This article is part of a series on Bullying. Please see these articles for more insight:
What is Bullying?
Bullying is any unwanted aggressive action against someone else with the explicit intent to cause harm. Bullying can take several forms—physical, verbal, social, emotional/relational, mental, and cyber (this is bullying that happens over the internet and social media). It may involve an exertion of power or superiority over someone else, or it may involve shame and humiliation as with the case of virtual bullying. In any and all forms, bullying causes deep personal pain and when children are involved, the effects can be catastrophic to normal healthy development. Bullying can happen to anyone regardless of age or station in life and is an unfortunate and pervasive component of our culture, and so it must be fought against at every level of our society.
How Do Bullies "Get Away With It" In Our Schools?
Every school in America has a policy against bullying. And yet bullies manage to elude parents and teachers and act out their aggression against their peers on a daily basis. The canvas in which bullies operate is one of fear and as long as this fear persists in the minds of students, they are able to act out beneath the radar. In most cases of school bullying, there are several groups involved: the bully, the victim, the bully's followers or accomplices, the supportive onlookers, the passive bystanders and the defenders.
Bullies are able to get away with their acts because they use fear to suppress other children from reporting them, including the victim. Bullies rarely act in secret, it is almost certain that there will be other children who know about what they are doing. There are often children who witness the acts and know about the bully, but do nothing to stop it, and nothing to help the victim. They may remain silent out of fear, or due to what is called the bystander effect which is a social apathy well documented among every facet of our society, both in adults and in children.
Bullies will frequently have "henchmen" (accomplices) who actively participate in the aggressive behavior; part of the rush for the bully is to feel superior and powerful and having followers is typical. Additionally, there are often other students who are not part of the bully's inner circle, but yet approve of the behavior and are sources of support and "cheering on" for the bullying. Children may be in this camp because they want to feel "important" by their peers by siding with the more powerful bully. Other students may internally be against the bully, but out of fear of being the next target, they remain silent and say nothing, further perpetuating the behavior. And still other students may simply not care either way, they are apathetic and they represent the bystander effect.
The Effects of Bullying On Children
Bullied children over time can have severe effects on their development and mental health.
Kids who are bullied can experience the following short and long term effects:
- Poor academic achievement
- Low self worth
- Shame and guilt
- Suicidal Ideation
- Chronic Anxiety
- Chronic Fear
Chronic Fear And Anxiety have the following long term effects:
- Memory Loss
- Brain function impairment
- Loss of emotional regulation
- Lack of coordination
- Decreased ability to read social cues
- Increased impulsiveness
- Aggressive behavior
- Learning impairment
- Higher Risk of Mental Health Disorders
- Anxiety disorders (PTSD, panic disorder, social phobia)
- Mood disorders (major depression, bipolar, dysthymia)
- Substance abuse
- Physical Symptoms of Chronic Fear and Anxiety
- Heart palpitations
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Chronic fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Neck tension
- Sleep disturbances
- Cold chills
- Hair loss
- Spells of sudden weakness
- Frequent urination
- Onset of migraines
- Fainting or episodes of sudden dizziness
- Increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart disease
How Bullying Affects Other Relationships
Most bullies do not take into consideration how much they are hurting their victims, let alone how other people in the victim’s lives are affected by it. Victims of bullies may grow accustomed to feeling powerless and develop an internal thirst for justice or revenge. This can take the form of the victim taking out this aggression on others who are weaker, such as animals or younger siblings. Victims of chronic trauma, especially as children, can have lasting impairments in future relationships long after the events are gone.
Cyber Bullying And Internet Shaming
Social media has given new rise to bullying and no longer does a bully need to be physically larger and physically stronger than the victim. Social media allows for physically weaker people to now become aggressors inflicting the same degree of damage as an in person bully. Internet shaming and humiliation can cause tremendous emotional devastation. Recently there has been a rise in cases of teens committing suicide directly due to social media shaming and humiliation. Bullies can act more anonymously on the internet and often without consequences.
Sexting And Suicide Risk
Recent research shows that the majority of teens have sexted by the time they graduate. This may be an astonishing fact to an older generation of parents who grew up without the internet. Most teens admit to doing it, and of those, a large percentage have included photos of themselves. Sexting carries with it an enormous juggernaut that an average teen may be completely oblivious towards: what if my photos and sexting were to "get out?" Sensitive photos and conversations that are then exposed to everyone else can cause a sudden and severe cascading collapse of a child's world that can possibly result in thoughts or attempts at suicide.
Stopping The Behavior
Zero Tolerance Policies
Stopping bullies means stripping them of their ability to operate freely. First is a "zero tolerance" policy for the behavior by removing them from schools and enforcing the prevalence of a safe place in which to learn for all kids.
Removing The Cloak of Fear
Second is removing the cloak of fear in which they operate. Fear is a powerful mechanism that enables bullying, and by raising awareness and talking and educating students directly this can be lessened or even eliminated.
Safe, Anonymous Reporting
Children must have an easy, fast way to report a bully, and do so with the safety of anonymity. Giving students anonymous reporting ability takes away the "cloak of fear" that they may face retaliation or feel like they are a "tattle tale."
Educate The Onlookers
There are always groups of children who are the "passive onlookers", they are the ones who know about the bullies and yet do nothing. These are a critical group of children that need to be reached: "See A Bully, Report A Bully." Too often we think that it's just the victims who should be brave enough to report, but there also needs to be a large focus on the passive bystanders. The victim is suffering from acute, abject fear and trauma, the onlookers are not. There should be strong onus and responsibility on the onlookers to report bullies, but these children may not be fully aware that they too are responsible. So until they are made aware of their moral responsibility towards others, their school, and to their society, they may continue to be passive.
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