According to stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among schooled aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” In a study conducted by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 20% of students in high school (grades 9-12) experienced bullying in 2009. In addition, the 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement reported that 28% of students, grades 6-12, nationwide, also faced bullying. Bullying occurs across the country and all around the world. Bullying makes an impact on everyone, and the consequences can be deadly.
First of all, what exactly does bullying involve? One may believe the answer is simple. Yet it is actually far more complex when attempting to define bullying in cases where it results in the victim’s death. In general, the three types of bullying include verbal, social, and physical bullying. Verbal bullying is saying or writing cruel things and includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threatening to cause harm. Social bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation and relationships, and includes purposefully excluding someone, telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, and embarrassing others in public. Lastly, physical bullying entails hurting a person’s body or possessions, and includes hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, and making mean or offensive hand gestures. Also, bullying can happen anywhere, and at any time. Bullying occurs to, from, and during school. It can also occur in one’s neighborhood. In addition, with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook becoming increasingly popular by the second, online bullying (otherwise known as “cyber bullying”) has reached an all-time high.
So who is at risk for bullying? Risk factors include being perceived as different from their peers by being overweight or underweight, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what others deem “cool.” In addition, those at risk of being bullied are thought of as to be weak and/or helpless. Victims of bullying may also be depressed, have low self-esteem, are less popular than others and have few friends, and do not get along with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or irritate others for attention. The warning signs for someone being bullied include: unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed personal possessions, changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping, loss of interest in schoolwork, sudden loss of friends, decreased self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, and talking about suicide.
Recent headlines in the news has refreshed our memories of what kind of impact bullying can have on not only the victim and perpetrator, but the entire school as well. On February 28, 2012, shots were heard in Chardon High School, 30 miles east of Cleveland, Ohio. One student described the gunman as an outcast who was bullied. Unfortunately, two high school students were killed as a result of the shooting. This shooting is eerily similar to the Columbine shooting, which occurred in 1999, which ended up with twelve students, two teachers, and the two gunmen dead. Many believe that bullying was a factor in the two gunmen’s motives to carry out their horrendous crime.
How can we prevent bullying in our school and community? First of all, make sure your kids are kind and respectful to ALL kids, even those who may seem a bit “different” than their other peers. Also, make sure they understand that any form of bullying is ALWAYS UNACCEPTABLE. Even one snide comment about another student is not to be tolerated, and they will be reprimanded for their cruel actions. Also, keep an open communication with your child, and make sure you know what’s going on in their school. How are their classes? Who are they friends with, and what do they talk about? Let your child know that if anyone is bullying them, it’s always safe to tell you or another trusted adult what’s going on. Lastly, teach them how to stand up to a bully, by using humor, saying, “stop,” or just by walking away and ignoring him/her. We never know what kind of an impact we have on a person, and sometimes we find out too late.