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When the Anderson’s seven-year-old daughter started crying herself to sleep and avoiding school, they knew something was up.
It turns out their second grader was being bullied – a disturbing form of harassment that can leave emotional, and sometimes physical, scars in its wake. Sadly, bullying is a growing trend that not only traumatizes victims, but also carries serious consequences for schools, the community and, ironically, bullies themselves.
WHAT CONSTITUTES BULLYING
Bullying is any act, often unprovoked and repeated, that results in physical or emotional injury. The California Department of Education’s publication, “Bullying at School,” defines bullying as physical (tripping, shoving, hitting), verbal (threats, name calling, insults), or emotional (spreading rumors, extorting, intimidating).
Not surprisingly, boys and girls bully differently. Boys tend to be more physically and verbally aggressive, a pattern that’s difficult to break. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice report suggests 60 percent of males who bully in grades six through nine are convicted of at least one crime as adults. Female bullies, however, use emotional tactics and manipulate relationships to inflict harm. They bully in groups and use exclusion and alienation as primary weapons.
Today’s social media tools like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube sadly have taken tormenting to a whole new level. What once was a simple classroom whisper can quickly become a clandestine announcement to the masses, further exploiting the targeted victim. Fortunately, stricter laws defining appropriate Internet usage are helping pull the plug on viral sabotage and electronic harassment.
BULLYING IN SCHOOLS
While peer aggression starts in elementary school, it is decidedly more prevalent and significant in older kids. In October 2010, the Josephson Institute of Ethics conducted the largest study ever of high school students. Of the 43,321 teens surveyed in the nation’s public and private schools, an alarming 50 percent admitted to bullying and 47 percent were bully victims in the past year alone.
The ominous results carry costly consequences. Because bullied students tend to avoid class, increased absenteeism compromises the learning environment and reduces state average daily attendance (ADA) funding for schools, too. What’s more, as unchecked bullies age, their actions constitute hazing, sexual harassment and hate crimes.
PUT THE BRAKES ON BULLYING
Comprehensive bully prevention programs in schools help identify bullies and victims, offer professional counseling and promote student self-empowerment. School-wide interventions include anti-bullying assemblies with experts like Cary Trivanovich (coolassemblies.com) who has visited more than 4,000 campuses throughout the country, including several of our local schools. Trivanovich says he uses humor and “big brother straight talk” to get his message across to bullies, victims and bystanders.
“At the age of middle school, most kids are learning how to be ‘somebody’ by getting involved in school and making friends,” he explains. “But some kids don’t have the social skills to get involved and lack parental mentorship. Because they feel it’s unacceptable to be ‘nobody,’ they become a bully to fulfill the need to be ‘somebody.’”
Trivanovich subliminally targets bullies in his audience by exposing this mindset while urging victims to build their own self-confidence and encouraging bystanders to “snitch” on bullies as a successful deterrent. “There will always be bullies, but they can’t bully a child who doesn’t accept it.” As experts note, it takes three kids to bully – the intimidator, the victim and the audience. Each plays a major role in creating a safer environment for all.
Warning Signs Your Child Could Be Being Bullied
- Comes home with torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
- Has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
- Has few, if any friends, with whom he or she spends time
- Seems afraid of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part in organized activities with peers (such as clubs)
- Takes a long, “illogical” route when walking to or from school
- Has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to do poorly in school
- Appears sad, moody, teary, or depressed when he or she comes home
- Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments
- Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
- Experiences a loss of appetite
- Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem