“Not Me or My Child” some will exclaim. Unfortunately we are all responsible. To understand Bullying and our responsibility we need to understand why children bully. A recent article mentioned that children who are as young as five years old are bullying their peers. The article is titled the Mean Girls. To change this bullying trend we must face it honestly and use well-known strategies to make sure that children feel safe.
Why Do Students Bully?
What do students bully? To gain power, to get attention, to get material things, to act out problems and to copy other bullies, are some of the reasons. However we are now understanding the connection between the images and behavior that children see in their daily lives to bullying. For children the images on television are reality. The news and reality television have images of adults “acting badly”. These images influence behavior. However, many bullies are abused at home by parents and siblings. In addition, many children have not had any guidance in the area of social skills. Some bullies have parents who are clueless and do not focus on appropriate behavior. These parents sometimes defend bad behavior. There are parents who are themselves bullies.
Lack of Empathy
Some bullies do not care if bad things happen to others and they lack empathy. These children want their way and use bullying to attain power over others. They pick on students who are smaller, students who don’t have many friends, students who are different, students who are disabled. If they think that they can get away with it, they will pick on almost anybody. As adults we often think of physical aggression when we think of bullying; however, social alienation, verbal aggression and intimidation are also some of the types of bullying. The Ophelia Project website is devoted to relational aggression. Relational aggression is covert and refers to bullying that focuses on destroying relationships and reputations.
The Victims feel alone, sad, scared and anxious. They begin to resent school and sometimes develop school anxiety which can lead to school refusal. They can also develop physical symptoms (headaches and stomaches) that affect attendance and school achievement. Victims often become bullies themselves as a defense tactic. Too often the pain of the victimization results in suicide.
We can Intervene
To address the problem of bullying we need to have a conversation with children that assesses their feelings in regard to safety. Have they been bullied or acted as a bully? Have they witnessed the bullying of others? Have adults intervened to help? Do they feel adults will protect them? Do they feel safe at school? We also need to give them tools to deal with the problem. We can be very clear about our anti-bullying message. Children can be encouraged to reach out and include the isolated students. They can also be encouraged to speak up and get adult help. We can tell them to group together so that they feel safe. We must discuss these tools at home, at school, at church and in our communities. We must also watch our actions and our words. In the end is it our responsibility as the adults, to make this a kinder, gentler and safer environment for our children.