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Bullying can ruin children’s lives

Sensational stories of students being bullied, causing physical and mental illness or even death, by their own hands or others’, have sadly become too common. Television viewers are becoming desensitized to dangers lurking around school yards or computer desks.

It is heartbreaking to see children’s lives ruined by the behavior of other kids, whose parents and teachers seem not to care.

When we were kids, bullying was confined to a classroom or school yard. Nowadays, bullying is worldwide, and has intensified in meanness and manipulation.

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I was shocked to see how many TV programs have to do with bullying—mean girls, liars, real housewives, and what have you!

Fat, thin, short, tall, ugly, too pretty, quiet, braces, wrong clothes, wrong accent, gay, nerdy, dumb, poor, too rich. No one is safe from bullying.

Forms of bullying

Bullying comes in many forms—name-calling, teasing, threats, shunning, social exclusion, spreading malicious gossip, withdrawal of friendship, etc. Bullying tends to peak in middle school and early high school, when peers become more and more important for the adolescents, who turn to peers to establish their identity, and for assurance and comfort.

Children who bully need to feel powerful and in control; they seek attention and equate fear with respect. Bullies get satisfaction from inflicting pain or hurting others, showing little sympathy or empathy for others because they hold a positive view of aggression. Emotionally immature, they have trouble following rules. They are actually wimps who lack social skills.

Not too long ago, bullying was thought to be mostly a boy problem. Nowadays, it has become a serious girl issue. Female bullying is more relational than physical—hence more insidious. Female bullies use nasty words, dismissive glances, and involve starting or spreading rumors and gossip. They send intimidating notes, threatening the victims with social exclusion.

Girls play mean games—manipulating friendships or ganging up on someone. They use more sophisticated forms of bullying—usually stemming from jealousy. Interestingly, some bullies are, in fact, physically weaker than their victims.

Witnessing bullying

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Statistics show that three out of 10 students are either bullies or victims of bullying. How about the other 70 percent? They could be:

“Followers or henchmen” who take active part in, though they do not start, the bullying. Or they are “passive bullies” who support bullying but do not participate. How many of these passive bullies do we harbor in school?

“Possible bullies” like bullying but do not display open support while “disengaged onlookers” watch what happens.

“Possible defenders” dislike bullying and “defenders of the victim” not only dislike bullying but would be courageous enough to help or try to help a victim. We hope we have more of these two types in school.

Cyber-bullying

The Internet has opened up a world for users who might just want to be malicious.

Cyber-bullying is so much more deceiving. Often the victims do not know who the bully is or why they are being bullied. The bully can disguise his/her identity behind anonymous addresses or pseudonyms. Cyber bullies may be direct or use a proxy to do the bullying for them.

Online bullying happens with just a few strokes and a click on the mouse. Hurtful actions can go viral, giving the impression that “everyone knows about it!” hence more devastating for the victim.

Psychologically, it is easier to be hateful using typed words than spoken words face-to-face. It is easier to be cruel from a physically distant location, not having to see the immediate response.

Detecting cyber-bullying

Cyber-bullying is difficult to detect but there are some clues. A cyber-bullying victim may unexpectedly stop using his/her computer or cell phone, or may appear nervous when the cell phone rings or angry or depressed after using the computer.

A cyber-bully may quickly switch screens when you pass by, or avoids any discussion. Oftentimes a bully uses multiple online accounts.

When a child suddenly becomes withdrawn, it is time for parents and teachers to find out why.

Parents’ support

Parents should provide a haven where kids can feel safe to go when things go wrong online and offline. This is not usually the case because parents either over- or underreact.

They overreact by calling the other parents, attacking the school, blaming the victim, or removing the child’s Internet account. Some parents, on the other hand, underreact, showing indifference to what is going on, leaving the kids feeling misunderstood.

It is important to let the school know the problem so the teacher or guidance counselor can keep an eye on the bully and the victim. If necessary, show proof to support your concerns and work with the school to address the problem before it gets more serious.

School responsibility

Many schools turn a blind eye to cyber-bullying. A provision should be added to the school policy reserving the right to discipline a student for his/her behavior off-campus that affects another student’s well-being and safety. Parents and students should be required to sign this agreement.

Schools should also teach cyber ethics in values education class. There should be consequences for bullying—whether online or offline. Cases of bullying should be addressed and resolved immediately, bravely and wisely.

Students who are assured of a positive and safe environment, with clear policies and strict enforcement—on and off campus—are less likely to harm others.

And, yes, your school could use some help from professional educational psychologists.

E-mail author at grace@koo.org.

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TAGS: bullying, Children, Education, Schools
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