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Bully Culture: Stopping the Abuse

Bullying at School Takes Many Forms
But All Have Long-Term Effects

By Latricia Wilson

Latricia Wilson

It can be a comment in class, a shove in the hallway, a mad-dog stare on the block or a dangerous physical attack. For too many young people, repeated harassment by a bully or mob group is stressful, impacts school performance and may lead to long-term health and emotional effects.

Bullying at school takes many forms. Bullying is a repeated aggressive action by an individual or group in order to intentionally hurt another person. Bullies use intimidation, peer pressure and physical violence to gain power over others. Bullying has many forms and is prevalent among adolescents, teens and young adults, but often goes unreported.

Bullies harass individuals they perceive as weak, unwilling or unable to fight back. They target people based on sexual orientation as well as individuals with submissive personalities, physical or mental differences, above or below-average weight or speech and motor skill difficulties. But anyone, regardless of appearance or social standing, can become a victim.

Luckily, people are paying more attention to bullying, and are working to create legislation to change the outcomes for bullied children. This issue hits close to home (see Beyond Bullying: My Personal Story - coming soon), as I was a victim for many years and am still coping with the long-term effects of being bullied.

Bullying at School Carries Over: On and Offline

Bullying at school, or anywhere for that matter, can take many forms, each with its own distinct behaviors. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, nearly 30 percent of US teens have either bullied someone or been a victim of bullying themselves. Sometimes bullying is subtle, like a comment in the school hallway. Other times, it is overt, such as repeated harassment and physical threats or violence. No matter how it's manifested, bullying is done with the intention of undermining an individual's emotional confidence, self-esteem or social status.

Intentional bullying includes name-calling, hitting, pushing, spreading rumors, destroying property and using threatening words or behaviors to harm a specific individual or group. In each case, the intention is to coerce or influence the victim's behavior, actions or lifestyle in order to gain power over that person.

Bullying by groups is also referred to as ''mobbing". (See also our article about workplace mobbing.) Mobbing is not just physical intimidation but may also include emotional abuse such as shunning, isolating, intimidating and humiliating an individual.

Bullying also includes peer pressure at school and cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullies use communication devices such as cell phones or social networks like MySpace and Facebook to participate in hostile actions against others. There are reports of youth committing suicide after being the target of intense cyber-bullying. A UCLA study found that nearly three out of four teenagers reported being bullied online over the course of a year. Those who are experiencing cyber-bullying may consider staying off social internet sites, erasing online profiles and reporting abusers to web administrators.

Bullying at School is Difficult to Avoid or Ignore

By contrast, bullying at school is not so easy for individuals to avoid or ignore. Changing schools or neighborhoods to avoid a bully or group can be a complex and stressful proposition that doesn't always guarantee a student will be safe in their new environment. School bullies can be detrimental to a student's emotional well-being and academic development. Bullied children may avoid going to school to avoid their aggressor, limit participation in class, have difficulty concentrating on schoolwork or maintaining passing grades. Sometimes, school administrators fail to handle bullying incidents as effectively as they should – especially if instructors or counselors misidentify bullying incidents as simple harassment or "typical teenage activity."

Bullying at School Scenarios

Negative peer pressure is another bullying tactic in the school setting. Young people in cliques or social groups may gang up on others and use verbal or physical violence to intimidate an individual. Groups may also exclude others from their activities, games and school conversations or force their targets away from supportive peers. Young people that participate in mob groups often fear that the mob leader will turn on them, creating a cycle of intimidation.

School bullying may be detrimental to a victim's educational and emotional development. Especially at younger ages, children have a deeper need for acceptance and belonging in social groups. Bullying can disrupt these important connections. Students who are chronic victims experience more physical and psychological problems than their non-harassed peers. Additionally, bullied youth may have a hard time growing out of the "victim role." As adults, those who were bullied may be more likely to have low self-esteem.

Bullying at School
Alexander Redmon

Bullying at School: The Bully's Impact

According to an Intervention in School and Clinic report, there are short and long-term consequences for both perpetrators and victims of bullying. Adults who were chronically victimized in their youth are at an increased risk for clinical depression, low self-esteem and other mental health problems. Children bullied over long periods may develop symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including hyper-alertness and being easily startled or emotionally distant.

Short-term effects of bullying at school include aggression with siblings, anxiety, stress and insomnia. Other characteristics may include self-isolation, mood swings and physical manifestations such as cuts or bruises. Childhood bullying and abuse may cause problems later in life that are difficult to overcome without the help of intensive therapy and treatment, leading clinicians and professionals to try and understand bullying's root causes.

Mental healthcare professionals have sought to find out why youth become bullies to begin with. Youth with low self-esteem may intimidate others to gain a sense of power or control. Girls with self-confidence or other personality issues may bully their peers out of jealousy, resentment or because other girls are doing it.

Bullies may be experiencing emotional or physical abuse by a family member or other adults. Parents who discipline children with violence or intimidation can lead children to believe that the way to deal with conflicts is with anger or aggression. Thus bullies may intimidate others believing that it is acceptable behavior. Additionally, parents who provide little guidance or monitoring may contribute to the continuation of bullying behavior at school.

Adults seeking to mitigate a bully's actions should focus on the individual's underlying problems. Society is slowly recognizing the long-term effects of bullying with new legislation and legal measures aimed at preventing abuse and protecting victims.

Bullying at School: Laws and Flaws

After a series of high-profile school shootings in the '90s and early '00s, a number of state legislators proposed laws requiring schools to have anti-bullying policies and programs. More recently, federal legislators even proposed national legislation on bullying.

Although several states require schools to have anti-bully strategies, not all schools have the funding necessary to develop these programs. Further complicating anti-bullying intervention are cases where school shootings are misconstrued as gang related, when in fact a shooter may have been a bully's victim. Unfortunately, out of desperation, bullied children may make the poor decision to bring a weapon to school for self-defense. The victim may then receive further punishment without the support needed to overcome their abuse.

School and Society Solutions to Bullying at School

Bullying is an act of aggressive, dominating behavior that many individuals engage in at some point in their lives. This behavior usually results when an individual lacks the power to control some aspect of their personal life, has experienced abuse or bullying or has low self-esteem. Bullies control their victims in order to feel a false and temporary sense of empowerment. Sadly, children bullied at school often bear mental, emotional and physical scars that prevent them from moving on with their lives.

It is when schools lack
funding to effectively
mandate intervention and
prevention programs
that bullying flourishes.

Young people are at risk of becoming bullies when parents use hateful language or physical abuse as tools to discipline them. Bullied students may be traumatized when schools administrators ignore abuse or treat continual harassment as isolated incidents. It is when schools lack funding to effectively mandate intervention and prevention programs that bullying flourishes. School districts and school boards should strive to find methods to combat bullying just as they have done with gang violence.

Bullies are empowered when people witness their negative social behaviors but fail to intervene. Despite it's prevalence, it's important to know that there are practical strategies to prevent bullying. Society shares some fault for the proliferation of bullying at school, but understanding the various forms of bullying, and implementing legislation and school intervention programs can transform lives.

Latricia Wilson is an guest writer. If you are an expert in a field related to school or workplace bullying and would like to contribute to our efforts and promote your website or services please contact us for more information.


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