"Studies show that most bullies do not engage in belittling or violent behavior in order to hide a lack of self-esteem. In most cases, the bully is confident and possess high self-esteem….he has a need to dominate others…" (Marr, 2003, p. 1)
Bullying has become a serious problem in schools, more serious than in the past because children can now bully over the Internet in addition to the bullying they can do at school. There are tools parents and teachers can use to teach children how to avoid a bully, and even how to fight back if needed. The problem will likely never go away completely because there will always be children who misbehave in a belligerent way. But public awareness is an important step to take, and a second important step is to have parents work with their kids on how do deal with bullying, if they have to confront a situation like that.
What is bullying? Finessa Ferrell-Smith writes in the National Conference of State Legislators' "Issues & Research" section that there is no universal definition of bullying but there are certain patterns that can be observed. Ferrell-Smith writes that bullying includes "…harassment, intimidation to varying degrees, taunting and ridicule" (Ferrell-Smith, 2009, p. 1). What motivates bullies? Ferrell-Smith explains that bullies are motivated by "hate and bias"; sometimes the bullying is done because of "cultural norms, peer pressure or the desire to retaliate" (p. 1). In some cases bullying is a purely gender-based act -- boys bully girls -- and in other cases it is because certain kids are "weaker, smaller, funny looking or dumb," Ferrell-Smith continues, quoting from kids who were asked to identify bully's targets.
Not much is heard with reference to female bullying, but Ferrell-Smith explains that girls who bully quite often do it through non-physical acts like "teasing and spreading rumors" (p.1). The author explains that the research shows three types of bullying by female adolescents. They are "relational, indirect and social" (p. 1). The relational type includes damaging or threatening to damage a friendship or a relationship; using "negative body language of facial expressions"; and ignoring a person or getting in that person's way (p. 1).
The indirect aggression allows the perpetrator to avoid a confrontation face-to-face and makes it seem like there was no actual intent to hurt someone; Ferrell-Smith writes that in this case the bully "uses others to inflict pain by spreading rumors" (p. 1). The social aggression linked to female bullying can be an attack on the "recipient's self-esteem or social status within a group by rumor spreading or social exclusion" (p. 2).
The National School Safety Center has identified myriad forms of bullying, and Ferrell-Smith published them in bullet points on page 2 of her article. Direct / physical bullying: "punching, poking, strangling, suffocating, pinching, shoving, hitting, biting, spitting, hair pulling, finger bending, ganging up or cornering, stabbing, excessive tickling, burning, poisoning, theft and shooting" (Ferrell-Smith, p. 2). Some of those kinds of bullying are more like felonious acts, rather than schoolyard bullying, but technically they fit in the genre.
Verbal bullying includes: "name-calling, put-downs, insults or verbal threats, cruel jokes, or demands for money, property, or servitude" (Ferrell-Smith, p. 2). There is also emotional bullying, and a few of those will be mentioned here: "terrorizing, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing…manipulating friendships, playing mean or embarrassing tricks, peer pressure…hateful graffiti, hateful looks…ostracizing on the basis of social status" (Ferrell-Smith, p. 2).
Sexual bullying is defined as: "exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning…and abuse involving actual touching, physical contact or sexual assault" (Ferrell-Smith, p. 2). Finally, The National School Safety Center lists hate-motivated bullying: this is often based on race ("taunting about race"), it certainly involves bias against religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities -- and "can legally constitute a hate crime" (Ferrell-Smith, p. 2).
Bullying Can Cause Depression and Anti-Social Behaviors
Meanwhile, an article in ScienceDaily (2003) goes into the impacts that bullying has on young school children. The article explains that when young children are bullied at school they have after effects that are more serious in terms of their emotional maturation. In fact when young kindergarten students are "verbally and physically abused" by their peers in school they "show signs of antisocial and depressive behavior," the article points out, referencing Dr. James Synder of Wichita State University as the source of the information on bullying.
Boys are more likely to become antisocial and depressed than girls, Synder goes on; indeed, when a boy is harassed and bullied at a young age, that may lead to the "increased likelihood of being "victimized" by his peers over the long run, according to Snyder's research. How bad is it on playgrounds in terms of bullying? Snyder's research team observed 226 elementary school students interacting on the playground "on multiple occasions" from the beginning of kindergarten to the end of first grade. The researches noted every incidence of "aggression and victimization," the Science Daily article explains.
The bottom line for this research was that children were targets of "peer physical or verbal harassment about once every three to six minutes," according to Snyder. Part of the research survey included getting information from parents regarding the children who were bullied most often; parents reported "tantrums, arguing, and bullying" from those who had themselves been bullied. The salient point of this article is that besides the immediate discomfort and embarrassment inflicted on those being bullied, there are residual negative ramifications, including depression and antisocial behaviors.
One Specific Bullying Story -- Billy Wolfe
The story of Billy Wolfe -- told on the Website www.mybully.org -- is a sad story but bears relating because of the fact that many children are bullied the way Billy was. The story takes place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and begins at a corner where the school bus stops to pick up and drop off kids. A car pulls up, one boy gets out and hits Billy, while the other boy records the bullying act on a cell phone camera. Later at school the bully shows the video off to his friends and gets a round of laughter.
This was just one incident Billy endured, and his parents fought back but it seems every time they tried to stop the attacks other kids got into the mix. For example, one day a boy called and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a "sex toy" (Barry, 2008, p. 1). Billy's mom was understandably offended and upset, so she called the boy's mom who had made the call to Billy. When Billy got to school the next day the boy who had called him about the sex toy showed Billy a list "with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up" (Barry, p. 1). This harassment went on, and continued into Billy's experience at a junior high school. A boy in wood shop class spread a vicious rumor to a larger boy, telling the bigger boy that Billy had said meant things about the bigger boy's mother. Obviously not too smart, and lacking civility, the bigger boy sucker-punched Billy on the left check, knocking him unconscious.
Billy's mother took Billy to the dentist, who sewed up the inside of Billy's cheek, but a school official did not call the police and instead said "…it looked like Billy got what he deserved" (Barry, p. 2). In 9th grade the bullying continued; some boys started a Facebook page called "Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe"; Billy's face was altered via PhotoShop to look like he was Peter Pan. The copy under the photo called Billy "a little bitch…and a homosexual that NO ONE Likes" (Barry, p. 2). All this information leads up to the question, what have these bullying incidents done to Billy?
As a kind of verification of the research that Dr. Snyder conducted in the Science Daily article referenced earlier in this paper. Indeed, Billy is "easily distracted, occasionally disruptive, even disrespectful… [and] has received a few suspensions for misbehavior, although none for bullying" (Barry, p. 2). The author concludes the article by pointing out that Billy's parents got an attorney and filed a lawsuit against one of the bullies who had attacked Billy. The attorney argued that Billy "…deserves to open his American history textbook and not fine anti-Billy sentiments scrawled across the pages." What did Billy do? Used white-out on the words.
What Can Be Done To Prevent -- or Deter -- Bullying?
Bullying can happen anywhere, in urban schools, rural schools, and in suburban schools. An article on the Website Kid Power (www.kidpower.org) points out ways that children who are being bullied can fight back, protect themselves, and ideally they can "prevent, avoid, leave, or de-escalate problems before they become physical" (p. 1). Families can arrange for their children to attend workshops -- "Full Force Worships" -- and be "empowered" with a "full range of skills they deserve in order to escape emergency situations as quickly as possible" (kidpower, p. 1).