Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Unsettling Facts About Bullying, And What You Can Do to Stop It

Recent studies on bullying show worrying trends, and it’s time for us to take action. 
 by Riley Houser

Imagine waking up for school and feeling hopeless. You’re twelve years old, transitioning through life into the awkward beginning stages of adolescence. You fight every day to find reasons to smile, but you just feel alone. You walk through your morning routine (which lately has been conducted slower and slower) and you make your way upstairs for the breakfast which you are no longer hungry for. The world just feels different to you, and as you walk to school you notice yourself counting the cracks on the sidewalk because you’re scared to look up. The school is getting closer with each step. When you arrive at the front door, you reach to grab the handle and feel a rush of emotion; you know what’s to come when you enter the building: more fear. You are a victim of bullying.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying is recognized as “intentionally aggressive, usually repeated, physical, social, or verbal behavior targeted at one specific person or a group of individuals.” Some acts of bullying are even considered a crime, such as hazing or harassments, but bullying itself is not illegal in the US. The forms of bullying have grown in the last few years with the large emergence of technology and connectivity. Kids can now go online by themselves or with a group of their friends and target a person directly. Bullies are now able to sit at home and continue the torment outside of school. Often, kids dismiss this kind of behaviour as normal. They laugh and joke, and say it’s just teasing, but what they fail to understand is that the child or group of children on the other end of their torment, name calling or threats can no longer enjoy even being home. Victims of bullying never forget that they are being laughed at or picked on; every day there seems to be a constant connection to the tormenter.

When children face increasing violations, they often isolate themselves from people around them and can be seen as even more of an outsider. Their thoughts become consumed with trying to avoid the bullying, which becomes almost impossible even when they are in the sanctuary of their homes. With recent stories on the news surfacing about cyber bullying, sometimes the damage has been done before anyone can help. The consequences have been devastating, as some victims of cyber bullying have been driven to suicide. Other effects on victims are skipping school or not wanting to go to school, alcohol and or drug use, increase in complaints of illnesses, sudden and severe self-esteem issues, and an extreme drop in grades and performance.

Cyber bullying poses additional challenges since the problem can no longer be addressed simply within the walls of a school potentially with a teacher or parents. Social media is growing every day and the cyber world is left completely unsupervised for the most part.

There are certain steps which can be taken in order to find help if you are a victim of cyber bullying, or to help someone who you know who is in this position. One of the most effective methods is simply communication. It has been reported that only 20-30 percent of students who have been bullied report this to adults or authorities. Since the patterns of bullying are so hard to stop, it is important to be sensitive and to start these conversations slowly. Many times, someone being bullied generally does not want to talk about, since these are not moments that the child would like to relive, and often the victim feels ashamed or powerless about their torment. If you start with a slow, positive conversation with non-threatening dialogue, you could potentially save a child from the harmful effects of bullying, or even save his or her life. The potential for a child to open up is much more likely if the right steps are taken in conversation.

The recently released 2014 bullying statistics gave details about a study that was conducted at UCLA earlier this year, where a team of psychologists studied 1,895 students at 11 Los Angeles junior high schools. The main researcher of the study, Jaana Juvonen, said “The ones who are ‘cool’ bully more and the ones who bully more are seen as ‘cool’”. This suggests that bullying has essentially become a popularity contest, and that kids are proving how “cool” they are through being bullies.

In a recent 2014 study, 20 percent of students in the U.S. from grades 9-12 have reportedly experienced some form of bullying and 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 have reported the same. Most bullying experts agree that bullying happens most frequently in middle school. The majority of the students involved in the study said that name calling was the most frequent form of bullying, along with teasing, gossip and rumor-spreading, physical bullying, threats, purposeful isolation, stealing, and lastly sexual harassment. Even though bullying has been on the rise over the last few years with cyber bullying being a major contributor, recent studies actually show that cyber bullying is still the least prevalent form, and bullying at school still showed the highest incidence. Additionally, the study shows that approximately 70.6 percent of teens have witness bullying in their school and 30 percent of teens admit to bullying others themselves. This raises the question that if just over 70 percent of teens have seen bullying in their school, how does it continue unabated? The Department of Health and Human Services reported that bullying stops within 10 seconds, 57 percent of the time, when someone steps in and speaks up.

Most experts share one common understanding: they believe that bullying climaxes in the middle school years, when children are transitioning into young adults. Bullying definitely proceeds into high school and in many cases even into adulthood, although maturity does seem to be a very large factor in the discontinuation of bullying behavior. Still, many students who are bullies as young adults continue the trend of violence and abuse even as they transition into adulthood. Reportedly, by the age of 30, nearly 40 percent of young men who were recognized as bullies in grades 6-12 had been arrested three or more times.

While these reports shed light on the phenomenon of bullying, they do not show the personal anguish which victims of bullying endure. Almost 160,000 teens reportedly skip school every day because of bullying, and 1 out of every 10 teens drops out of school due to repetitive bullying. This means that 160,000 kids lose out on their education every day because of bullying. This was a very large reason why I personally skipped nearly 40 days during my 7th grade year of middle school. Additionally, 10 percent of all teens in America drop out of school due to the constant experience of being bullied and picked on; children are not only skipping school but now feel as if their only option to escape bullying is to drop out completely. Reportedly 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys have reported being bullied either online or in school. Another illuminating finding is that 75 percent of all school shootings have been tied back to bullying and harassment against the shooter.

Some of the victims of bullying who are abused most frequently are those who are seen as “different” by their peers. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, special needs students, overweight students, and students who are identified by their peers as “weak” are some of those most likely to be targeted by bullying. For every 10 LGBT youth, 9 report to having been verbally bullied simply because of their sexual orientation, and 55.2 percent of those students reported cyber bullying as well. Students are being bullied to extreme degrees simply because of their sexual orientation. This focus on ridiculing and attacking differences in minority groups contradicts the idea of “connection” which technology seemingly gives us. This should be unacceptable to us as a society. No child should be forced to live in fear or feel like any less of a person than anyone else in this world; no stereotype or personal characteristics should determine how we are perceived as individuals.

The final important factor is the perspective of the bullies themselves. Why do people bully? There are a variety of reasons which most experts have agreed on:

Family Life A very large contributor to bullying is the bully’s family life. Families that don’t produce a loving and comforting environment in which emotions are shared are more likely to produce a child with the tendencies of being or becoming a bully. Parents who do a poor job with discipline and have inconsistent monitoring methods all contribute largely to producing a child with the tendencies of being a bully.

Culture Some research indicates that there are cultural causes that lead to bullying. We live in a world where if you don’t come in first, you’re seen as last in most cases. Many people want to win, have power, and be violent. Some experts say that it is completely unrealistic to think people are not influenced to seek power through the violence in their own personal lives. When one considers the domestic violence rate, it becomes obvious that when a child grows up seeing such abuse in their own home it tends to lead them to believe that the act is potentially okay because “that’s how they were raised”.

Social Forces In this day in age where seemingly everyone is “connected” on social media, some kids are more popular and appear to have all the friends they could imagine, while others are forced to wish to be like them. Envy and a lack of social and personal skill can be large reasons as to why some students may bully others.

Institution There are many institutional causes that contribute to bullying as well. If a school does not have a clear anti-bullying policy or even if bullying is something that isn’t monitored like it should be, the act has virtually no reason to ever stop. Kids who aren’t disciplined for their actions will more than likely continue their acts because they are seeing no punishment for what they have done, and it offers them social capital.

While there has been a great increase in the awareness of the damaging effects of bullying, it still happens. From personal experience, having been bullied, I always try to take a step back and really look into why it happens. I used to carry a lot of hatred and disgust, but growing up I’ve learned to look at bullying in a new way. I’ve learned that even though the actions are completely wrong and have no place in society, there is always a much deeper reason as to why it continues in the world. Kids doing the bullying should be evaluated to see if there is a problem with them at home or in other areas of their lives. Actions should be and need to be taken for kids on both side of the fence; children shouldn’t have to be worried about going to school or be scared of going to school because of bullying, and bullies should be given clear consequences, direction and even shown compassion. In America, school is a place where any child should be able to get a genuine education and be able to socialize amongst his or her friends, and build bonds with others which last for the rest of their life. It should not be a place of torment.

Do your part: if you know of anyone who is being or has been bullied, do something. Take action in response to what you’re seeing. Stand up and make your voice heard. Bullying is something that no child should ever have to live with or go through. Speak up today and help stop bullying, and save a child from this painful experience.