Bullying: A Power Play That Hurts




I moved in middle school.  Some girls started to bully me online.  They called me a ‘monster.’  All my friends turned against me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had to make all new friends.—Haley, 17

Haley’s story is a common one.  The girl who bullied her in middle school was considered the “queen.”  She was the leader and had the power to call the shots.  Because all of Haley’s friends wanted the “queen” to like them, they were willing to throw Haley under the bus to save themselves and avoid being the bully’s next victim.

There are a lot of myths out there about bullying.  Perhaps the most popular is that online bullying far surpasses face-to-face bullying at school, on the athletic field, in the neighborhood.

Truth:  Face-to-face bullying affects more kids than bullying online.  Somewhere between 18 to 31% of students are affected by bullying in school.  Cyber bullying victimizes between 17 to 15% of students.  These estimates are even higher for some groups like LGBTQ teens and teens with disabilities.

So, what other myths are out there about bullying?

Myth:  Most kids who bully are poor students, aren’t good at sports, and/or come from dysfunctional homes.

FACT:  Many bullies are the smart kids, the popular ones, the athletes, who have power.
“They can pick out the kids that no one is going to rescue. The kids who bully are generally liked by adults. They know how to turn charm on and off. It is social suicide to go against this kind of bully for fear that, if you do, you might be the next victim.” — Dorothy Espelage, professor of psychology, University of Florida

MYTH:  Bullying causes suicide.

FACT:  We don’t know if bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior. We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do NOT think about/attempt/complete suicide.

MYTH: There is nothing kids can do to stop bullying.

FACT: Wrong. Anti-bullying programs in schools can be effective. Kids need to help create an environment in which bullying in not tolerated and know what to say or do, if they witness bullying or being bullied.

Myth:  Bullying has no long-lasting effects.

FACT: Children and teens who are bullied have a greater risk of low self-esteem, poor grades, depression, and an increased risk of suicide. They are often less engaged in school, and their grades and test scores decline. As adults, victims of childhood bullying suffer more than others from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.



Ways to Stop/React to Bullying

• Positive psychology: We don’t always have control over what happens to us, but we can control what we think of ourselves and how we respond. Translation: If you are bullied, you can take revenge, curl up in a ball, or live by the old adage: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” You can feel empathy for the bully and try to understand what’s going on in his life that makes him want to take out his anger/frustration/abuse on someone else. I get it: this is a lot easier than it sounds, right? But it is possible. It takes practice, a kind of reverse kindness, and, again, those supportive friends.

• Respond to hurtful situations. This is another tactic that dovetails into positive psychology. If you can do it, calmly tell the bully to stop. And if you think that’s a waste of your time and won’t work, then hold your head high and walk away.

• Kindness: When it comes down to it, the most successful anti-bullying programs focus on that old adage “Treat others how you would like to be treated.” Sure. Sure. It sounds kinda obvious. But to tell the truth, given all the reasons you and your peers want to climb up or stay at the top of the social ladder—the lure of social media and the anonymity it affords—it’s not as easy as it sounds. What does kindness really mean? Civility? Speaking up? Taking action? Putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes?”

• In their book Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral, authors Justin Patching and Sameer Hinduja suggest a host of strategies for “deleting” cyberbullying—strategies that apply to face-to-face bullying too. It’s important, they write, to realize that cyberbullying (bullying) affects everyone, no matter who’s being targeted. The authors suggest that you may want to be a mentor and to relay to another student who’s being bullied, among other messages, that he is not alone in feeling the pain and loneliness it can cause. Check out Words Wound online or in your local library or bookstore. It’s a good read with lots of good suggestions.

Other resources you may want to check out: Steps to Respect (www.cfchildren.org/bullying-prevention); and Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/olweus_scope.page).”

Excerpt From: Jane Mersky Leder. Dead Serious: Breaking The Cycle of Teen Suicide

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