Teen shows deal with a myriad of issues facing young people, from drugs and alcohol to peer pressure and body dysmorphia. Degrassi: Next Generation had a new problem every episode to test the students of Degrassi. As October is National Bullying Prevention Month, Degrassi is the perfect show to explore the harm bullying can do and its impact on both the victims and the perpetrators.
Amongst the main characters in Degrassi are the troublemaking duo, Spinner and Jimmy. The two best friends have been known to make life hard for some students. In the very first season, we see the duo making fun of Emma and Manny as they’re a grade below them. Jimmy and Spinner also threaten J.T. and Ashley to make them drop out of the presidential race.
Jimmy isn’t always portrayed as a bully. When a classmate, Marco, comes out as gay, Jimmy supports him. But Spinner is hostile, even going as far as writing a homophobic slur aimed at Marco in the boy’s bathroom. However, Jimmy actively participates in many of Spinner’s more abusive pranks, such as egging a teacher’s car. The pair’s bullying is at its worst, though when Rick returned to Degrassi.
Rick became a target of bullying as a means of revenge for the students of Degrassi. Rick had previously abused Terri, one of their classmates, while they were in a relationship. Rick’s insecurity made him lash out, and one day he took it too far and put Terri in a coma. Upon his return, Rick faced abuse from all sides. Jay beat him up, Jimmy spayed him with a hose, and Spinner and Jimmy threw him in a dumpster.
Later, Jimmy discovers Rick isn’t a bad person – just someone who made a lot of mistakes. Jimmy even befriends Rick, and with new support, Rick is able to find hope in his life. This all changes when Spinner and a few friends humiliate Rick on a televised school competition by dousing him with yellow paint and feathers. Rick is devastated, and his desperate response is to bring a gun to school. And when he’s led to believe Jimmy was behind the prank, he shoots him in the back, leaving Jimmy paralyzed and in a wheelchair.
Degrassi portrays the toll bullying can take on a person. Rick made mistakes in his past. He was unable to move on from them and grow as a person due to the constant hate he receives. But bullying is often tells more about the perpetrator than the victim. Just as there was an underlying reason Rick was abusive toward his girlfriend, there were reasons Jimmy and Spinner acted out. Spinner especially took his anger out on others because of his own shortcomings.
Jimmy and Spinner acted out often because they were frustrated by the obstacles in their lives and were unable to deal with them in a healthy way. Rick also fell victim to his pent-up emotions when he abused Terri, and when he brought the gun to school. Preventing bullying means dealing with tough emotions and learning what causes people to act the way they do. It’s not an easy topic to discuss – but it’s important nonetheless.