Bullying Fact Sheet

by Paul Rohling

What is "Bullying"?

In its truest form, bullying is comprised of a series of intentionally cruel incidents, in which an individual is exposed repeatedly to negative actions on the part of one or more individuals. What distinguishes this form of interpersonal aggression from the usual conflicts between children and adolescents is that the intention is often about power and control. Bullying may take many forms including physical, verbal, relational and reactive.

 

Physical Bullying

These bullies tend to be action oriented. They utilize physical aggression such as hitting, kicking or resort to taking/destroying the victim’s property in order to gain control. While this is the least sophisticated type of bullying and is easily identifiable, the attacks tend to intensify as the bully himself ages.

Verbal Bullying

Verbal bullies rely on words in order to hurt and/or humiliate another. This type includes: name calling, insulting, teasing and/or making racist/sexist comments. This type is the easiest to inflict onto others as it can occur in a realitively short period of time and it can be difficult to catch the offending party in the act. However, its effects can be more devastating than physical bullying despite the absence of visible scars.

Relational Bullying

This behavior is closely linked to verbal bullying. These bullies focus on trying to convince their peers to exclude or reject a certain person and/or people. Often this is accomplished via the spreading of rumors. This is perhaps the most devastating type of bullying to young people as it cuts them off from their peer group at the time they most need their social supports and connections.

Reactive Bullying

These individuals are often seen as straddling the fence of being both a victim and a bully. They are difficult to identify because at first glance they appear to be targets. However, these reactive victims tend to taunt bullies and/or bully themselves. Most individuals in this category are impulsive by nature and react quickly to intentional and unintentional physical encounters. In some cases, reactive bullies begin as victims and become bullies as they learn to retaliate. They often provoke a bully into action, fight back and then claim self defense.

 

Why Care About Bullying?            

 Bullying is a worldwide problem that can have negative consequences for the victim, bully and school alike.  These effects are often life long and negatively impact the day to day functioning of the individuals involved. 

Victims– may suffer from:

  • physical complaints like sleep difficulties, constant head aches and stomach aches.  This in turn often leads to increased sick days and a decrease in school attendance overall.
  • Increased risk of school dropout.
  • Increased prevalence of learning difficulties due to excessive anxiety and an inability to concentrate.
  • Decreased self esteem, both in the short term and as evidenced by a greater prevalence of depression later in life.
  • Increased difficulty in making and maintaining friends and in sustaining intimate relationships.
  • Increased risk of suicide as some see it as their only escape.

Most victims of bullying are different in some way which can explain their lack of power.  Children who may be heavier, skinnier, wear glasses, have speech impediments or learning disabilities are common victims.   These children, who are already at risk, often become even more isolated and withdrawn, anxious and insecure, which may increase their  likelihood of being a target again in the  future.

Bullies–are at risk for the following:

  • One study shows that 60% of boys who were bullies in grades 6 to 9 have at least one court conviction by age 24.  Of those, 35-40% have three or more convictions by the same age.   In contrast, only 10% of the non-bullying control group of boys have court convictions by that same age.
  • Waning popularity and acceptance by peers after age14-15.
  • Increased antisocial tendencies and mental health issues in adulthood.
  • Increased rates of substance abuse.

Unless new strategies are learned and adopted, bullies continue to bully throughout their lifetime.  They bully their spouses, their children and even their cohorts in the workplace.  The bullying does not disappear with age, but rather becomes a highly refined, yet maladaptive means of coping with their own insecurities. 

What’s the answer?

Adults and young people must work together in their schools and neighborhoods to address the social context in which bullying occurs. The goal must be to change the culture of the school creating an environment where bullying is no longer tolerated. Interventions must focus on involving the entire school, rather than focusing on the bullies and victims alone.

While the majority of children are not directly involved in bullying, they have seen it unfold in front of them. Bystanders play many different roles in a bullying episode. Some cheer or join in while others may passively watch. Many fear intervening out of concern for retribution. To do so means to risk possibly being the bully’s next target, yet inaction enables the bullying cycle to continue and possibly escalate.

Likewise, many victims are told to handle the problem on their own by:

  • being more assertive.
  • trying to make attempts to blend in.
  • ignoring the bully or pretending that they are not bothered by it.

The problem with these approaches used in isolation is that it displaces the responsibility for stopping the bullying from the adults and school staff to the victims. Moreover, if these strategies are not effective, the victim is left with a sense of failure and/or apathy. Therefore, a multifaceted approach including the following is advisable in any intervention program.

  • Intervention strategies:Build awareness of the problems of bullying and the power that students have to join together against bullying.
  • Teach and promote conflict resolution strategies to our young people based around a whole-school anti-bullying policy.
  • Provide formative consequences for individuals who bully, and support for victimized children with consistent follow-up.

If you are a parent or teacher, you can also help by:

  • Exposing bullying – name it - and provide a way for your children to understand what is happening when they witness or experience bullying.
  • Recognizing the signs of distress and finding some way to talk with the individuals about how they feel. This helps to minimize their sense of isolation and alienation.
  • Offering empathy and understanding.
  • Staying calm and constructive no matter how upset you feel.

DO NOT ignore the problem, instead make sure that the young person gets the help they need.