In the wake of violent tragedies like the Columbine school shooting, people-- often adults-- talk a lot about bullying and how it affects young people. In the aftermath of these tragedies, everyone is united in the face of bullying, and everyone is driven to stop it. However, it seems that invariably, as things return to normal, people stop talking about bullying and bullying quickly resumes.
Everyone has a different method to deal with bullying. Parents will often say that a lack of reaction is the best reaction to a bully, but not all bullies will leave a victim alone if the victim ignores them. Some seem to thrive on the challenge, while others are more willing to move on to easier targets. For many years, conventional knowledge held that bullying is just “something that happens” to children, and should be accepted as a part of childhood. However, new research is emerging that suggests that children are not as unaffected by bullying as was previously thought (Dombeck, 2012).
In his article on bullying, Dr. Dombeck (2012) relates a fundamental truth about bullying: bullying is abuse. In his eyes, when parents, guardians, or other adults responsible for the well-being of children minimize the psychological trauma of bullying, they are condoning an act that is both “sadistic and often violent” (Dombeck, 2012). Bullying, most experts now agree, set up an individual for what is known as “learned helplessness.” This phenomenon is what occurs when an individual is made to feel that nothing they do is correct, and that they can do nothing properly on their own. Essentially, learned helplessness drives the victim into a long, downward spiral of self-loathing, helplessness, and depression-- a truth far removed from the old common wisdom of “kids will be kids” that was so often espoused in the past. Learned helplessness is truly a cycle that is difficult to break: bullying causes the learned helplessness, but even if a victim breaks free of his or her bully, if the victim does not break the habit of learned helplessness, he or she often finds him or herself at the victim of other bullies. Bullies are often attracted to this type of behavior in an individual, because they recognize the thought patterns that make an individual easy to victimize (Code).
One problem that the modern world faces that was unheard of in the past is cyber bullying. The prevalence of social media today means that children and young adults are spending more and more of their lives linked into the Internet; they are rarely, if ever, out of social contact with their peers (Staffordshire). Social media can be a wonderful way to interact with people, but it is certainly a double-edged sword for children and young adults who are being bullied. Rather than facing bullying only at school, bullies can take their abuse to the Internet and attack their victim even when their victim is not in close physical proximity. This can lead to constant feelings of distress and feelings of being unsafe even in one’s own home, which is very unhealthy (Dombeck 2012).
Cyber bullying is also particularly important because of the psychological impact of being behind a screen. Many studies have been done that demonstrate that people have lowered inhibitions when on the Internet-- this holds true for bullies as well. Bullies will sometimes escalate their behavior in extremely abusive ways over the Internet, saying or doing things that they may never have done in real life (Code).
Children who are bullied at a young age are actually more likely to recover well from the bullying, however. Many studies seem to find that the formative pre-teen and teenage years are the most important years for forming a social identity, and are therefore most important for children and young adults in terms of being bullied (Dombeck 2012). When young teens are bullied, they seem to internalize the abuse much more intensely than young children do. Some studies suggest that this is because their peers are much more adept at social and psychological manipulation by this time, allowing for a much more intensely abusive experience for the victim (Code).
Bullying has an isolating effect on the victim. Victims of intense bullying often find that their friends have “turned” on them, and have sided with the bully, lest they draw the bully’s attention themselves. Social isolation is one of the more detrimental aspects of bullying for children. Dombeck (2012) suggests that an individual with a strong social network outside the environment he or she is being bullied in are much more resilient than those without a social network to protect them. This is the founding principle of organizations such as the “It Gets Better” Project-- a project designed to support underaged members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community in environments that may or may not be welcoming to the individual (What Is the It Gets Better Project? 2012). This organization brings together older individuals with younger victims to give support to victims of bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
It is impossible to place all the blame for tragedies like Columbine on bullying. The causes of violence in schools are complex and many. However, individuals who are the victims of bullying often have feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing; these feelings, when combined with mental illness, can sometimes result in incredible violence. More recently, there have been a spate of news stories regarding young people who have committed suicide after being the victims of relentless bullying. Their names and faces are recognizable, and with every death, there are calls to end bullying. Why has the bullying not stopped?
The fact of the matter is that bullying cannot be eradicated completely. However, with care, adults that interact with young people can create an environment where bullying is neither condoned nor tolerated. The first step to negating the negative impacts of bullying is to create a support structure for young people who are the victims of bullying to rely upon for their physical, mental and emotional security.
Amanda Todd: Bullied Canadian Teen Commits Suicide After Prolonged Battle Online And In School. (n.d.). Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/11/amanda-todd-suicide-bullying_n_1959909.html
Bullying and it's Effects . (n.d.).Staffordshire County Council - Staffordshire Learning Net . Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://education.staffordshire.gov.uk/PupilSupport/Anti-Bullying/BullyingEffects/
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Erin Gallagher, Irish Teen, Commits Suicide After Battle With 'Vicious' Cyberbullying (PHOTO). (n.d.). Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 27, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/29/erin-gallagher-irish-teen-commits-suicide-battle-cyberbullying_n_2040850.html
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What is the It Gets Better Project? (2012) It Gets Better Project. (n.d.). It Gets Better Project. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project/