I recently had the opportunity to meet with many Essex County residents to provide a presentation on Bullying Among Youth.
My audience consisted of parents and children. The topic is an important one. Public awareness campaigns addressing this issue are often overlooked, as many feel bullying hasn't surfaced in their lives. Despite what many might think, bullying is very common, and they might just be missing critical warning signs.
So what is bullying, and why should we be concerned about it?
Bullying is an aggressive behavior that intends to cause harm or distress and it is often repeated over time. Bullying comes in two forms: direct and indirect. Examples of direct bullying may include things such as physical assaults and verbal attacks. Indirect bullying is most often done by spreading rumors, the deliberate exclusion of someone from a group or activity and cyber-bullying. While cyber-bullying is relatively new, the social networks, text messages and e-mail systems that our society has come so accustom to, have made it much easier for bullies to attack their victims. Acts of indirect bullying may be less apparent to adults, but may cause emotional distress to children who have been bullied.
Recent research has focused on better understanding the conditions surrounding bullying incidents. What has been learned is that children who are bullied report that they have been bullied by one person or very small group of peers. These children also pointed out that bullying is most prevalent in common, familiar locations such as schools, playgrounds, the classroom, lunchrooms and hallways.
The effects of bullying can be devastating to the lives of children. It can seriously affect the social-emotional functioning, academic work and the health of the targeted children. Bullying victims are found to have lower self esteem, higher rates of depression, loneliness and anxiety. These children also are found to have missed school more often.
In 2002, the U.S. Secret Service conducted a Safe School Initiative, studying 37 incidents of targeted school violence, which included 41 attackers. It was found that 75 percent of the attackers themselves felt persecuted, or bullied prior to the incident. One-third were characterized as "loners" and one-quarter socialized with students who were disliked by most mainstream students. Many attackers also reported that they had considered suicide. While there were some limitations and other variables to each attack, the results of this study were compelling enough to raise concern.
Children who bully are more likely to get into fights, steal, vandalize property, drink alcohol, smoke, be truant and drop out of school. Bullying behavior often leads to the engaging of later criminal behavior. It is not uncommon for bulling victims to become bullies themselves.
So what can we do as a community to combat bullying? It is important that we raise awareness, prevent and reduce bullying behaviors, identify appropriate interventions, and foster positive bully-free environments for our children.
StopBullyingNow.hrsa.gov is an excellent interactive Web site for both children and adults. The site includes animated comics, games and polls for children, and an extensive resource kit for adults. It also includes links to partner groups and activities.
As a community, we have the power to make the lives of our children bully free. Educating yourself, recognizing the act of bullying and noticing the emotional warning signs of possible victims is an excellent place to start awareness, resolve and reduce the occurrences of bullying in our communities.