Nov. 24, 2014 (San Diego) Why bullying? Why does it remain a problem in our society? These are important questions that can be hard to answer. This is especially the case with the first question. The second can be answered by partial acceptance. Bullying is “aggressive, unwanted, repeated behavior that is difficult to stop, inflicts physical and/or emotional harm, and involves an imbalance of power.”
In the past we used to believe that bullies were insecure and did what they did partly to feel better about themselves. Recent research has revealed that these are not the insecure children. Moreover, bullies tend to be the cool kids in school, who increase their social status by bullying other youngsters. While this might violate our traditional view, it also changes the dynamic in some ways.
This is not just a problem in the United States, but it is a worldwide phenomena. This has led to research across many borders and many cultures. What is also the case is that there are some people that still believe bullying will be good for victims, and it is just a rite of passage. If you ignore them, they will go away. This advise is still given, never mind that it is far from effective.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying. While 20 percent of U.S. students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying.” Moreover, 30 percent of those students admit to doing it. 71 percent have also witnessed it. So this is not something that happens the shadows. Nor is this something that we can pretend does not happen.
In recent years schools have implemented different policies to deal with it. Some of those policies are all but effective, while others do work. Zero tolerance policies are the most ineffective, according to UCLA psychologist Jaana Juvonen who is considered an expert in the field. Juvonen has carried research over the last decade onto the nature of bullying, and is responsible for turning the idea on its head that bullies are insecure.
Juvonen is critical of zero tolerance as an end to itself. In a recent report she writes: “”Band-Aid solutions, such as holding one assembly a year that discourages bullying, do not work. We are trying to figure out the right balance between comprehensive programs that are costly and require a lot of staff training versus programs that require fewer school resources.”
What would work?
According to Ron Banks there are several things that have to happen at the same time. The first is to raise awareness among parents. For many parents, even today, bullying is not that serious. To succeed such a program needs parental involvement and awareness. Without that awareness it will fail. This has to be an issue raised during parent teacher days, even if their children are not directly involved.
Students and teachers can develop rules on how to deal with bullying at the class level. They should be encouraged to do so. Some schools use role playing games to give tools to victims, bullies and witnesses on how to deal with bullying. Some teachers give bullies other outlets that are socially constructive and better for all concerned.
Finally “Other components of anti-bullying programs include individualized interventions with the bullies and victims, the implementation of cooperative learning activities to reduce social isolation, and increasing adult supervision at key times (e.g., recess or lunch). Schools that have implemented Olweus’s program have reported a 50 percent reduction in bullying.”
These are some ideas that schools can look at. They are time and personnel intensive and require deep teacher training and involvement. They do work though, and the payout is in students who are involved in school. This also gives all the tools needed to effectively change a culture that does encourage this.
Inn recent years a new component has been added to the whole dynamic. This is cyberspace and social media. Before the existence of this, students could go home and find some respite from the horrors of the school yard. Now it follows them to the online world. According to some schools this is outside of their field, since the harassment happens after school hours. Experts disagree.
“In previous research, Juvonen and her colleagues found that nearly three in four teenagers were bullied online at least once during a recent 12-month period, and only one in 10 reported such cyberbullying to parents or other adults. The probability of getting bullied online is substantially higher for those who have been the victims of school bullying. Victims of bullying do not want to attend school and often do not, Juvonen said.”
Youth suffer enough where their academic work suffers too. They fear going to school. According to Juvonen “Students who get bullied often have headaches, colds and other physical illnesses, as well as psychological problems.”
Juvonen has also found that “Students who have been cyberbullied at night often don’t come to school the next day, or they come late or are not focused,” she said. “There is a very strong association between what happens in cyberspace and what happens on the school grounds. Many of the same students who are bullied in school are also cyberbullied.”
Part of the solution is to implement school wide programs, but also to eliminate the isolation of youth at risk of bullying. Even having one friend will reduce the risks significantly. Adults also need to take the reports seriously, and encourage youth to report bullying. According to CDC “Only about 20 to 30 percent of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying.”
Partly students feel that adults will not do a thing, and will not intervene. In schools with only zero tolerance policies this is true, since there is a one size fits all solution. Schools who are more successful engage all, from the students themselves, to teachers and parents.
Why care? According to the CDC victims of bullies tend to have: Low self-esteem, difficulty in trusting others, lack of assertiveness, aggression, difficulty controlling anger, and Isolation. These are serious problems for adults who may become victims once again. There is also a risk that bullies will become criminals as adults.
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