Many things are part of growing up, but bullying doesn't have to be one of them. However, for some youth, bullying is a troubling reality. A form of youth violence, many young people fall victim to it - or are bullies themselves.
Bullying is a serious problem that can have repercussions well into the future. Young people who are bullied often develop low self-esteem, depression or other anti-social behaviors, or they do poorly in their classes. In some cases, the victims may eventually drop out of school.
Bullies, themselves, may have poor social adjustment skills. They're two to three times more likely to be convicted of crimes and placed in jail. They're more likely to drink, use drugs and have mental health problems.
Bullying often has its roots in the home. Parents may have been bullies themselves in their youth, so they may not recognize how this behavior impacts others. They adopt the attitude that "kids will be kids" an attitude that discounts any feelings of empathy for the victim.
Bullies can also be the product of an abusive home environment. If the child constantly witnesses a parent being aggressive toward the other parent or toward the children in the household, he or she may assume this is an acceptable way to deal with other people.
Bullying can come in a range of forms: physical, verbal and psychological. Physical involves kicking, pushing or beating. Verbal consists of name-calling, taunts, teasing and threats. Spreading rumors about someone or trying to sabotage relationships are frequent techniques found in psychological bullying. Though either sex can carry out all forms, males are responsible for the majority of physical bullying, while females often use psychological methods. Both sexes can engage in verbal bullying.
Two common approaches to combating the problem ignoring the bully or fighting back are not necessarily the best solutions. Both methods often cause further victimization. Another method is to advise the young person to try to avoid the situation. However, that can be challenging because occasionally students will find themselves alone.
There is no one simple answer. Just as bullying affects everyone, it takes a combined effort between educators, parents and students to correct the problem.
Young people who are the victims of bullies may be reluctant to tell anyone. They may be embarrassed or afraid of retaliation. They may think no one will believe them. Sometimes they try to deal with the situation on their own, hoping they will eventually "fit in." Parents and educators need to create an atmosphere in which the students feel comfortable discussing their problems. Starting a discussion with a general question such as, "Does anyone ever pick on other kids at school?" allows a young person to speak more freely.
If parents are aware of a problem, they should immediately speak with either a teacher or the principal. They should be careful not to direct attention toward their child by speaking in specifics, as in "My son is being picked on by that boy." Instead, they should approach the subject generally, as in "We've heard that there's been a problem with a group of kids picking on other kids."
Schools should set policies against bullying and enforce those policies. Convincing students that there are consequences to their actions will help to minimize bad situations.
Generally, when there is a problem with bullying, three groups of people are involved the Three B's of Bullying: the bully, the person being bullied, and the bystander. The bully is going to be resistant to the fact that he or she is a bully. The person being bullied doesn't want to come across as being weak, timid or a pushover, because often their peers perceive them that way. That leaves the bystander who can choose to ignore the problem or respond to it in a constructive manner.
Roundtable discussions with peers can be helpful because they include the bystander, the person who may see bullying going on but is hesitant to speak up. Peer mediation groups give students the opportunity to discuss bullying and to write down things that they've seen. Young people may be reluctant to talk openly at first, perceiving this as "tattling." Educators and parents should help them to understand that there's a difference between tattling and telling on someone. A person who tattles is deliberately trying to get someone in trouble. Telling on someone is intended to protect another person's well being.
Schools should get parents involved at this point. Parents who might have dismissed the problem as insignificant will be more apt to listen when they can see how the situation impacts other people.
It's important to focus on opportunities for young people. Redirecting a bully's energy into worthwhile pursuits can result in a brighter future for the student. Bullies crave attention, yet they don't know how to attract it in a positive way. Involving the victims in meaningful activities is also important. It can raise their self-esteem and their perceived standing among the other students. When not addressed, these problems can lead to bigger troubles down the line.
For more information on bullying and other youth development issues, contact your Franklin County Extension office.
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