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Reports on bullying of school children are getting increasing coverage by the media. Bullying has many aspects, and these can affect children deeply in their performance, their ability to interact with others and their feelings of self-esteem. The experience of being bullied can be so profound that the child feels there is no way out of it but suicide. These cases show how important it is for parents, educators and others to intervene on this behavior to ensure the safety of children in their schools, in their social groups and on the Internet.
To be bullied is to live in terror and despair. A victim may be under constant attack from the bully and the peer group that surrounds the bully. The victim may be called names, ridiculed, gossiped about or may be the target of pushing, tripping or hitting. School life can be a daily struggle of maintaining one’s self-esteem and emotional stability. The victim may be constantly distracted by fears of another attack. School performance may suffer. The individual may have trouble concentrating or fear speaking up in class. The victim of a bully often develops physical symptoms of constant stress including headaches, stomachaches, rashes or nervousness.
Those who are the targets of bullies often have similar characteristics:
It’s said that bullying crosses all ethnic, racial, gender and social lines. Bullies exist at all levels of society. These bullies often have similar characteristics:
Bullying can take many different forms. It can be direct aggression with physical contact and public humiliation. Indirect bullying, often used in groups of girls, manifests as mean or unkind behavior or spreading vicious rumors about the victim. Cyber bullying has now become common with bullies and their supporters using the Internet to directly confront their victim on social media or tell lies about the person in an online forum.
Studies from both Warwick University in the United Kingdom and Duke University in the United States concluded that bullying cannot be seen as a minor rite of passage for children but as a destructive force that can have effects well into adulthood. They find that bullying affects not only those who are bullied, but also those who do the bullying. Those who were bullied were found to have more trouble picking up social cues, were more easily provoked and had lower self-esteem. Emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety were more common in those who had experienced being bullied. Even the bullies had poorer outcomes as adults, with more employment firings, more fighting, greater percentages of substance abuse and more risk-taking behavior. A small group of subjects were both bullied and bullied others. These individuals suffered from a variety of these problems as adults. In fact, these individuals have the highest rate of negative mental health effects from their experiences.
Mental health problems are often the cause of bullying. Bullies may come from homes where harsh punishment and ridicule is standard behavior. Anger problems and depression are common in those who bully. The MentalHealthAmerica site notes that 60 percent of male bullies are arrested by the age of 24. Victims of bullying may suffer from insecurity and may not know the skills to stand up for themselves. Continued bullying can serve to reinforce their anxieties leaving problems that last for a lifetime. Those who become victims may also have inadequate support at home. Children should be taught at an early age that they, as well as all other people, are entitled to respect regardless of any differences they may have with others. Proper boundaries, empathy and compassion for others should be reinforced at every age.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is a significant link between individuals affected by bullying behavior and suicide. The numbers suggest that intervention is critical to preventing suicide. These individuals may have other factors that make them susceptible to suicidal ideation and actual attempts at suicide. The agency cautions that sensationalized media stories of bullying-related suicides may help to perpetuate the idea among young people that suicide is the only way out. They advise immediate intervention for those being bullied as well as the bullies to prevent an increase in serious mental health problems resulting from their experiences.
Any witness to a bullying occasion can have a powerful effect on the outcome. Witnesses to bullying often may feel they have to laugh or go along with the attack to avoid being bullied themselves. However, this reaction only strengthens the bully and does not protect the individual if the bully decides turns their aggression on him. Bullies require an audience to appreciate their aggression. If a witness voices disapproval of the action, he or she often finds that others feel the same way and will join in standing up to the bully’s actions. Befriending someone who is being bullied can also help divert the attention of a bully. Bullies often pick on those who appear friendless. The presence of a supporter discourages their attacks. Alerting an adult or person in authority can put an immediate stop to the bullying. A bully requires the compliance of others to continue their attacks on a victim. When authority is called in to stop the bullying, the bully finds himself powerless.
Parents and others should ensure that officials of the institution are notified of a bullying event. The officials should make assertive efforts to monitor bullying on their premises. They should also follow up after a bullying occasion to ensure that the behavior has stopped. Without these efforts, a bully can continue his or her harassment of a victim knowing there are no consequences. Because bullying often occurs when adults aren’t around, scrupulous efforts to supervise children should be implemented to prevent bullying events.
Despite the evidence of a clear understanding of the link between bullying and suicide, a number of bullying suicide cases are now being brought to court by parents who lost children. In one case, a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old were charged with aggravated felony stalking in the cyber bullying of a classmate. In other cases, school authorities have been brought before the courts for failing to take action on the behalf of victims against their bullies. In one case, a school district was ordered to pay a former student $1 million dollars for failing to suspend the bully that prevented him from attending school because of the continued harassment. These efforts indicate an attempt to hold institutions accountable in order to prevent other students from being bullied. These parents are convinced that the actions of these institutions have a bearing in the progress of events in cases of severe bullying. Just as in a drowning case, the lack of adult supervision may not have caused the drowning, but it was a significant factor that affects the outcome.
It becomes clear that all parties have a part to play in preventing bullying suicide in children and young people. Children who are witnesses to bullying need to speak up in support of victims. School authorities need to order counseling for bullies to get to the heart of their aggressive behavior. Parents must get involved in their children’s lives to intervene in actions at school and online to ensure the safety of their children. Mental health professionals should ensure that both bullies and their victims get appropriate treatment to prevent lifelong problems. The public at large must stop thinking of bullying as a phase in social development and begin to see it as the anti-social, destructive behavior it really is. With decisive action, suicide related bullying incidences can be prevented, and our schools can become safer places for all children.
Sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/education-23756749 http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/bullying/bullies-victims http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/bullying http://cyberbullying.us/criminal-charges-filed-two-involved-rebecca-sedwick-suicide/