Many consider bullying, intimidation on the schoolyard or in the community, or any behavior that belittles or is aggressive toward another person, to be a typical part of the growing-up process. Bullying, in any form, can be painful, humiliating, shaming, and sometimes dangerous for the one who is victimized.
However, it should never be brushed off as just “normal kid stuff.” In fact, Dr. Tim Clinton, the president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, emphasizes that bullying can have long-term psychological effects, severely damaging the emotional health of its victim.
According to the website www.stopbullying.gov, verbal bullying can include teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threats. Social bullying can comprise elements such as leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, or embarrassing someone in public. Likewise, physical bullying can include such things as hitting, kicking, pinching, shoving, tripping or spitting; it can also include taking or breaking someone’s things, or making mean or rude hand gestures.
Unfortunately, such behavior has been escalating in its concentration in recent years, becoming increasingly intensified through new modern delivery systems. Dr. Joshua Straub, an associate of Clinton, remarks that bullying often looks much different today than it looked a few decades ago, since the emergence of cyberbullying. This specific electronic form of intimidation is defined as willful and repeated harm afflicted to another using a home computer, smart phone, iPad, or any other electronic device or methodology.
Straub says that, with the sophistication of social networks, the shame tends to be felt much deeper, partially since cyberbullying can immediately reach a greater audience over a prolonged period of time and certain embarrassing and painful occurrences can resurface time and time again.
“Fists flying at the flagpole, in front of a small crowd after school, are now tactless words by even anonymous people our kids don’t even know,” Straub explains, “or they’re in the form of embarrassing pictures or videos posted for much larger crowds of peers across social media.” Yet, all aspects of bullying – in all of its darkest forms – are alike in that bullying “stems from an imbalance of power,” whether it be physical or verbal in nature, or if it is electronically distributed.
Research indicates that bullying occurs more often with boys, yet female bullying is nonetheless rampant in our culture. When girls are maltreated, they are more often vocally accosted through sexual comments, rumors or gossip.
Perhaps you recall a tragedy that took place in Morgantown, W.Va., just a few years ago that made national headlines. It was a gruesome story of a high school girl who had been the victim of cyber-bullying. The lurid account of what led to a horrific homicide are detailed in the New York Times best selling book, “Pretty Little Killers: The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese,” authored by Daleen Berry and Geoffrey C. Fuller. After being viciously harassed and taunted, the young girl was eventually murdered by two of her classmates. Yes, bullying can be not only emotionally agonizing, but extremely dangerous.
Parents and guardians should make an extra effort to keep the lines of communication open with their kids. It is also productive to help them learn practical strategies for staying safe, such as staying near trusted adults or in groups with other children. Children must know they can reach out to trusted adults or friends who will take a stand for them, or be willing to get immediate help when any form of intimidation takes place.
The editors at www.stopbullying.gov suggest that, when possible, kids should take part in extracurricular activities, interests, and hobbies, to give them a chance to have fun and meet others with the same interests; through such activities, they build confidence and friendships that help protect them from bullying.
It may sound corny or old-fashioned, but it is also essential that children and adolescents be encouraged to show kindness and to treat others as they would like to be treated. Training children to develop empathy – the ability to identify with another person, to try to understand how that person might feel or what he or she may be going through – should be a primary goal of all parents as their little ones grow, and should be reinforced in the classroom. Keep in mind that children also learn to be considerate of others from observing adults’ actions, through a psychological process called modeling: essentially, adults demonstrate through their own behavior that everyone deserves respect. So, ultimately, there is no place for bullying, in the home, at school, or elsewhere.
Keith Davis is a psychology major with a Christian Counseling emphasis, and minor in Family and Marriage Studies from Liberty University. He is a staff member at Logan Mingo Area Mental Health (LMAMH). He is also a longtime newspaperman with a love for southern West Virginia history.