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The Evolution of Bullying

June 24, 2011

This is the third article in a series on bullying, provided by the Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation.

THE EVOLUTION OF BULLYING:

FROM SCHOOLYARD TO CYBERSPACE

By: David Kraybill, Executive Director, Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation

Would you be surprised to know that according to current statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice 77% of students admit to being bullied mentally, verbally or physically according to a recent national survey? That translates to one in four kids being bullied. Eight percent of students miss one day of class per month from fear of bullies. One out of five kids admits to being a bully or doing some bullying. You may not only be surprised, but downright alarmed.  Unfortunately, bullying is a widespread and serious problem. It’s not a phase children have to go through, it’s not just “kids being kids,” and it’s not something children will grow out of. Bullying is a serious situation that can cause lasting harm to both the victim and the bully.

Granted, bullying has been around forever. So why is it only now getting the attention it deserves? Is it because there is now global awareness that children are committing suicide from being bullied? Is it because there are now other, sneakier ways to bully than the schoolyard, such as cyberbullying? Is it because it’s now affecting a larger number of kids than ever before? Yes, yes and yes.

Definition of Bullying
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. It involves repeated acts; physical, emotional and/or inappropriate social behavior; it is intentional, controlling and hurtful; and it is a learned behavior, sometimes as early as age two. Bully power comes from physical size and strength, verbal skills, popularity and gender.

Physical or verbal bullying includes hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, name-calling, cruel teasing, threatening and/or intimidating words, sexual harassment, ethnic slurs, spreading rumors, group exclusion, stares and glares, unreasonable territorial bans, and destruction of property. Cyberbullying includes the creation of insulting or threatening websites; ISP warning wars; harassing instant messages, emails or text messages; chat room gossip; rating sites/internet polling; suicide sites; conspiring and excluding online; impersonation, password stealing, and harassment during online games.

Statistics indicate bullying is more prevalent in middle school (grades 6-8) than in senior high school. Emotional or verbal bullying is the most common form of bullying with pushing, shoving, tripping and spitting on someone being the second most common form. Cyberbullying, however, is more prevalent in the last three years of high school than in grades six through nine.

Portrait of a Bully
Of course, there is no typical bully, but there are various behaviors that bullies or potential bullies may exhibit. These include:
• Demonstrating aggressive behavior with others including parents and teachers
• Frequently hitting or pushing other children
• Seeking to dominate and or manipulate
• Enjoying feeling powerful and in control (whether real or not)
• Being physically strong and socially dominant

• Appearing to derive satisfaction from other’s fears, discomfort or pain, and lacking empathy  for others

• Being emotionally immature, irresponsible and not accepting responsibility for their actions

    • Hiding bad behaviors or doing them where adults cannot notice
• Displaying uncontrolled anger and an intolerance and prejudice toward others

Bullies often have assistants or watchers that help them carry out the bully behavior. Multiple studies have shown that peers are present in more than 85 percent of bullying incidents. Many times the watchers want to be accepted by the bully and his or her group or fear that the bully will turn on them if they intervene. Watchers also develop a logic that the victim deserved it, and they don’t really see the victim as a person. Unfortunately, watchers do not consider the consequences of their actions or those of the bully. Some researchers actually believe that the watchers and witnesses to the bullying are the key to eliminating bullying behavior because this group is the sizable majority in any school.

Portrait of a Victim
Unfortunately, no child is immune to being bullied, but there are certain types of kids who may be more susceptible to being a victim—including popular children. Bullies tend to pick on kids who:
• Are anxious, insecure or cautious
• Suffer from low self-esteem
• Are the most popular
• Are isolated or quiet
• Rarely defend themselves or retaliate when confronted
• Lack social skills and friends
• Tend to be close to their parents or may have overprotective parents
• Are minorities, physically disabled or have a visible defect

The effects of bullying, whether a child is the victim or the aggressor, can last a lifetime. Behaviors, attitudes and hurts can manifest over time if left unaddressed, and become ways that children use to define themselves as they grow into adulthood. Long-term effects can include delinquent or criminal behavior such as incarceration or gang activities, as well as decreased self-esteem, long-term depression, becoming an adult bully at home or in the workplace, or becoming a child- and/or spouse-abuser.

If your child is a victim of bullying or is a bully, the first place to start is to recognize and acknowledge what is happening, and then find resources that can help you work together as a family to resolve the situation. One such resource is The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s Mission Healthy Living website. You can view webisodes that address various topics on bullying and feature expert local guests at http://www.missionhealthyliving.org.
About the Foundation  The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation’s mission is to enhance the health and wellness of area residents, providing education, funding and programs that motivate people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Visit www.pottstownfoundation.org for more information about the Foundation. Discover Pottstown area’s new online community at www.missionhealthyliving.org to learn and share great information on how to lead a healthier life!

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