It Gets Better… But Why Should It Be Bad In The First Place?

You may have already seen this video by sex advice columnist Dan Savage. In it he and his husband urge gay teens to ignore the bullies at high school because life does get better.

Today I also watched this very moving speech by Texas city councillor Joel Burns, discussing his own experiences of bullying and the happy life he’s led since high school:

The “It’s Get Better” Project has now picked up speed and over 100 people have made videos talking about their own experiences of growing up gay. It seems that abuse and victimisation are par for the course for gay and lesbian teens (and also for many straight teens – being called a “fag” or a “dyke” is a common form of abuse, whether one is homosexual or not).


Support independent, ethically made, award-winning porn. Bright Desire features all of my erotic films and writing. A membership to Bright Desire gets you access to every movie I've ever made and lets me keep making female friendly porn!
Click here to find out more.

I applaud Dan for starting this campaign which aims to offer advice and support to teens and I think it’s created a much needed dialogue about the horror of bullying at high school.

I’m now pondering the underlying idea that teens have to just grit their teeth and bear it, at least until they leave high school (or even college). There’s almost a grim fatalism to the message, as though nothing else can be done. There are bullies, there always will be bullies. Just wait it out because you’re better than them.

This is essentially the same thing my mother said to me when I was 12, crying at the kitchen table because I was on the receiving end of the usual bitchy nastiness that so many girls endure at school. And it’s pretty much the same thing I said to my nieces a couple of years ago when they were being picked on by their school Queen Bee.

I understand the truth of it, of course. It does get better. And the people who are cruel and bigoted in high school don’t go anywhere. That’s the best they ever do in life.

But I wonder: why do we as a society just accept that bitchiness and bullying and hatred are par for the course at school? Does it always have to be that way? Is it something that inevitably happens because teenagers are just teenagers?

Last year I saw a fascinating documentary on the ABC’s Catalyst show called Whatever, The Science of Teens. It was looking at the different ways teenagers think due to the way their brains are still forming (see also this transcript). It showed that during adolescence, the parts of the brain that deal with social interaction and peer acceptance suddenly take on huge importance. Meanwhile, decision making ability goes out the window and risk taking becomes par for the course. There’s also a decrease in a teen’s ability to empathise with other people; being self-obsessed is common. This study found that girls become very concerned with how individual peers viewed them while boys focused on their status within the male pecking order.

So the science says that teens are especially vunerable to what other people think about them and that they can also lack empathy for others. In theory, the teen years are fertile ground for bullying and being bullied.

Is this why we just shrug and say “grin and bear it?” And is it even possible to imagine a way for teenagers to make it through adolescence without that pain?

I sometimes wonder why we as a society like to confine teenagers into high schools during those difficult years. In theory it’s because kids should be learning while their brains are still fresh. It’s a nice theory… but I’m not sure it’s accurate. Do you remember what you learned at school when you were 14 or 15? Or are your memories more involved with romance and looking cool in front of your friends? I know I’m pretty vague about my school work from that time but I can clearly recall episodes of bullying, along with embarrassing moments, earnest crushes and – thankfully – good times with my small group of nerdy friends.

Given the new information about what’s going on inside teenager’s heads, it’s a wonder we don’t do something else with them during that time, like mentoring them individually or just getting them to do menial work while they concentrate on their social lives. Surely throwing them all together into one place and letting them fight it out amongst themselves is a less-than-satisfactory solution? Of course, there’s all kinds of programs in schools now to prevent bullying but it’s the kind of problem that is very difficult to bring out into the open. And there’s all the added stress of social networks, meaning that harrassment can happen outside of school hours.

Maybe we just throw them all into high school to get them out of the way. Because, after all, teenagers are pretty annoying sometimes.

I was recently talking to a good friend who was part of the “popular” clique at school (we used to be deadly enemies). She and her group were all horrible to me and my friends… but they were also mean to each other, taking it in turns to ostracise a different girl every day. We talked about the whole dynamic of what went on and she said that all of the nastiness came from a single girl… but the others joined in to be part of the group, in the hope of not being the target the next day. It became a matter of self preservation. The “queen bee” enjoyed her power over the other girls and used bullying to maintain it.

Perhaps bullying is only ever the result of a few “bad eggs” who seek to be an “alpha” within their own social group. And the others follow so as not to become targets themselves. I guess the question is whether the restricted environment of high school helps these kinds of negative social interactions to flourish.

I do agree with Dan’s point here, though: the teen “bad eggs” usually get their negative attitudes from their parents. When those attitudes are homophobic, the inevitable result is that gay teens will be harrassed and bullied. And homosexual teens seem to be the easy target, the inevitable target, the ones who are more often on the receiving end of serious abuse and violence.

Does it always have to be this way? I don’t know the answer. I just wish there was a better response to the horror of high school than “grin and bear it.”

More about the It Gets Better Project here. And here’s the Youtube Channel.