Stop the Bully

In a recent national survey of students in grades 6 to 10, 13 percent reported bullying others, 11 percent reported being the target of bullies, and another 6 percent said they bullied others and were bullied themselves. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.

Bullying is the tormenting of others through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation. Bullying can occur in any setting where human beings interact with each other; it can exist between social groups, social classes and even between countries. Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents.

Bullying does not necessarily involve criminality or physical violence, but is often a warning sign that children and teens are heading for trouble and are at risk for serious violence. Childhood bullies are more likely to become young adult criminals than are non-bullies.

Parents’ discipline styles are related to bullying behavior: an extremely permissive or excessively harsh approach to discipline can increase the risk of teenage bullying. Teens who come from homes where parents provide little emotional support for their children, fail to monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their lives, are at greater risk for engaging in bullying behavior. It is often suggested that bullying behavior has its origin in childhood. If aggressive behavior is not challenged in childhood, there is a danger that it may become habitual.

Bullies are often seething with resentment, bitterness, hatred and anger, and often have wide-ranging prejudices as a vehicle for dumping their anger onto others. They have a strong need to dominate others and usually have little empathy for their targets. Bullies are often depressed, angry or upset about events at school or at home, so they take their frustration out on others. They often choose children who are passive, easily intimidated, or have few friends, but are less likely to pick on a child in a group.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. They are often singled out because of a perceived difference between them and others, whether because of appearance (size, weight, or clothes), intellect, or, increasingly, ethnic or religious affiliation and sexual orientation.

Children and young people who witness or become aware of bullying may be unsure what to do and whether they should tell someone. Children need to be taught the difference between “tattling” (causing trouble) and “reporting” (helping). Children need to respond constructively when they see bullying. They need to work with their friends to help distract the bullies from their cruelty, report the incident, or discourage bystanders from actively or passively encouraging an incident.

Victims of bullying report greater fear and anxiety, feel less accepted, suffer from more health problems, and score lower on measures of academic achievement and self-esteem than students who are not bullied. They suffer psychological and sometimes physical scars that can last a lifetime, and often turn their anger inward, which may lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

Victims of bullies (especially boys) are often physically weak, over-sensitive, and have poor social skills and low self-esteem. But they need to know that it isn’t their fault and it is not something they should feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Victims who become aggressors come to believe there is nothing they can do in socially acceptable ways to change the people or the system around them.

Girls are somewhat less likely than boys to be the victims of bullying, although the rates are not as discrepant as the bullying (perpetrator) rates. Girls tend to inflict pain on a psychological level. They tend to bully with indirect or “sneaky” means of harassment such as social isolation or covert aggression such as spreading rumors or manipulating the friendship relations within the class. Girls are more likely to be bullied by a group, which is emotionally devastating, and are more likely to involve both boys and girls in their bullying pursuits against a victim.

Friends of bullies typically share their pro-violence attitudes and problem behaviors (such as drinking and smoking) and may be involved in bullying as well. Like other bullies, they tend to do poorly in school and engage in a number of problem behaviors. Teens (particularly boys) who bully are more likely to engage in other antisocial/delinquent behavior.

Researchers have identified risk factors for bullying such as:

· addiction to aggressive behaviors

· concern with preserving self image

· engaging in obsessive or rigid actions

· mistaking others’ actions as hostile

· quickness to anger and use of force

Research has found that bullying is most likely to occur in schools where there is a lack of adult supervision during breaks, where teachers and students are indifferent to or accept bullying behavior, and where rules against bullying are not consistently enforced.

Tips for Teens—

· Encourage your bullied friend to talk with parents or a trusted adult.

· Refuse to join in if you see someone being bullied.

· Speak up and/or offer support to bullied friends when you witness bullying.

· A bully is more likely to leave you alone if you are with your friends. This is especially true if you and your friends stick up for each other.

· It is important to try to make new friendships with people who share your interests.

Tips for Parents—

Parents are often unaware of the bullying problem and discuss it with their children only to a limited extent.

· Parents need to make it clear to the school that they take bullying seriously and that they need for the school to take action to stop the behavior.

· Parents should ask how they can help the school.

· Parents can participate in an awareness campaign, which can be conducted during parent-teacher conference days, through parent newsletters, and at PTA meetings.

· Parents need to ask their children if they tease or make fun of other children, and they should understand that children who aggressively bully peers are at increased risk for engaging in antisocial or criminal behavior in the future.

· Parents should encourage their child to be with friends when traveling back and forth from school, during shopping trips, or on other outings.

Parents should get answers to the following questions:

· What does my child need from me (or what does he want me to do) to get the bully to quit?

· What has my child done to try to resolve the problem or to get the bully to quit?

· What is being done to my child that makes him fearful or uncomfortable?

· Who is doing it?

Parents should expect full cooperation from the school to resolve the bullying problem. Parents and teachers hold the power to work together to put an end to bullying and provide a safe learning environment for all children.

Tips for Teachers—

Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom helpers at school can all help to stop bullying.

· Teachers and administrators should increase adult supervision in the areas of the school campus where bullying incidents are most likely to occur.

· Teachers should be aware of their own behavior.

· Teachers should establish a positive, friendly, and trusting relationship with the class and each individual student.

· Teachers should explain to children the difference between playfulness and bullying or cruelty.

· Teachers should make it clear that cruelty, such as making fun of a student in class for wrong answers, is not tolerated.

Teachers often serve as “models” for students who respect them and may wish to emulate them. Teachers should model ‘assertiveness skills’ and work with students at the classroom level to develop classroom rules against bullying.

Researchers (Olweus, 1993; Craig & Peplar, 1999; Ross, 1998) provide several strategies, which address ways to help reduce bullying:

· emphasize caring, respect and safety

· emphasize consequences of hurting others

· encourage positive peer relations

· enforce consistent and immediate consequences for aggressive behaviors

· follow up on all instances of aggression

· have a school problem box where kids can report problems, concerns and offer suggestions

· help bullies with anger control and the development of empathy

· hold a school conference day devoted to bully/victim problems

· improve communication among school administrators, teachers, parents and students

· increase adult supervision in the yard, halls and washrooms more vigilantly

· make adults aware of the situation and involve them

· make it clear that bullying is never acceptable

· offer a variety of extracurricular activities which appeal to a range of interests.

· teach cooperative learning activities

Every day thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students of all races and classes. Bullying has everyone worried, not just the kids on its receiving end. Yet because parents, teachers, and other adults don’t always see it, they may not understand how extreme bullying can get.

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