Am I Being Bullied?!
The April 3, 2010 issue of the New York Times reported the arrest of 9 teenagers who were charged with bullying after their behaviors resulted in the suicide of one of their classmates. A number of similar cases have cropped up in the media to highlight the ever-increasing problem of bullying and its tragic consequences.
Bullying behavior is a serious issue that occurs when one person tries to control another through verbal or physical abuse. It can cause lasting damage long after the actual bullying has subsided. Formerly dismissed as being “just a part of growing up,” bullying is currently under extensive investigation by notable researchers, mental health care practitioners, parents and school administrators. It is now being recognized as a distinct offense that can cause serious psychological and physical damage.
According to a recent study conducted by the Bronte Adolescent Intensive Care Mental Health Unit at the Forensic Hospital in Malabar, New South Wales, there is an alarming increase in dysfunctional behaviors in young women and men in as many as two decades after being bullied as a child. Depression, anxiety and conduct disorders are common among this demographic. A substantial risk of suicide also exists in adults that were bullied as children.
Am I Being Bullied?
There are circumstances under which children may not be able to answer the question, “Am I being bullied?” The reluctance to talk about the phenomenon may be due to direct fear of the bully, or about the feelings of embarrassment they may experience about being bullied. The observant parent can help make this determination by noting certain warning signs.
- If you have noticed bruises, scrapes and cuts on your child that he or she cannot explain, these injuries may have been caused by an altercation with a bully.
- If your child complains about losing his or her lunch money frequently, a bully might be taking it instead.
- If your child frequently comes home from school with torn clothing or damaged or missing items, he or she may be the victim of a bully.
- If your child seems generally frightened and does not want to be left alone, even for short periods of time, he or she might be afraid of harm threatened by a bully.
What causes bullying?
When a child asks, “Why am I bullied?” it may be difficult to come up with an adequate response. Children often feel that they have somehow caused the bullying themselves. They may experience feelings of guilt, sadness or fear in association with the bullying they experience. It is helpful to offer comfort and assurance that the bullying is not their fault under any circumstances.
Bullying is not a new phenomena. Virginia Woolf noted that the fascist society headed by Adolph Hither consisted of brutal bullies. Bullies emerge from within social systems that sanction bullying and that, themselves, bully. In some societies, the adult population glorifies bullying behavior, as is the case with many popular contact sports such as rugby or American football.
Researchers have noted that the World Wrestling Federation glorifies bullies for the sake of entertainment. Choosing this type of entertainment has the potential to instill messages in viewers that violence is an acceptable way of achieving what one may want. This is especially true for younger children under the age of 5.
The standards set by parents in the home and by administrators in the school systems have the power to affect bullying behaviors. Standards that accept bullying behaviors in any form are more likely to result in increases in those types of behaviors. High standards of no tolerance for bullying behaviors naturally see fewer occurrences.
Social recognition is another factor that contributes to the phenomenon of bullying. Societies in which negative attention gets more recognition than positive attention may prompt people to become bullies for the sake of getting attention. This attitude is rampant on television programs and in films that demonstrate that acting out is more apt to get noticed than is behaving in responsible, courteous ways.
Growing up can be tough. It is very important that children be taught how to deal with their own emotions. Children that are not taught appropriate coping skills for various emotional issues such as sadness or anger, can contribute to bullying behavior. Not knowing how to deal with feelings associated with envy or jealousy can also lead children to resort to bullying behaviors.
There are times when children experience unfair social rejection. They may be subjected to ridicule for not following the social norms of certain groups or for being otherwise different in some way. This will leave him or her open to becoming the victim of one or more bullies.
There is no “Am I a bully quiz” available to make children realize when they are displaying negative bullying behaviors. In fact, bullying is an adult problem more than it is a children’s problem. Parents should be mindful of the fact that they are responsible for guiding their children toward more positive responses to the world.
Bullying is quelled significantly when emphasis is placed on positive interactions rather than negative consequences for behaviors. No “Am I a bully test” can take the place of hands on involvement by a child’s parents, teachers, childcare workers and other important adults in his or her life.
Researchers have found that interventions can help stop bullying, but before they can be effective, the interventions must be thoroughly implemented. Far too often, bullies will receive warnings from authority figures and then the intervention will fall by the wayside. More extensive measures such as workshops that train children how to cope with their emotions, and the creation of school environments in which children can feel safe when expressing themselves, could help exponentially.
Technology can accelerate bullying. Over the last two decades, cyberbullying has joined the spectrum of bullying behavior. It has become easy for bullies to enlist entire groups of individuals to carry out, often anonymous attacks that use disparaging messages and compromising photographs of their victims. With the increase in computer usage for schoolwork and social networking, more and more children are exposed to nefarious characters online that ridicule and control children through bullying tactics. A number of suicides have resulted from these behaviors.
The best way to stop cyberbullying is to supervise children’s computer usage. Parents that may not always be able to supervise their children’s computer usage at all times can take advantage of a number of computer software programs that limit the websites that children can visit. These programs can make children less vulnerable to cyber bullies by preventing the children’s visiting websites where bullies congregate, such as in chat rooms and other social networking websites.
Parents can also assist by educating their children about the merits of remaining anonymous online. Bullies are empowered by information that they gather about their targets. The less information they are given, the less chance they will be able to bully them. Teaching children not to give out any personal information about themselves, such as their addresses or their last names, can help substantially.
Children that use computers should be taught that there are no consequences when approaching adult authority figures about untoward behaviors online. By creating safe environments in which children can honestly express their fears and other concerns can assist teachers and parents in dealing with online bullies that harass children.
How Can Schools Take Action Against Bullying?
Although bullying happens at all grade levels, statistics show that it occurs most often during the middle school years. This is the age at which students experience many changes in their lives, including hormonal, physical and social ones. By creating an anti-bullying environment at this crucial period of childhood development, school administrators can help instill coping skills, and also help shape students’ decision-making processes about how they treat others.
There are a number of actions that schools can take to help their students avoid being bullied. The formation of committees and/or clubs is a good place to start. Strong anti bullying programs are required to provide students the means to report bullying anonymously. Training school personnel to take reports when bullying occurs can also be effective. These organizational steps can come between the bully and the children that are being bullied or can surround the bully to make it known that bullying behaviors will not be tolerated.
Students that have been the victims of bullies can be helped by mentoring systems in which older students can take charge of younger students and serve as safe havens for them to turn in their times of need. Having a pseudo “big brother” or “big sister” to talk to about bullying behaviors can help instill confidence and a feeling of safety for the bullied child.
School officials can step up efforts to stop bullying by adopting a “no tolerance” stance against bullying behaviors. Each reported incident of bullying should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated and properly documented. Authorities should be called to step in regarding cases that show potential for being particularly dangerous to children, as when bullies threaten or enact physical harm toward a child.
Help for Bullies
Parents are often at a loss about what to do if one of their own children has been identified as a bully. Something as simple as having a conversation with him or her to find out the reasons he or she is bullying others, can be very helpful. Parents should attempt to explore how their child is feeling about his or her life and to be available for that child to express him or herself verbally without fear of consequences.
Before jumping to conclusions, parents should confirm that the behaviors displayed by their child is, indeed, bullying, and not the result of some type of behavioral disorder. Even when this is the case, the behavior should still be addressed.
One of the most practical measures that parents can take is to teach their children respect, compassion and empathy toward others. Children that become bullies often lack comprehension about how other people feel. They tend to objectify others and project their own angers, fears and insecurities onto their victims. It is important to educate children about the feelings of others and that everyone’s feelings matter.
Drawing firm boundaries and informing children that bullying behaviors are unacceptable at any level is also an important step for parents to take. Should bullying occur, parents should review their boundaries with their child and take immediate action.
Consistency in issuing consequences for bullying behaviors will help reinforce any boundaries that parents have set for their children. It can help to find meaningful consequences that will drive home the point that bullying is wrong. For instance, taking away a favorite toy or pastime can go far to cause a child to reconsider his or her behavior, as can arranging a face-to-face meeting with the child who was bullied.
Role Playing can help children learn to handle different situations more constructively. Parents and children can take turns playing the various roles of bully and victim and then discuss what each of the roles felt like as the child was experiencing it. This can make children more in touch with their own feelings and the feelings of others.
The best course of action for parents and teachers is to teach children by example. When children observe the authority figures modeling nonviolent behaviors and encouraging noncompetitive, cooperative play, they are more likely to follow suit. Administering praise and support when a child handles conflict well can also help.