One of my cohorts at ywmovement.org, Gavin Richardson, introduced me to the idea of “social currency”, last year. Social currency is the idea that anything our youth do or don’t do, either adds or subtracts to their social status or “coolness”. Own an iPhone5? +2. Play oboe? -1 Wear Tom’s? +1. Be seen with an “uncool” kid? -2. Star QB for the football team? +5. Those are just examples, of course, but everything that the youth do is tied into this hierarchy. There are only a couple of kids that have the ability to transcend this system and still be cool: the kind of kid that if a bird was to poop on them, all the other kids would be camping out under crowded trees so they can be like them.
Out of these few transcenders, even fewer use their coolness to help raise other kids up.
What does all this have to do with anything?
Bullying has been often been explained as, “the act of someone with low self esteem trying to bring others down in order to feel above them,” but seen through the lens of “social currency” bullying has a different color. Our youth and their peers are trying to increase or preserve their social hierarchy by trying to or not trying to interact in a certain way with their peers.
Our responses to how youth should deal with bullies is not realistic. We tell them to confront the bully, stand against their friends who are bullies, or to tell a teacher, we are asking our youth to commit social suicide. We are only offering heroic answers to their problems. In the story of David and Goliath, while it’s important to remember David’s victory, most of us are like the other members of the Israelite army… the task at hand is too great.
By asking our youth to be “heroic” are we setting the bar too high so they decide not to jump rather than fail?
What are some “realistic” responses, some smaller steps our youth can do to combat bullying?
What’s the difference between being realistic and truly following Jesus?