In conjunction with our feature article on 10-year-old Breanna DeGrove, who turned her own bullying experience into positive change for her school by starting a “Bully Busters” Club, I wanted to learn more about bullying and to share a high-level look at the growing epidemic of bullying among school-aged youth. The goal of this blog is to provide a starting point for anyone wanting or needing to do more extensive research on this topic.
What causes someone to become a bully?
Less stable or attentive homes, feelings of inferiority, a desire for respect/popularity, and an intent to maintain or further the status quo within their own academic community (for example, picking on non-athletic kids in a school where sports are a priority) are just some of the reasons which have been cited by bullies in various research studies. However, there are myths about bullies which need be be debunked – they are not always loners, nor do they always have low self esteem, as had previously been thought.
What is common among bullies, regardless of why they engage in bullying others, are the potential negative effects to the bully themselves. Bullies are more likely to engage in other antisocial or otherwise damaging behaviors, including everything from vandalism to smoking/drinking to criminal activities.
What makes someone a potential target for bullying?
Researchers divide victims of bullying into two groups, passive victims and bully-victims.
Passive victims are typically less comfortable or assertive in social situations, sensitive, somewhat isolated/prone to feeling lonely and with few friends. These characteristics not only make them a potential target for bullying but also decreases the likelihood the will reach out for help if they’re being bullied.
Bully-victims, which are less common, will often display the characteristics of passive victims are more likely to fight back. This has the potential to make them appear less of a victim and more of a participant in mutual acts of conflict and aggression.
Aside from the obvious risk factors (physical injury from fighting, poor school performance, increased rates of depression, fear around attending school, increased risk for suicide), there is also the concern that the victim could become a perpetrator themselves. As the Columbine school shootings illustrated, many of those who unleash deadly violence in academic settings were themselves the victims of bullying. American Medical Association report linked below states that after Columbine, “a subsequent investigation by the U.S. Secret Service of 41 school shooters involved in 37 incidents (including Columbine) revealed that two-thirds of the perpetrators described feeling persecuted, bullied, or threatened by their peers.”
What are some warning signs that a child is being bullied?
This list is also from the American Medical Association report noted below (which was published in 2002). It’s been updated by me with the item in italics to include some signs which may have become prevalent with technological advances in the years since the study was published:
• Returns from school with torn, damaged, or missing articles of clothing, books or belongings;
• Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and/or scratches;
• Has few, if any, friends;
• Appears afraid of going to school;
• Has lost interest in school work;
• Complains of headaches, stomach aches;
• Has trouble sleeping and/or has frequent nightmares;
• Appears sad, depressed, or moody;
• Appears anxious and/or has poor self-esteem;
• Is quiet, sensitive, and passive.
• Has received harassing texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, MySpace or any messages form other social media outlets
What can be done to stem the growing tide of bullying among our youth?
On an individual level, observe your child for the above warning signs, and take notice of anything unusual that might logically point to your child being either being bullied, or bullying other children. Talk with your child, take them to a counselor if necessary, and work with teachers and school officials to address any issues.
If bullying is a known problem at your school, encourage the school to adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying program – even if your own child isn’t among the bullies or victims. Doing so not only protects other children but helps to reduce the odds that your own child will be negatively impacted by bullying.
Final Thoughts on Bullying As A Growing Problem In Scope and Severity
Some parents don’t give bullying the attention it deserves, saying it’s “no big deal”, “just a part of growing up” and asserting that “kids will be kids”.
However, regardless of the form it takes (which could be anything from physical violence to exclusion from groups/friendships, to verbal and/or online harassment), bullying is anything but “no big deal”.
Take Ashlynn Conner, an Illinois elementary school student who was being called “slut”, “ugly” and “fat” by classmates, who tormented her not just in person but via email, cell phone and Twitter as well. The problem got so bad that Ashlynn begged to be homeschooled, a request that her single mother was regretfully unable to accommodate.
The next day, ten-year-old Ashlynn hanged herself in her bedroom closet.
As did ten-year-old North Carolina student Jasmine McClain several days later. After suffering long-time bullying – which was so bad that she was temporarily removed from the school for her own well-being – her suicide came just one month after her return to the school.
Jennifer Marconi DeGrove, Breeanna’s mother, was deeply saddened to learn about others her daughter’s age who made such heartbreaking choices in the face of bullying. “You just don’t ever want a child to feel like tomorrow’s not going to be better. I just feel so badly for these parents and these children, because this is happening all the time.”
She continues, “People really need to understand it’s not just your simple, average, everyday ‘kids being kids’ – it’s so much worse than it ever was when we were kids. What makes a 9 year old kid say ‘you should just go home and kill yourself?’ It’s not just your average ‘I don’t like you’, ‘you smell’, ‘you’ve got the cooties’ anymore. It’s getting younger and younger – and people don’t understand, it’s gotten to a ridiculous level.”
Now, with social networking an ever-present entity in the lives of younger and younger children, the bullying doesn’t stop when a child leaves school for the day and heads for the haven of home. It’s never further away than the cell phone in their pocket.
In conjunction with the potential omnipresence of bullying, another alarming trend is an escalation in the severity of both physical and verbal harassment. Particularly for young girls and gay and lesbian youth, their emerging sexuality is often targeted, with words like “slut”, “whore”, and “fag” hurled at children as young as eight or nine. This sort of abuse would clearly challenge these children’s ability to develop a healthy sense of their own sexuality. Along with the myriad other negative effects of being bullied, it’s no wonder that the news of younger and younger children taking their own lives are becoming an all too common occurance in news headlines.
It MUST stop.
If you learn of a bullying problem at your child’s school, whether or not it directly involves your own child – let the school know that you expect them to effectively resolve the issue – and follow up with them until they can demonstrate steps they’ve taken to do so.
One positive that has come about in terms of bulling with the proliferation of social media use among young people is that many have used it as a means to reach out and share their own story and offer support to others, particularly via YouTube. Here is just one poignant example of a recent video posted by youth who are experiencing or speaking out against bullying:
Article Sources & Further Reading: