By now, millions of people around the world have likely seen the heartbreaking video of 11-year-old Tennessee native Keaton Jones who delivered a tearful rebuke to his classmates who have regularly bullied him at school.
The brief clip captured by his mother while traveling in their car resulted in many celebrities from Hollywood to the nation’s sports field and courts offering support to Jones after his plea for an end to the daily torment, senseless ridicule and physical altercations. The video began with Jones asking his mother, “Just out of curiosity, why do they bully?” Jones described having milk poured on his head and being called ugly for the head scars left from a tumor operation. “They make fun of my nose,” Jones said. “They call me ugly. They say I have no friends.”
Children suffer greatly from bullying
Since then Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker has invited Jones and his family to the team’s Dec. 31 game in Nashville against Jacksonville. University of Tennessee wide receiver Tyler Byrd tweeted that he and his teammates plan to visit Keaton at school; Tyler’s teammate, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano shared a photo of himself visiting with Keaton, offering words of encouragement.
Other famous persons who were touched by Keaton’s video included Cleveland Cavalier’s star LeBron James, NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr., actor Chris Evans, rapper Snoop Dog and a number of other high-profile names who have encouraged the boy to remain focused and positive and to not let bullying ruin his self esteem.
Bullying is a terrible experience for any person, but the act hits especially hard on impressionable children. Bullying behaviors emerge in early childhood. The National Bullying Prevention Center NBPC) estimates that more than one in five children (20.8 percent) report being bullied over any given year Sixty-four percent of these children did not report bullying situations and more than half of these experiences are only ended when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied.
The reasons for being bullied are numerous, but the most common reason is because of perceived “looks” (55 percent), body shape (37 percent) and race (16 percent). The NBPC suggests that school-based bullying prevention programs can decrease the incidents by up to 25 percent.
Designed to harm self esteem
Regular bullying can take a serious toll on youngsters’ self esteem. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that students who experience regular bullying are at increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression. The research found that students who are both targets of bullying (and engage in the act) are at significantly greater risk for both mental health and behavior problems. As well, students who experience bullying are twice as likely as non-bullied peers to experience negative health effects such as headaches and stomachaches. Also, youth who “self-blame” or claimed that they deserved to be bullied are more likely to face negative outcomes, such as depression, prolonged victimization and maladjustment.
Cyberbulling has become an unfortunate byproduct of social media. Additional research conducted by the CDC found that 15.5 percent of high school students reported being cyberbullied; 20 percent of this digital activity reportedly takes place during the campus day. Twenty-four percent of middle school students surveyed reported being cyberbullied during school hours.
Students with disabilities are an unfortunate target for bullying. Less than a dozen U.S. studies have been conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities, but previous research has concluded that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.
Disabled children especially at risk
Researchers point out that students with disabilities were more worried about school safety and being injured or harassed by other peers compared with students without a disability. For instance, the National Autistic Society has reported that 40 percent of children with autism and 60 percent of children with Asperger’s syndrome have reported being bullied. What may be worse is that bullied children enrolled in special education are often told by others “not to tattle” about twice as often as those not in special education.
Bullying spans all racial, ethnic and sexual categories. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2016 that 24.7 percent of African American students, 17.2 percent of Latino students, and 9 percent of Asian students have reported being bullied at school. In what is identified as “biased-based” bullying, more than one third of adolescents report being bullied because of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Race-based bullying is significantly associated with negative emotional and physical health effects.
More bullying of LGBT students
With more adolescents identifying with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, a unique look at this issue was undertaken in 2014 by the National School Climate Survey. They found that 74.1 percent of LGBT students were verbally bullied (e.g. called names, threatened) in the past year because of their sexual orientation; 55.2 percent of these youngsters said they were bullied because of their gender expression.
A significant number (36.2 percent) of LGBT youth reported being physically bullied (pushed and shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation; 22.7 percent said it was because of their gender expression. Among these students, 55.5 percent said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
So many sad stories of youth suicide are directly correlated with bullying. While other mediating factors such as depression, violent behavior and substance abuse can be associated with either suicidal thoughts, attempts or youth deciding to take their lives, the CDC has reported that students who bully others, are bullied, or witness bullying are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than students who report no involvement in bullying. The CDC was careful to point out that youth suicide is not always the natural response to being bullied, and this false belief has the potential to normalize the response and thus create a “copycat” behavior among youth.
School yard is frequent place
Bullying can occur any place, any time and at any age. For children, however, the school yard is often the common location for what is believed to be harmless horseplay or teasing. One little girl grabs another’s hair and yanks her backwards off a swing. In the cafeteria, the so-called “mean kid” smacks down a smaller boy’s tray, spilling his food. In the classroom, a group of kids repeatedly taunt the youngest or newest kid in class for being “stupid.”
From the vantage point of adulthood, bullying is simply mean-spirited and pointless, but is traditionally considered a regular part of childhood. This is where concerned adults are sometimes confused or misunderstand what a bullied child is trying to convey because the behavior is repeated each day. The victim sometimes views the bully as someone with more power in the situation, especially if the perpetrator is older, bigger, stronger or has a “clique” of students who support his/her behavior. Realizing that the victim has no real power to stop the torment, the bully will continue his/her behavior which causes daily aggravation upon the victim.
‘An attempt to instill fear’
“Bullying is an attempt to instill fear and self loathing,” said Dr. Mark Dombeck of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. “Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.”
In terms of “when in life” bullying occurs, this tends to change as children age, according to a 2013 report from the Child Trends DataBank. They found that physical aggression starts out higher among students and decreases consistently, with 18 percent of children aged 2 to 5 years reporting some experience with physical aggression, but only 10 percent of teens aged 14 to 17 years reporting it. Cyberbullying, conversely, tends to start out slowly as less than 1 percent of children studied aged 6 to 9 years being victims of social media harassment. This scenario reportedly rises to 14 percent for those bullied youth 14 to 17 years old.
Researchers contend that is practically impossible to predict who will get bullied based on their age, sex, race, class, sexual orientation or national origin because none of these categories (nor any combination of traits) can guarantee that a child will or not be bullied. However, those who do get bullied may exhibit some common characteristics. Experts say these characteristics may include a personality that tends toward caution or shyness, introversion, low self-confidence, unhappiness and anxiety. Because bullies don’t frequently have a large support network of friends (or may not have any close friends at all) they will often take out their frustrations over a lack of friends by picking on someone whom they may consider “weak” or “undesirable” among their peers. For boys, especially, being smaller or weaker can create the optimal target for the bully.
Girls often bullied because of image
The same Child Trends report found that bullying tends to shift based on sex and race. While boys and girls are equally likely to face physical intimidation, girls may face a larger chance of relational bullying (teasing or emotional aggression) and cyberbullying. This may stem from the way a girl looks, dresses or acts and it can be especially harsh if the girl tends to be overweight, tall or short for her age, or, in some circumstances, if she “fits in” to a certain image often determined by mass media advertising.
All studies conducted on bullying point to the aggressor as being mean, confrontational, aggressive and most often spiteful. The bully uses manipulation to get their own way, and generally have a short fuse and exhibit impulsive behavior that often leads to violence. Although the bully may typically push other children around—including name-calling and physical aggression to accomplish their goals—they may also be aggressive toward adults such as parents and teachers. Often, the bully lacks the empathy that characterizes many of their peers, which may be because he/she is unable to feel for their victims.
Both the victim and perpetrator are harmed by bullying. The victim, obviously, will begin to feel emotionally withdrawn if the incidents occur daily. In cases where the child is already quiet, shy and self-contained, they may become even more so to the point where they have trouble interacting with peers. Regular exposure to hurt, humiliation and social isolation may cause them to sink into a deeper world of despair that has, in tragic cases, resulted in suicide.
Perpetrator also at risk
It is harder to feel sorry for the bully who is intentionally mean to their peers in order to watch them squirm or even cry. However, kids that bully others are just as at risk of short-term and long-lasting emotional problems as the children they victimize. Because the bully often has few true friends or confidants, he/she could be at greater risk for alcohol and drug abuse as adolescents, as well as engaging in gang activity or sexual behavior at a young age.
The observer is sometimes—and unfortunately—discounted in a bullying situation.. Experts say this is misguided thinking because the bystander can play a crucial role in stopping this behavior. Another study, this one conducted by ReachOut.org, suggested that since bullying tends to take place where lots of people are around that means that the perpetrator seeks an audience to validate his/her behavior. They want attention. When bystanders do nothing, they are actively making a choice: to either ignore it, pretend it has nothing to do with them, or sometimes even watch with enjoyment. No matter what the case, observing without intervening is harmful, and not just to the victim or bully. It is harmful to bystanders—especially children—because inaction will lead to the belief that there is nothing that can be done and that they, themselves, may be the next victim.