Bullying is a worldwide problem that can have both short and long term effects on its victims. It is described as aggressive behavior normally characterized by repetition and an imbalance of power. Hundreds of thousands of children are affected every day in the United States because of bullying. This behavior is damaging to all involved, and even those who are not, and should not be permitted anywhere in the school system. As you will see there is a great deal to know pertaining to the problem. Fortunately, research over the last 20 years or so has provided many of the answers – though there is still much to know, especially on how it can best be handled and eliminated.
Within months, two sisters thirteen and fifteen years of age took their lives after being targets of vicious online bullying. A thirteen year old hung himself due to his constant physical and verbal bullying at school. False rumors and being excluded, a fifteen year old jumped thirty feet from a bridge and was hit by traffic. The list goes on and on. It includes boys and girls of all ages. Somehow their cries for help were overlooked (Stanberry, 2013). Adults are too busy to stop, listen and see the red flags. How many lives have to be lost? How many parents have to bury their children? All of us must look at the problem of bullying, form a partnership, and find answers to all the questions that pertain to this worldwide problem.
Various reports and studies have established that approximately 15% of students are either bullied regularly or are initiators of bullying behavior (Olweus, 1993). Chances are you or your child at some time in your life has been a part of bullying at school. Whether it was you bullying a child, you receiving the bullying, or just you being a witness, the memories are still present. If bullying is an often occurrence and adults know it, why does it continue? Often times it is because people simply do not know how or what to do when put in the situation. It is up to us as schools and communities to teach our children the signs of bullying and the proper ways to handle it, if needed.
Bullying takes no prisoners. It can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anybody. In classrooms, on the bus, in the hallway, during lunch, on the playground, during gym class, in the bathroom, on the computer, school events, on cell phones, or in the community, bullies find a way to reach their victims. As bullies behavior is intentional, aggressive, and occurs repeatedly, it involves dominating and overpowering the victim. Power makes bullies feel really good about themselves and allows them to gain attention from others. (PBS Kids, What is Eulkyn)
Bullying can begin as early as preschool. It is a lot more common than thought. It is difficult to distinguish between general “being mean” which is normal in preschool and actual bullying. As preschoolers grow, experiment, and learn, sometimes their behaviors are just instinctive. How often three and four year olds, especially boys, punch and kick others when adults are not watching is surprising. Girls are more likely to reject or have a whole group reject and not play with another girl (Kassab, 2011). They also use verbal assaults more often. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” may sound good, but is definitely not true. Words can emotionally scar and never be forgotten. Once words are thrown out there, it is impossible to take them back. So while preschool children will have friendly “spats” and wrestling matches, they usually wind up comprising and forgiving. Bullying is the opposite. The behavior is deliberate, can inflict injury or harm victims and may even laugh afterwards. This type of behavior creates an enormous amount of stress, fear, and anxiety in young children.
Too often when it comes to preschool children, parents and teachers take a wait and see approach. The philosophy is to give the behaviors time to stop or change. However, the problem with this is that without intervention, things could get worse and someone may even get hurt. Parents have the responsibility of protecting their little ones by voicing concerns, making visits to preschool and helping the child learn ways to avoid bullying.
Bullying can take many different forms as some are direct forms and others are indirect. Direct bullying includes physical bullying which consists of slapping, kicking, pushing, stealing, and destroying someone’s possessions. Some examples of verbal bullying are name calling, spreading rumors, making insulting remarks, making fun of socioeconomic status, appearance, religion, and ethnicity or intimidating. Indirect bullying or social bullying can include lying, purposely trying to harm someone’s reputation, gossiping about someone, excluding someone from a group, and making negative facial or body gestures (Butterworth-Townsend, 2008).
The newest type of bullying is called cyber bullying. This type solely consists of bullying with the use of technology, such as text messages, email, and social networks. According to the American Medical Association 3.7 million youths engage in bullying (Beane, 2013). Cyber bullying can be very different from other forms of bullying. Victims do not know the identity of the bully due to anonymous emails and screen names. It can go viral which allows a lot more people to see the bullying posts and it is much easier to be cruel when the responses of victims are not directly seen by the bully. Most parents and teachers are not going to be aware of the activity online.
Characteristics of bullies include being aggressive, confident, and possessing a strong need to dominate. Bullies want to power over others and are willing to use and abuse people to get what they want. They often come from poorly supervised and physically abusive homes (McDougall, 2011). Bullies single out children who are weak and can be overpowered physically and verbally. They are vulnerable and stand out because they are quiet, passive, fearful, or anxious and have low self-esteem. Victims of bullying often see themselves as failures. They feel stupid or like they deserve to be bullied. Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, and Michelle Pfeiffer were victims too (PBS Kids, 2005).
All children are affected by bullying in some way. The majorities of children do not bully others and are not victims- but they do play a role. Children who look away, watch, or participate by verbally encouraging bulling are called “bystanders.” Often times the children do not realize that they are contributing to the problem just by watching. Many bystanders, who do not do anything to help the victim, are later troubled by their own lack of empathy. Unfortunately, many bystanders are more likely to encourage the bully than help the victim. When students bully it is very important to have an audience around and bystanders provide that need. However, it is the bystanders who have the power to drastically reduce bullying. If the audience shows disapproval, bullies lose their initiative. Most of the time bullying stops within ten seconds if a bystander steps in to help (Wilde). When a bystander just stands by and does nothing, it is the same as saying bullying is okay. It makes that person no better than the bully.
Bullying can have a number of effects on an individual and the environment where the bullying is taking place. Some effects of a victim include; post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, gastric problems, loss of self-esteem, relationship problems, and drug and alcohol abuse. Many victims require years of therapy and treatment to help get over the psychological pain that bullying has caused. The most drastic effect can lead to suicidal thoughts and school shootings. Chronic bullies seem to maintain their behaviors into adulthood, negatively influencing their inability to develop and maintain positive relationships (Oliver, Hoover, & Hazler, 1994). The effects of a bystander who watches the bullying are often overlooked, but according to a study at Brunwell University it reported that they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and drug abuse. Social, intellectual, and emotional development are skills that cannot be learned if frightened (Carroll, 2008). When bullying is witnessed often fear and guilt can lead to mental problems. No matter which role or roles children play, the effect can last throughout their entire lives or at worst end their life. And that is where the true facts become reality. One example follows: Even though Jarred was smart, talented, and active in church and extra-curricular activities, the constant bullying became too unbearable. One morning, Jarred called his dad at work to say good-bye and shot himself while his dad listened on the other end. Jared’s life ended, but his best friend who watched the bullying and was too scared to help deals with the guilt every day (JaredStory.com).
There are many warning signs that could indicate someone is involved in bullying. Some signs are; they become violent with others, they get into physical and verbal fights easily, they have extra money or things and cannot explain where they come from. They can also be quick to blame others. Some signs that someone is a victim include; they come home with damaged or missing clothing, they have things such as electronics and jewelry “get lost,” they have unexplained injuries and complain frequently of feeling sick. They can hurt themselves by cutting or burning and lose interest in school, friends, and activities that they used to enjoy.
In relation to bullying the statistics in 2013 reveal that bullying is a “crime” that is not going away anytime soon. The results according to Coelho indicate that over 3.2 million children are victims of bullying each year.
Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because they fear attack.
56% have personally witnessed some type of bullying
71% reports incidents of bullying as problems at their school
90% of 4th-8th graders report being victims
1 out of 10 students drop out of school because of reported bullying
1 in 4 teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will only intervene 4% of the time.
More than 2/3 of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying and that adults help is infrequent and ineffective.
Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75% of school shooting incidents (Coelho 2013)
Sometimes a child or teen that has been bullied eventually becomes the bully as a way to retaliate. Revenge for bullying is one of the strongest motivations for school shootings.
Students who suffer from some type of medical condition or handicap are more likely to be bullied
30% of students who say they have been bullied said they had sometimes taken weapons to school
Bullying in schools is a widespread phenomenon that has been largely ignored by professional investigators. It is often a covert problem, but if it were put into the context of social interaction, schools could try to respond to it in productive ways. Bullying is a social problem that occurs in the social environment as a whole. The bullies’ aggression occurs in social contexts in which teachers and parents are generally unaware of the extent of the problem and other children are either reluctant to get involved or simply do not know how to help (Charach, Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995). The best thing that can be done is to spread awareness. A multifactorial response is best, and prevention is far better than crisis management. Some strategies to do this include:
Set up Anti-Bullying assembly programs both during school hours and after school hours
An initial questionnaire can be distributed to students and adults. The questionnaire helps both adults and students become aware of the extent of the problem, helps to justify intervention efforts, and serves as a benchmark to measure the impact of improvements in school climate once other intervention components are in place.
Local/school wide used Anti-Bully policy
Peer mediation education
Teachers can work with students at the class level to develop class rules against bullying. Many programs engage students in a series of formal role-playing exercises and related assignments that can teach those students directly involved in bullying alternative methods of interaction. These programs can also show other students how they can assist victims and how everyone can work together to create a school climate where bullying is not tolerated (Sjostrom & Stein, 1996).
Local anonymous bully hotline
Most importantly and most underrated, increasing adult supervision
In attempts to get a handle on bullying, most states have passed laws to address intimidation, harassment, and bullying in schools. These anti-bullying laws are meant to promote school safety, improve truancy rates, and reduce school violence. The law requires schools to create policies for prevention, training, and enforcement concerning behavior that may lead to bullying. Students who violate anti-bullying policies face suspension and expulsion. Schools and districts may face large monetary amounts as some cases can lead to lawsuits. As in the case of a fourteen year old girl over a three year period was a victim of vulgar language was touched un-appropriately, tried to remove her clothes, pushed and shoved her around and stole her homework. The parents and the child filled out many complaints with the teacher and administration who did virtually nothing but talk to the bullying students. Finally they filed a lawsuit and in the end were awarded $220, 000 (Wright, 2005). Now if that does not wake up administration up, nothing will. It is much cheaper in physical and monetary terms to be proactive and take measures to stop the behavior before it rises to harmful proportions.
The North Carolina General Assembly requires school systems to take proactive steps to prevent bullying in their schools. The individual systems may be held liable for failure to take adequate steps to deal with bullying and harassment. All students in North Carolina schools should be able to learn in an environment that is free from these behaviors (www.robeson.k12.nc.us). Schools can be held liable for foreseeable injury related to absence of supervision. Deliberate indifference, if the school district’s responses are clearly unreasonable, can lead to lawsuits. Action has to be reasonable and timely. Another failure of school systems or its employees is to take adequate measures to deal with the bullying situation. This would be negligent supervision and the school’s responsibility to take action.
In relation to the last feature, only a very small percentage of teachers say that they have received any training. They are unaware of any specified procedures and have no experience in how to handle the different situations that they are held responsible for. The reason for this is little or no federal funds being allocated for harassment/bullying training.
The Policy as it was enacted in 2012 for the Public Schools of Robeson County states that “Whoever received the complaint of discrimination, harassment or bullying shall immediately notify the appropriate investigator who shall respond to the complaint and investigate. This investigator shall decide if the alleged action is a violation of board policy.” It goes on to say that “The investigator shall be thorough and interview the complainant, the alleged perpetrator and any other individuals who may have relevant information.” A written report will be submitted to the superintendent and the complainant notified of results within fifteen days. The perpetrator will receive a written summary of results and if any disciplinary actions will be imposed (www.robeson.k12.nc.us).
One way that we as future educators can personally help to eliminate bullying is by setting up a zero tolerance bullying policy for classrooms. Let the students know from the beginning of the year that bullying will not be tolerated and that there will be appropriate consistent consequences for those that engage in it. It may also be helpful to have classroom activities dealing with acceptance and differences to show the children that everyone is different, but that is what makes each other special. Also raising parental awareness can be a big step in the elimination process. Parents are the biggest influence on their child’s life. It is extremely important to keep parents updated and involved in not only their academic affairs, but their social ones as well.
Most schools have a bullying-victim problem. Schools have to make a public commitment against bullying. Children need to know that the bully will be punished. Schools can teach anti-bullying behavior through role playing. Schools should encourage children to be aware of the places and ways to help. They need adults to teach them to speak up against injustice and that it is not tattling but doing what is right. Children need to know that they are not the only one who thinks bullying is dangerous and wrong. Sometimes it just takes one to bring attention to a problem and then many others agree and voice their opinions too.
Bullying is a serious problem that can dramatically affect the ability of students to progress academically and socially. A comprehensive intervention plan that involves all students, parents, and school staff is required to ensure that all students can learn in a safe and fear-free environment. Our children deserve to be able to learn in a safe and secure learning environment. It is up to all educators to provide this for them. Bullying and harassment thrive on silence and educators and parents have the strength and ability to make a difference. Let’s break the silence!
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