Bullying is a problem that has an effect on millions of students, and it has everyone concerned and not just the kids on its receiving end. As parents, teachers, and other adults we don't always see it and we may not understand how extreme bullying can get.
Bullying is when a person is picked on over and over again by an individual or a group of people with more power, either in terms of physical strength or social standing.
Two of the main reasons children are bullied are usually because of their appearance or social status. Bullies tend to pick on children they think don't fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act (for example, kids who are shy and withdrawn), their race or religion, or even because the bullies think their target may be gay or lesbian.
Some bullies will physically attack their target, which can mean anything from shoving or tripping to punching or hitting, or even sexual assault. Others use verbal insults or psychological control to put themselves in a dominant role. For example, bullies in popular groups often bully people they categorize as different by excluding them or gossiping about them (psychological bullying). They may also mock their target (verbal bullying).
Verbal bullying can also entail cyberbullying — sending cruel texts, messages, or posting insults about an individual on Facebook or other social sites.
How Does Bullying Make Children Feel?
One of the most painful aspects of bullying is that it is persistent. Most children can take one episode of teasing or name calling or being ignored at the mall. However, when it goes on and on, bullying can put a child in a state of constant fear.
Children who are bullied may find their schoolwork and health suffering. Some children can have stomach pains and diarrhea and be diagnosed with a digestive condition called irritable bowel syndrome as a result of the stress that come from being bullied throughout school. Other children can spend their afternoons hungry and unable to concentrate in class because they have been too afraid to go to the school cafeteria at lunchtime.
More and more studies show that children who are abused by their peers are at risk for mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, stress, depression, or anxiety. They may also think about suicide more.
On another note, bullies are also at risk for problems. Bullying is a violent act, and it can often lead to more violent behavior as the bully grows up. A good percentage of elementary-school bullies have a criminal record by the time they are 30. Some teen bullies also end up being rejected by their peers and lose friendships as they grow older. Bullies may also fail in school and not have the career or relationship success that other people enjoy.
Who is a Bully?
Both boys and girls can be bullies. Many of them share common characteristics. They like to dominate others and are generally focused on themselves. They often have poor social skills and poor social judgment. They may be outgoing and aggressive, and might have no feelings of empathy or caring toward other people. Although most bullies think they're hot stuff and have the right to push people around, others are actually insecure. It seems that they put other people down to make themselves feel more interesting or powerful. But some bullies act the way they do because they've also been hurt by bullies in the past — maybe even a bullying figure in their own family, like a parent or other adult.
In fact, some bullies actually have personality disorders that don't allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. They usually need help from a mental health professional.
What Can You Do?
For younger children, the best way to solve a bullying problem is usually to tell a trusted adult. For teens, though, the tell-an-adult approach depends on the bullying situation.
It is always imperative to report bullying if it threatens to lead to physical danger or harm. High school students are greatly at risk when stalking, threats, and attacks are unreported and the silence gives the bully license to become more and more violent. Sometimes the victim of repeated bullying cannot control the need for revenge and the situation may become dangerous for everyone.
Adults in positions of authority — parents, teachers, or coaches — sometimes they need to find ways to resolve dangerous bullying problems without the bully ever learning how they found out about it.
If you're in a bullying situation that you think may escalate into physical violence, try to avoid being alone (and if you have a friend in this situation, spend as much time together as you can). Try to remain part of a group by walking home at the same time as other people or by sticking close to friends or classmates during the times that the bullying takes place.
Bullying Survival Tips
Here are some ways to battle psychological and verbal bullying. They're also good tips to share with a friend as a way to show your support:
Ignore the bully and walk away. It's definitely not a coward's response — sometimes it can be harder than losing your temper. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and if you walk away or ignore hurtful emails or instant messages, you're telling the bully that you just don't care. Sooner or later the bully will probably get bored with trying to bother you. Walk tall and hold your head high. Using this type of body language sends a message that you're not vulnerable.
Hold the anger. Who doesn't want to get really upset with a bully? But that's exactly the response he or she is trying to get. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions. If you're in a situation where you have to deal with a bully and you can't walk away with poise, use humor — it can throw the bully off guard. Work out your anger in another way, such as through exercise or writing it down (make sure you tear up any letters or notes you write in anger).
Don't get physical. However you decide to deal with a bully, don't use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing). Not only are you showing your anger, you can never be sure what the bully will do in response. You are more likely to be hurt and get into trouble if you use violence against a bully. You can stand up for yourself in other ways, such as gaining control of the situation by walking away or by being assertive in your actions.
Some adults believe that bullying is part of growing up, that it builds character, and that hitting back is the only way to tackle the problem. But that's not the case. Aggressive responses tend to lead to more violence and more bullying for the victims.
Practice confidence. Practice ways to respond to the bully verbally or through your behavior. Practice feeling good about yourself (even if you have to fake it at first).
Take charge of your life. You can't control other people's actions, but you can stay true to yourself. Think about ways to feel your best and your strongest. Exercise is one way to feel strong and powerful. (It's a great mood lifter, too!) Learn a martial art or take a class like yoga. Another way to gain confidence is to work on your skills in something like chess, art, music, computers, or writing. Joining a class, club, or gym is a great way to make new friends and feel good about yourself. The confidence you gain will help you ignore the mean kids.
Talk about it. It may help to talk to a guidance counselor, psychologist, teacher, or friend — anyone who can give you the support you need. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you're being bullied.
Find your (true) friends. If you've been bullied with rumors or gossip, all of these tips (especially ignoring and not reacting) can apply. But take it one step further to help ease feelings of hurt and isolation. Find one or two true friends and confide how the gossip has hurt your feelings. Set the record straight by telling your friends quietly and confidently what's true and not true about you. Hearing a friend say, "I know the rumor's not true. I didn't pay attention to it," can help you realize that most of the time people see gossip for what it is — petty, rude, and immature.