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Bullying has been defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Education (DOE) as “unwanted aggressive behavior, observed or perceived power imbalance and repetition of behaviors or likelihood of repetition.” The Australian Human Rights Commission states that bullying “is when people repeatedly and intentionally use words or actions against someone or a group of people to cause distress and risk to their wellbeing.” Although many are familiar with the term and its negative connotation, there are still facts about bullying that a lot of people find themselves unfamiliar with. However in the end, it is detrimental that all people understand and fully comprehend that bullying is an intolerable form of abuse that must be stopped.
One major reality that many people are not aware of is the fact there are two different modes of bullying, which are direct and indirect bullying. Direct bullying refers to aggressive behavior that occurs in the presence of a specifically targeted youth or person. Direct bullying is also known as face-to-face bullying and it involves harmful actions like punching or kicking and verbal insults or name-calling. Indirect bullying is defined as abuse that is not directly communicated to a targeted youth like the spreading of harmful rumors. Another name for indirect bullying is covert bullying and though it is less direct, it is equally as painful as direct or face-to-face bullying. It is the type of bullying that is not easy to see because it is done out of sight and examples include when targeted youths are deliberately excluded from groups or when lies and rumors are spread about them. This type of bullying tends to be less noticed or acknowledged by adults and as a result many children who face this mode of abuse feel left alone and neglected. Despite the difference in method, both modes can lead to the same damaging results, which can range from feelings of isolation and despair to anxiety and depression, all of which contribute to suicidal tendencies.
Under the two modes of bullying are four broad categories which are used to further classify acts of bullying. The categories are physical, verbal, relational and damage to property. While physical and verbal abuse are self-explanatory, relational bullying is defined as “efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth” and bullying which leads to damage of property involves any acts that break or ruin a targeted youth’s personal items and objects. Another very common form of bullying is cyberbullying which is also known as electronic bullying. This primarily involves verbal aggression and/or relational aggression and can be conducted through phones, instant messaging and online social media platforms. One thing that is definitely obvious about bullying is the fact that because there are so many modes and categories, there is a larger chance that it can happen in a variety places or locations and can take place in all kinds of different contexts. This makes it all the more difficult to contain and exterminate.
Proof that bullying is a pressing issue is confirmed in the 2017 School Crime Supplement which is created by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice. The report indicates that across the United States, about 20% of youths aged 12-18 have experienced bullying (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011). Among those students aged 12-18, 15% of them were bullied online or through text messages.
In fact, when speaking on the subject of cyberbullying, the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System stated that approximately 14.9% of all high school students nationwide were bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). The same Youth Risk Behavior survey also reported that students in grades 9-12, an estimated 19% of them have reported being bullied on school grounds in the 12 months before taking the survey. As for bystanders, 70.6% of young people admitted that they had witnessed bullying in their schools while 70.6% of school staff claimed that they also saw students get bullied (Bradshaw et al., 2007).
Bullying poses such a huge threat to today’s youth that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in more recent numbers, bullying has been reported to affect 20% of high school students while up to 16% of high school students are affected specifically by cyberbullying. In middle schools, the highest rate of bullying which is 25%, occurs at least once a week.
Aside from the statistics, there are a number of psychological and societal impacts of bullying. Surprisingly, these effects are present both in the children that are bullied and the bullies themselves. What exactly are these results or consequences? Well in relation to the bullied children, intervention can play a very big role in the severity of the consequences. The effects can also be short-term or long-term depending on whether or not they receive help in time. The same can also be applied to bullies.
Although kids vary in the way that they express themselves or in the way that they behave when bullied, it is very important to remember that victims of bullying may experience abuse for extended periods yet exhibit different responses. In a UCLA study, it was revealed that the 11 middle schools in Los Angeles involved in the survey showed that lower grades were associated with high levels of bullying. In fact, out of the 2,300 students who were involved in the survey, students whose rates showed that they were bullied the most also performed noticeably worse academically compared to their other peers. Other short-term effects that bullied victims may experience include social isolation, feelings of shame and embarrassment, a disturbed sleeping schedule, changes in regards to eating habits, very low self-confidence or self-esteem, symptoms of anxiety and/or depression and psychosomatic symptoms like stomachaches, headaches or muscle aches.
If left to fester, these short term consequences can manifest into long-term risks which can lead to mental and emotional trauma that will definitely remain with the victims all their lives. If not treated immediately, bullying can lead to chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-destructive behavior, substance abuse and even increased suicidal thoughts. These risks can also make it very difficult for these children to build trust with other people and therefore chance the possibility of growing up and lacking friendships or close relationships with others. This can lead to even more social isolation and eventually grow into intense societal anxiety. This is precisely why bullying is such an intolerable form of abuse.
Many people may feel little to no empathy for bullies but the fact of the matter is bullies often engage in aggressive behaviors because there is an underlying psychological reason. This means that like the victims, bullies also require help from both parents and school officials in order to stop these behaviors from worsening over time.
Sometimes a person is faced with defining events or become steeped in certain situations that may cause them to resort to bullying. This was proven in a study conducted by the Ditch The Label Organization, who spoke to 8,850 people about the issue of bullying and asked if, by their definition, they had ever bullied anyone. Their study yielded that 14% of their overall target populace, meaning 1,129 people, responded that they had at one point bullied someone. Their data also showed that contrary to popular belief, bullies do not engage in the aggressive behaviors because of unique personality characteristics. Instead, it can be stress and trauma, a difficult home life, low self-esteem, or even past experiences with bullies that can actually lead some children into choosing to become bullies themselves.
In the data collected by the Ditch The Label study, it was noticed that people who engaged in bullying were far more likely to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past 5 years, in comparison to the average person. Traumatic experiences can include their parents divorcing or the death of a loved one. As a result of those events, because people respond to traumatic situations differently, some fail to use that stress to cultivate positive behaviors but instead choose to default to bullying as a way to cope with the trauma and stress.
Having a difficult home life also contributes to the likelihood of someone becoming a bully because they have most likely experienced “feelings of rejection from the very people who should love them unconditionally.” Moreover, growing up in households with lots of violence and hostility can also cause a child to imitate the same behaviors and grow up believing that aggressiveness is normal. Other major influences that were mentioned before are having a low self-esteem and bullied experiences from the past. Children who are faced with a severe lack of self-confidence often bully others in order to divert attention away from themselves and to mask their true feelings. They live under so much pressure to conform to what society has defined as “beautiful” that they develop negative feelings about themselves which they then attempt to deflect by making other people feel bad.
Children who have also been bullied in the past also end up bullying others because it is used as a defense mechanism. They attempt to depict an image of strength or “power” because they hate the feelings of vulnerability or weakness that they may have experienced when they were previously bullied, which in turn causes a vicious cycle of hostile and aggressive behaviors.
As odd as this may sound, there are also short term effects of bullying on bullies. In fact, without proper help, bullies can be subject to “poor school performance, an increased truancy risk, difficulty maintaining social relationships and an increased risk of substance abuse.” In a study conducted by a group of Norway scientists, they focused on investigating the long-term psychological effects of bullying on adolescents. The results showed that both victims and bullies experience challenging mental health outcomes when they reach adulthood. Both groups show high levels of depression and are more prone to becoming hospitalized due to mental health disorders. Even worse, in bullies who are not treated at a young age, their bullying behaviors can continue and eventually cycle back into their families. There is a high risk that they will abuse their spouse or children, exhibit antisocial behavior, abuse alcohol and/or drugs and remain unemployed. This is exactly why it is imperative that we all take part in ensuring that both victims of bullying and the bullies themselves receive the help and treatment they need as soon as possible.
Everyone can play a vital part in helping to both prevent bullying and also create a better learning environment by applying two research-tested approaches- building a positive school climate and social and emotional learning (SEL).
For the first approach, in order to build a positive school climate, all students, parents, teachers and administrators must whole heartedly be involved. One key element to creating a positive school climate is leadership. This means that students need to understand that bullying is not a “normal rite of childhood” but is instead very harmful abuse. These principles need to be reinforced into the minds of the children through social norm engineering which “is a conscious process that builds a positive culture among student peers and school adults that becomes self-reinforcing.” Leaders within schools such as educators and school administrators need to prepare themselves in knowing how to promote positive psychological health instead of focusing on simple punishing bad behaviors. They need to able to know how to discern between bullies that might just need guidance because they are undergoing typical developmental processes and bullies who need assertive intervention. They also need to be empathetic and always value the feelings of the students that they are working with. Teachers need to remain vigilant and always be on the lookout for incidents of bullying because they need to help as soon as possible. If all of these criteria can be met, bullying issues should become addressed thoroughly and a positive school climate should have effectively become created.
The second approach is to apply social and emotional learning (SEL) into school curriculums. SEL involves “teaching skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationships management.” There have been a number of studies, research reviews and meta-analyses that have proven just how effective SEL is in within the classroom. One such example is,
A study of 36 first-grade teachers which showed that when teachers were more emotionally supportive of students, children were less aggressive and had greater behavioral self-control, compared to the use of behavior management, which did not improve student self-control.
Social and emotional learning has been known to improve the emotional well being of students, aid in the development of healthy and harmonious class relationships and encourage kind, helpful and self-regulated relationships among students. It also brings about reductions in a plethora of problems ranging from anxiety and emotional distress to disruptive behaviors which include bullying and other aggressive actions. The best part about the SEL is that it also helps improve academic performances and it cultivates within the children creativity and leadership skills.
In all 50 states of the US, schools are required to have a bullying prevention policy (Divecha, 2019). However, there is no federal anti-bullying law. Although most of the states have anti-bullying legislation, bullying still remains an atrocious abuse that is not legally considered illegal or illicit. In fact, if a youth were to commit suicide due to bullying, it is not considered a homicide but instead, is treated as public health issue. It is not enough to just have anti-bullying legislations or prevention policies. We need to make sure that our children have the best academic experiences whether it be in elementary or high school. We need to ensure that they thrive to the best of their ability and that means we should make certain that they are nurtured no matter what environment they are in. If we play our part in preventing bullying and guarantee that children are given the help and support they need when they need it most, then we will be one step closer to living a world where children are cared for the way they were always meant to be.
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