A decade together against bullying — and united for kindness, acceptance and inclusion.” — Pacer.org.
When Pacer, an advocacy organization for children, began their campaign to raise awareness about bullying in 2006, bullying was viewed as a “rite of passage” or something that “made kids tougher.” One in four students are bullies, and over time it has become clear that bullying is a complex issue that can cause serious emotional and mental damage.
Bullying has been defined as:
- Behavior that hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally
- An inability for the target to stop the behavior and defend themselves
- An imbalance of power that occurs when the student doing the bullying has more physical, emotional or social power than the target
- Repetitive behavior; however, bullying can occur in a single incident if that incident is either very severe or arises from a pattern of behavior.
Each state has its own definition of bullying, and the State of Minnesota defines it as intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct. Bullying based on the following characteristics can be considered a civil rights violation in Minnesota:
- National origin
- Immigration status
- Marital status
- Familial status
- Socioeconomic status
- Physical appearance
- Sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression
- Academic status related to student performance
- Disability, or status with regard to public assistance
Children who are perceived as different, weak, depressed, anxious, or as less popular can be at risk for bullying. Growing up in a household where the adults demonstrate power and aggression by yelling, hitting and rejection, and having siblings and friends who bully, may lead to the development of bullying behaviors.
Some kids alternate between bully and victim. Bullying can take many forms; physical, verbal, emotional, mental and cyber bullying are the most common types.
There are a number of negative long-term effects that bullying has on the victim as well as the bully. Some of the common effects of bullying on the victim can be mental as well as physical for the child or youth who is bullied. Some of the mental or emotional consequences include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, aggressive behaviors, loneliness, isolation, withdrawal, and even thoughts of suicide.
There is a strong relationship between bullying and suicide, and victims are up to nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Girls that have been bullied have the highest risk for suicide. Many of the school shooters had reported being bullied by peers. Some of the health consequences of bullying are sleep disturbance, low appetite, headaches, stomachaches and backaches.
There are also effects on the children or youth who bully that require intervention and prevention. They not only have problems with peer relationships, but are also at risk for dropping out of school, abuse of drugs and alcohol, engaging in sexual activity at a young age, aggression, delinquency and gang involvement.
These aggressive behaviors can follow the bully into adulthood, and they are more likely to be abusive to those close to them like their spouse and children. A study at the University of Iowa found that bullies have a five times greater chance of having criminal and correctional involvement during adulthood.
There can be significant social consequences for bullies because they are often seen as difficult, and people tend to reject or avoid them. Some transition to workplace bullies during their adult years. Over 50 million adults report that they have experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Is my child being bullied?
If your child tells you about a situation and you aren’t sure if it’s bullying, use this checklist:
- Does your child feel hurt, either emotionally or physically, by the other child’s behavior?
- Has your child been the target of the negative behavior more than once?
- Does your child want the behavior to stop?
- Is your child unable to make the behavior stop on their own?
If the response to one or more of the above questions is “yes,” it is likely that the behavior would be considered bullying. Have an open dialogue with your children about bullying, and offer them your unconditional support.
Speak with your children’s teachers and principal; schools that receive federal funds are required to have bullying policies to protect youth. Estimates are that approximately one third of school-aged children experience bullying.
There are many educational resources where you can learn more about bullying and bullies.
- On Instagram: @stopbullyinggov
- Twitter: #bullying365
- Internet: Nobullying.org, Pacer.org and www.Stopbullying.gov
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.