Bullying has grabbed national attention recently, especially in light of several recent suicides of youths and young adults that are being attributed to bullying. CNN aired a special series on bullying last week.
Many adults have a hard time wrapping their heads around the enormity of the problem. I recall some teasing and a few kids who were briefly targeted by bullies when I was growing up, but these incidents didn’t seem to escalate to the level of terrorizing and physical humiliation that is often described today. That’s not to say that the same level of torment didn’t exist when I was in school, but when it did take place, the instances were isolated and usually dealt with directly through school officials, parents or even peers.
Today, however, bullying has taken a new form. This is particularly true as cyberbullying has crept beyond the boundaries of the classroom and invaded the sanctuary of the home through social networks, email and cellphones. Victims of bullying can’t get a break from the taunting, and too often parents and other adults fail to recognize the severity of the issue before it is too late.
Bullying can take many forms:
- Physical: hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack, or damage or theft of someone else’s belongings
- Verbal: name calling, insulting, making racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, remarks or teasing, using sexually suggestive or abusive language, offensive remarks
- Indirect: spreading nasty stories about someone, exclusion from social groups, being made the subject of malicious rumours, sending abusive mail, and email and text messages (cyberbullying)
- Cyberbullying: Bullying through text message, picture/video clip, phone call bullying, email, chat room, instant messaging or websites/social networking (e.g. MySpace, YouTube and Facebook)
Bullying's Negative Consequences
Bullying can lead to a number of problems for youth and can even lead to death through suicide and homicide. Specifically, bullying is attributed to a significant amount of absenteeism from school, increased dropout rates, mental health and substance abuse issues, youth suicide and even school shootings.
Suicide remains among the leading causes of death of children younger than 14, and in most cases, the young people die from hanging, according to the American Association of Suicidology. Suicide rates among children ages 10 to 14 are low but are "creeping up," says Ann Haas, director of the Suicide Prevention Project at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A new review of studies, conducted by the Yale School of Medicine, from 13 countries found signs of an apparent connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide.
How Big Is the Problem?
According to studies from 2010:
- It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students, according to the National Education Association.
- American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims, says Dan Olweus of the National School Safety Center.
- 1 in 7 students in grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.
- 56 percent of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.
- 71 percent of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.
- 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.
- 90 percent of fourth through eighth graders report being victims of bullying.
- According to bullying statistics, 1 out of every 10 students who drops out of school does so because of repeated bullying.
- Among students, homicide perpetrators were more than twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied by peers.
- Bullying statistics say revenge is the strongest motivation for school shootings.
- 87 percent of students said shootings are motivated by a desire to get back at those who have hurt them.
- 54 percent of students said witnessing physical abuse at home can lead to violence in school.
- Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75 percent of school-shooting incidents.
Local Schools Are Taking Action
Pinellas County Schools has a web page dedicated to bullying, and it recently held a bullying prevention conference to raise awareness of bullying and to provide resources to parents, students and the community. Additionally, the school has developed an online form that a parent or youth can complete to report bullying at school.
National resources for youths and parents:
If you are a youth who is experiencing bullying or have witnessed bullying, or if you are a parent or concerned adult who knows of a bullying problem, please take action. Most bullying takes place in schools, and schools need to know about it and must address it. If at first you are not heard or appropriate action isn’t taken after you report the issue, please report it again. Report it to the county level if local schools aren’t responding with enough urgency. Ignoring the problem hardly ever helps it get better and most often, it gets worse.
Youths deserve to live and learn in safety. Together, we can all be caregivers and help make sure that happens.