We’ve seen the statistics, and they are troubling. We’ve seen the participants, and they are younger each generation. We’ve seen the results, and they are often tragic.
School bullying has become a national topic of concern as children and youth from kindergarten through college are navigating a much tougher and frustrating school day than ever before. With October serving as National Bullying Prevention Month, more information is being disseminated to help persons to understand, prevent and to counter bullying. The campaign has swept past the school yard into the halls of Congress as parents, educators, legislators and law enforcement are taking on this so-called youthful “right of passage” that has gotten far out of control.
The federal government began its push in 2010 to identify and circumvent the schoolyard bully who has traditionally tormented the other kids with varied methods including lunch money “shakedowns,” making fun of appearance, deriding a physical handicap, or just being an “outsider.” Racial and ethnic slurs on campus, still common among some students, today have taken a back seat to hurtful insults hurled at those who may look, sound or act differently. There is also a specific byproduct of the digital age, “cyber bullying,” which typically involves texting that is considered offensive and/or intimidating, as well as the online distribution of sexually explicit images generally meant to be shared between two people (i.e. boyfriend and girlfriend).
Children have embraced the immediate gratification of the digital or “cyber” age. New technology, however, is always a few steps ahead of our basic understanding and application. Since “tweens” and teens tend to break up frequently, one party may seek revenge in the form of releasing to the public nude and/or sexually explicit images. The image is now on permanent public display. This scenario is among the more pronounced aspects of “cyber bullying.” Shaming, betrayal, threatening, misrepresentation and just plain lying are all part of today’s “cyber-teen” equation.
The Antelope Valley Union High School District (AVUHSD), the Palmdale Unified School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District have each taken direct aim at identifying and stopping the schoolyard bully before their actions result in tragedy. Lancaster in 2012 had two teen suicides which, according to their classmates, resulted from bullying.
A little boy at Lincoln Elementary School in Lancaster was bullied so much that year that he didn’t want to go to school in fear of landing time and time again in the nurse’s office for bruises and bleeding.
A 13-year-old Palmdale boy last year couldn’t withstand the daily bullying and shot himself in the head after leaving a suicide note explaining his desperation to escape ceaseless torment.
A junior varsity football player at Vasquez High School in Acton in 2008 was constantly poked and teased and one day walked into the boy’s restroom and put a pistol to his head. He was just 14.
Educators take proactive stance
Palmdale’s Child and Family Guidance Center last week took the anti-bullying campaign directly to parents and children with a Bullying Prevention Workshop at Palmdale City Library. In serving as the largest provider of mental health services in the Antelope Valley, the family guidance center operates a a school-based anti-bullying program at Desert Pathways High School. They are extending their message so that more people can become aware of the problem and to obtain solutions that may prevent one child from becoming a perpetrator and the next a victim of bullying. Throughout all Antelope Valley secondary schools, administrators and school psychologists; supervisors and administration personnel are being trained daily on how to address bullying and how to de-escalate potentially volatile situations.
“Our program covers the physical and emotional harassment, as well as cyber-bullying,” said Library Director Thomas Vose. “We provide an opportunity to find out what you can do to recognize and prevent bullying in your family or your life.”
The California legislature in 2012 passed AB 9 or “Seth’s Law,” named after a 13-year-old Tehachapi boy who killed himself after years of anti-gay bullying at school. It strengthens existing state law to help protect students from bullying. The law focuses on protecting students who are bullied based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, as well as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability and religion. It was named after a 13-year-old California student who in 2010 committed suicide after years of anti-gay bullying that his school failed to address. Seth’s Law says: “If school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying, he/she shall take immediate steps to intervene when safe to do so.” Also, Seth’s Law adopts a process for receiving/investigating complaints of bullying, including a requirement that school personnel intervene if they witness a bullying episode.
AB 746 was also signed into law in 2012 to help more easily define and identify bullying. It states: “Bullying, including cyber bullying, is grounds for suspension or expulsion.” The law further defines bullying as “one or more acts of sexual harassment, hate violence, or intentional harassment, threats, or intimidation, directed against school district personnel or pupils, committed by a pupil or group of pupils.”
Shadow Hills Intermediate School in Palmdale instituted in 2012 a mandatory contract that all students and parents/guardians must sign. In part, students pledge to: “…realize the importance of resolving issues in a friendly manner,” “encourage my friends not to bully others” and to “not have negative physical confrontations with my fellow students.”
A report released last year by the AVUHSD found that about 400 students at Antelope Valley High will be cyber bullied in any given semester. School administrators have come up with a unique program, “uKnowKids,” to combat cyber bullying at home as well as at school. They offer four tips: (1) Encourage kids to tell a parent, teacher or school counselor if cyber bullying is occurring; (2) tell kids if they become cyber bullying victims that they will not be punished, and reassure them that being cyber bullied is not their fault; (3) have children keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring, and (4) have parents contact the school administration and police any time threatening or sexually explicit messages are sent to their children.
Going further, a group of educators in Lancaster produced in 2012 “Lancaster, CA: A City Unites to End School Bullying” which has been shown at campuses. The film features high school students mentoring younger students about how to prevent and respond to bullying.
Respect via intimidation
All of these measures have been put into place here and worldwide because of bullying. The schoolyard bully, traditionally, has been the least liked classmate. They know that, and proceed to command respect via intimidation and fear. Medicine.net, a health and wellness website, revealed last year that almost 30 percent of students from grades six through 10 have either been a bully or the victim of bullying. Up to 75 percent of those persons surveyed said that they had been cyber bullied. But it’s not just kids. More than 40 percent of American workers reported that they have bullied in the workplace.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2013 identified several different categories of bullying, noting that some aspects may overlap. “Pack” bullying, undertaken by a group, is more prominent in high school and includes physical encounters, emotional taunts and can be perpetrated both in person and within cyberspace. From an interpersonal standpoint, this form of bullying takes place in schoolyards, hallways, in sports (on the field, in the gymnasium and in the locker room), in classrooms and often on the school bus. Individual or “one-on-one” bullying takes place either in person or on-line where physical altercations or emotional taunts are frequent. This type of bullying occurs most frequently in grade school.
Physical bullying is exactly what it was 50 years ago…except that physical retaliation is now forbidden because of “zero tolerance” measures instituted to combat campus violence. Modern bullying involves the familiar pushing, shoving, hitting, fighting, spitting, tripping, etc. These threats of physical harm, according to the NCES, are meant to make the other party act in a way they would prefer not to. One party is deliberately provoking a fight. Emotional bullying involves insults, derogatory remarks, name calling and teasing. This time insults can make the other kid lose his/her temper. Then there are attempts by the bully(s) to ostracize the victim—being left out or ignored—which is sometimes referred to as social bullying. The aforementioned cyber bullying takes place on-line via email, chat rooms, social networking sites, text messages, website postings, blogs or a combination of means. These are anonymous attacks on the victim’s character usually in the form of gossip or outright lies. Unwanted contact, also known as harassment, is another form of cyber bullying.
The bully has specific targets. Homophobic bullying is sometimes distinguished because it has a specific target area. A 2012 study called “Dynamic of Self-Acceptance and Defense” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology stated that homophobia is more prevalent in people who have an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who openly criticized the LGBT community and culture.
“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Netta Weinstein, Ph.D., from the University of Essex and the study’s lead author. Richard Ryan, Ph.D. and co-author of the study stated, “In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward.”
Victims often considered ‘different’
Bullying of students with disabilities is another type of anti-social action with a focused target population. Racist and religious bullying also fall into this category. The NCES report also revealed that middle school students are the prime age group involved in bullying whether they be perpetrator or victim. Sixth-graders, the report found, are the most likely to be bullied and possibly sustain an injury. Victims often display a range of responses, among them: low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, lack of assertiveness, aggression, difficulty in controlling anger, and isolation. Stopbullying.gov, a federal resource, said that the typical child that is bullied is perceived by the perpetrator as being weak or unable to defend themselves, are less popular than others and have few friends, are either over- or underweight, wear glasses, are new to a school and cannot, as the bully sees it, afford the “right” personal items (sneakers, purse, electronic gadget, etc.) that other kids consider “cool.”
Medicine.net also reports that bullies have been found to have rather high self esteem and tend to be social climbers. They form “cliques” or “posse.” Bystanders of bullying tend to succumb to what they believe is peer pressure to support bullying behavior. Bystanders want to “fit in” and also fear becoming a victim. Kids use bullying, according to Medicine.net, primarily to replace the social skills they were supposed to have developed in grade school, middle school and early years of high school. As children go through their developmental stages, they should be finding ways of working problems out and getting along with other people. This includes how to read social situations, how to make friends and how to understand their social environment.
The bully does not have to learn problem solving skills because he/she simply threatens the other kids. They don’t have to learn how to work things out because they just push their classmates or call them names. They don’t have to learn how to get along with other people—they just control them. Because the bully has learned to solve problems through brute force and intimidation, by the time the child reaches 10 or 11 years of age, bullying is well ingrained into their thought processes. It has become their natural response to any situation where they may feel socially awkward, insecure, frightened, bored or embarrassed. The bully tends to be well connected to their peers, have social power and are overly concerned about their popularity. Also, the bully is generally aggressive and easily frustrated, has less parental involvement in their lives, has difficulty following rules, are attracted to violence, and have friends who are also bullies.
No specific child exempt
School Psychology Quarterly reported last month that non-native English speakers are not bullied more often than native English speakers, and that bullying increases as students transition from elementary to middle school. This runs counter to some previous studies that have suggested that students for whom English was a second language were more likely to be bullied. The article also revealed that bullying victimization and perpetration tends to decrease over time due to variables such as gender and grade level. Girls are most likely to experience verbal and relational cyber victimization from other girls, while boys were more often physically victimized.
“School-based interventions need to address the differences in perpetrator and victim experiences,” said Cixin Wang, Ph.D., and an assistant professor of psychology at U.C. Riverside. “The key is to use individualized specific interventions for bullying, not a one-size-fits-all approach.”
There is no specific race or ethnic group that is more susceptible to bullying than another group. However, the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing reported in March that African American children may be subjected to additional bullying because of other “complicating” factors, among them poverty, single-parent households, gang peer pressure and some health concerns such as obesity. The article said Black children are more likely to be involved in bullying by other Black kids (as aggressor, victim or bystander) than other groups. As well, Stopbullying.gov included findings in the article which said Black and Hispanic children who are bullied are more likely to do poorly in school than their White counterparts.
“Kids who bully others are more likely to be violent, vandalize property, drop out of school, and have sex early,” according to Stopbullying.gov. “As adults, they are more likely to have criminal convictions, and hit romantic partners. Warning signs include aggression, difficulty accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, and a competitive spirit that is concerned with reputation or popularity.”
This month, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched a program to raise awareness about bullying and discrimination against LGBT students, and also to educate coaches and school athletics personnel to spot signs of discrimination in their young charges. “Blow the Whistle Against Hate” is part of the district’s “OUT for Safe Schools” teacher training initiative.
“It’s important to show everybody that we are building communities that are safe,” said board member Monica Garcia. “There will be training for all coaches throughout all athletics to prevent bullying against the LGBT community. We are stepping up for all young people.”