to me is that there are people, adults, who CARE. for me, that might have mattered a lot.

i'm happy to talk more about this sometime.

"Violence in self-defense isn't violence, it's intelligence." --Malcolm X

Kicking the crap out of a couple of bullies certainly helped me out when I was a kid.

Unfortunately, these days, Zero Tolerance means that the kid who defends himself ends up with the same punishment as the bully. Often, the kid who acts in self-defense gets it *worse*, because the bully is used to facing authority figures, lying to them, and evading punishment, whereas his victim is not.

They tried to break my glasses. I tried to kill them. It took two people to pull me off.

I think that was entirely fair.

Non violence is great when someone's watching and willing to help you. That isn't most of life sadly.

It was 25 years ago and I still remember it. And I still know I did the right thing.

I wish you could teach a kid to throw a punch. My father took this tack with me, too, taking me to karate classes. The problem wasn't that I wasn't strong or didn't technically know how to perform a sweep or a strike. It was that I was frozen, terrified. That's the kind of thing a well-intentioned neighbor can't help as much with, or at least, not in the same way. I've heard the story of how Model Mugging came to be was that the woman who started it was a martial arts master, but when she was attacked by a rapist, she couldn't stop him because she was afraid.

"It gets better" is kind of weak. I think the alternative is to stop targeting our messages at the kids who get bullied, and start talking to everyone else. If we collectively change the culture so that it's not cool to bully, there will be less of it and when it does happen, ordinary people will feel empowered to step in and stop it. When I was getting bullied, I couldn't stop it myself, but I told adults in charge, and they didn't stop it, either. That kind of thing would be a crime if adults did it to one another, but when children do it, for some reason we don't treat it seriously.

I agree that the strongest thing to do to stop bullying is quite possibly to empower the kids who are neither the bully nor the bullied. I talk about bullying with the kids I know, including my sons. I think there's a lot of power in teaching kids how to step in, and tell the bully to lay off, or to ivite the kid who is being picked on to come sit a their lunch table, etc. There's no easy fix, but I think there's a lot of power there.

I was hassled because I was basically a goth (before we called them that). I remember some guy hassling me in a class, and in the middle of class I got up, swore at him and stormed out of the room. The teacher said, "What did you do to her!?!" Being a good student helped there. Later, I got hassled by some boy, and I suggested that perhaps we should meet after school so that I could kick his ass. I didn't even show up, but I heard people talking about how I had threatened him. So, in dealing with boys, violence may well be a solution. I'm guessing that the girl, though, was probably having trouble with other girls. I only say this because teenage girls are horrible spawns of Satan, and honestly, women aren't necessarily that much better as they get older. I'm pretty sure that what drives eating disorders is not that men might think you look fat, but that women might. Anyway, I don't know what the answer is for that one. I was friends mainly with guys. Actually, now that I think about it, one time a Latino woman got in my face on the subway and I replied in kind. Her response was to laugh. I think she said that white chicks usually back down. So, perhaps the answer with girl bullies is a punch to the nose as well.

Someone in the comments mentioned "zero tolerance" policies and such. In high school, getting suspended for punching some asshole may help cement the rep that you shouldn't be messed with. If I had to choose punishment or being picked on, I 100% know what I would choose. I know my mom would have backed me up on that. Of course, that could be part of why I had the self-confidence to defend myself to start out with.

This. And yes it is cultural.

I'm a little white girl. I wasn't supposed to hit back and hit back hard. And I did.

Fuck em.

Likewise with my parents (or at least my anti-authoritarian dad) not having a problem with me fighting back versus bullies. Zero tolerance policies seem like a horrible idea, but they were actually a help to me in fighting back. I knew I'd be getting in trouble for fighting anyway if a teacher saw me getting bullied, I figured I might as well deserve it and fight back.

Bravo. I'm unclear on what would've helped me, even, much less what might help someone else, but this is a lovely and thoughtful piece of writing.

Damn, wish I lived in your neighborhood. I was bullied unmercifully from 5th grade until I went to High School. I went to a specialized HS in Manhattan to get away from the animals that lived in my neighborhood. I was different; I was the only white kid in the neighborhood. I was kind, I laughed at adult's jokes, I was the first girl on my block to have a figure, and worse of all; I was fat. The only advice I ever got was "Ignore them, they're just jealous." Of what, I'll never know. It wasn't until I tried suicide at age 12 that my parents even noticed, and even then they did nothing about it. Took me until my 30s to realize that what people think of me does not matter, and I should have stood up for myself and been that crazy kid who would punch someone for talking to me like I'm a piece of shit.

I'm right there with you though. It gets better is just nonsense. When your a teenager, adulthood does seem far away.

I was taught non-violence. While I agree in principal, letting people beat me up was not really ending violence. It took domestic violence from a boyfriend, a friend and my sister all in the same month before I went for martial arts training at age 20.

When my son started school and reported being bullied in first grade, I took him with me to a summer martial arts program. It gave him the confidence he needed to deal with it and he says it has never happened again. He never even had to throw that punch.

Thanks for putting into words the ideas that have been rattling around inside my head for a while.

"It gets better" is just too passive and fatalistic. "You can make things better" - learn to throw a punch, or learn to recognize a friend who's hurting who needs help - active, engaging, empowering.

As with most things, I don't think one solution would be helpful to everyone.

The bullying I experienced in school was the subtle, indirect, psychological cruelty that teenage girls are notorious for. A lot of gossiping, cruel rumors, social ostracism, nasty anonymous notes in lockers and tricks ("Let's make her think $boy likes her!" was a particularly painful one). It was all non-confrontational and administrators at the school wouldn't act upon it, honestly I'm not sure how they would have, these girls would have found some way to torment me no matter what.

I think "It gets better" would have helped me. I really didn't understand that adult life wasn't like high school and no one ever communicated it to me effectively (social workers at school would try, but I didn't believe them). I watched my parents struggle financially and distinctly remember saying to myself "So this is life, when I'm adult I'll still be lonely, sad and teased, PLUS I'll have to have a job and support myself." I was convinced I'd live alone in a cabin in Maine with my cats and computers and work at a grocery store, I had to learn to accept this "fact" to make it through.

To some extent, the gay issue I had thought was at the heart of the "It Gets Better" campaign seems to have fallen away here in deference to the bullying issue. I know the issues have gotten all intertwined, but they are not one and the same (it is not just the bullying per se that causes problems), and if you want to talk about what does and doesn't help suicidal gay kids I don't think you can ignore the gay part of it.

I actually have an entirely different reason for not being quite as pleased with the "It gets better" campaign as many others are, and maybe it's just the coincidence of the first two entries I saw -- both of them were people saying things along the lines of "well, I knew I was different, but I wasn't like a typical gay person but then I grew up and found out I could be gay and not be one of those icky femmy homo types". I have a zero-tolerance policy of my own for statements like that (technically a one-strike policy, I guess, since I did watch another) so I had to stop watching any more of the videos.

Were they really all focused on the bullying thing, and not on the "you are worthwhile" thing? I would not consider that helpful. It most certainly would not have been helpful to me.

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