Bullying: Not Just a Child’s Game

By Michael O Daly
Children torture each other at school

Bullying is an ongoing problem in our schools. (Photo by Thomas Ricker, http://www.flickr.com/photos/trixer/3531445744/)

You go to work every day, just to be humiliated by your coworkers with practical jokes.  A fraternity makes new members drink until they are sick to gain acceptance of the group.  Teens harass passers-by for their own entertainment.  Children pick on the kid with the good grades until they are afraid to even go to school.  Although these events happen spread over the course of life, they are all bullying.

According to bullyingstatistics.org, nearly a third of all middle and high school aged students have been bullied.  With the rise of Internet use, this bullying is no longer limited to face-to-face encounters, and invades the virtual lives they have established in places like Facebook and Xbox Live.  This pattern of violence goes unchecked by schools and unseen by parents, leading children to assume lifelong roles as victims and victimizers without consequence.  This is not just a problem of kids being kids, but also adults being kids.

Bullying can take on many forms.  Whether it is calling someone names, harassing them over the phone, posting rumors on Facebook, intimidating them into doing humiliating tasks or outright physical attacks, it is using force to affect another person.  The effect on the victim of a bully is dramatic; they can suffer from anxiety, depression, frequent illnesses and absences, insomnia, ulcers and high blood pressure.  In increasing numbers, children have been committing suicide due to the trauma suffered at the hands of bullies, and this is known as bullycide.  According to the Jason Foundation, an organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide, suicides have become the second most common cause of death in adolescents.  With frightening consequences like this, we need to do everything we can to recognize and stop bullying at all levels.

School bullying is most prevalent in middle school. An entire pack of bullies can systematically needle a victim and intimidate them into not telling parents or school authority. Even when they leave school they are not safe, as they can also be victimized by cyberbullies. According to troubledteen101.com, 42% of the fourth through eighth graders they interviewed reported being bullied online.

The best method of prevention is by establishing and enforcing policies and rules in the home and school that address bullying. Parents and school officials need to be watching for warning signs that bullying is happening such as a sudden drop in grades and attendance, withdrawal from group settings, depression, torn clothing, scrapes and bruises. When any of these signs are noticed you need to talk with the child, and establish a safe and open dialog. When it has been established that bullying is in fact going on, the rules need to be enforced without exception, because when a bully is shown that they can get away with their actions, it gives them even more power over their victims.

Even after grade school, bullying continues. On top of the bullying that they had to face in the past, college students will often take part in hazing rituals that put them at the mercy of other students as the price of admittance into groups and organizations. According to hazingprevention.org, 55% of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing. Alcohol is a common ingredient in these hazing practices, and this puts students at risk due to lowered inhibition to risky behavior, greater incidence of driving under the influence and death due to alcohol poisoning. This year Penn State developed a program to help educate the members of its fraternities and sororities about the dangers of hazing, as well as help them to develop alternative ways of inducting new members and forming bonds to last a lifetime without the physical risk and emotional scars that come with hazing.

When they are taught that intimidation and violence help them to get what they want, the schoolyard bullies of yesterday become the workplace bullies of tomorrow. By humiliating, excluding, ganging up on or ignoring the contributions of a fellow employee, they continue to exert their power over others in inappropriate ways. According to a 2007 survey by Zogby International, 37% of workers, or about 54 million people, have been bullied while at work. This is costly, not only to the person being bullied but also to the company that they work for. When bullying is part of the office culture, bullies spend unproductive work hours torturing their victims. Those being bullied are left unmotivated, often taking off more work than average and quitting sooner, forcing the company to train a new employee that will suffer in the same environment unless something is changed. Incidentally, prevention of workplace bullying is much the same as the prevention of schoolyard bullying; through the creation and enforcement of rules and diligence of those in charge to spot situations before they become a problem. By creating an open and safe dialog so that victims are not afraid to report problems, bullies will find the office an inhospitable place to take advantage of their coworkers.

While it is simple to just chalk bullying up to kids being kids and let it go, this complacent attitude is what lets the cycle continue throughout school and into adulthood. By consistently enforcing anti-bullying rules, and creating supportive environments where victims feel safe reporting incidents, we can prevent the physical and emotional pain that drive too many children to take their own lives.

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