Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 discuss Back To School Bullying and what you can do about it - click here.
Bullying has become a serious mental health issue for millions of American families with up to 30% of students reporting their involvement in some sort of bullying as either the bully, the victim, or a bystander. The devastating consequences of bullying can turn deadly with 2/3 of school shooters reporting that they were being chronically bullied at school.
What are the specific characteristics of bullying?
Intentional Harm: Bullying in childhood is an aggressive form of intimidation that marginalizes the best of children while deeply scarring them psychologically. It is a repeated attempt to harm and to emphasize a humiliating imbalance of power and influence.
Bullying Begins Early: Research reports that almost 34% of elementary school students reported being frequently bullied at school.
Middle School Peaks: Bullying peaks in middle school. Seventh grade is the worst year.
Group Bullying: Bullying is usually a group activity. Studies show that a single child does not usually victimize kids. Bullying involves both active and passive participation by a group. The kids adopt a mob mentality as they team together to ridicule or emotionally torture another child.
Popular Kids Often Bully: Kids use the bullying of others to gain status and to exhibit their intimidation skills.
Here's why a child would begin bullying others in the first place:
Modeling their Parents: They are often victims of physical and emotional bullying at home and have parents who have problems with anger and self control. They identify with the aggressor and inflict pain to establish internal self-control.
Intimidation and Revenge Justified by Parents: Parents who tend to intimidate others rear kids who do the same. Bulling others becomes a justified behavior. Family values that include rudeness, entitlement, the intimidation of others, revenge, character assault of others or deliberate treachery create children who are much more likely to engage in bullying.
Bullies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong: The research about bullies reveals that most of the time they know exactly what they are doing. They simply lack a conscience. They understand the differences between right and wrong and commit the act anyway. They will lie, cheat and steal to avoid punishment and are deceptive with others. Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.
But what about the recent surge of online bullying?
Anonymous Bullies: The common denominator of all bullying is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person by emphasizing the imbalance of power. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, one third of students are targets at some point.
Cyber Bullying Turns Dangerous: Most of the time, cyber bullying involves gossip and rude comments that do not express direct intent to harm. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.
We all know that bullying can have life long traumatic effects on a victim, but research shows that bullies and bystanders are also deeply effected by the act of bullying:
Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm is as severe as a broken bone. Bullying involves three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses to such cruelty.
Victims Develop Serious Depression and Helplessness: Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety.
Bullies and a Lifelong Pattern of Oppositional Behavior: Bullies have more conduct problems, anger and develop alienation from school and the community. Chronic oppositional behavior is typical of such children leading to a lifetime of hardship.
Bystanders Grow Apathetic and Uncaring: Witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others and do not take responsibility for allowing such cruelty to occur.
The long-term effects of bullying for all groups can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.
Increased Suicidal Ideation: Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. Bullying victims were much more likely to think about suicide.
Here's what you can do to help your child with bullying at school:
Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence.
Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential steps for parents and teachers.
Empower the Victims: Believe your child about bullying. Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.
American Academy of Pediatrics
"Bullying and Teasing: Social Power in Children’s Groups," Gayle Macklem, Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003.
Cowie and Wallace (2006)
Patchin, J.W., and Hinduja, S. (2006) Bullies move beyond the schoolyard: A preliminary look at cyber bullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148-169.
Swearer, S., Espeleage, D., Napolitano, S. "Bullying: Prevention and Intervention," 2009