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Bullies leave bruises on the inside

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Posted: October 30, 2008 8:56 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2009 5:00 a.m.
 
I can remember standing in a schoolyard screaming a childhood refrain “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” In retrospect, as an adult and a high-risk teen counselor (that’s what I do for a living), I know that’s not true. I know that bullying leaves bruises on the inside and sometimes for a lifetime. Bullying leaves everyone bruised, both kids and parents.

My heart breaks for the parents and friends of Jeremiah Lasater, the 14-year-old Vasquez High School freshman who took his own life. Parents, teens, and teachers have publicly shared their stories about the bullying Lasater endured.

Bullying includes a wide variety of behaviors, but all involve a person or a group repeatedly trying to harm someone who is weaker or more vulnerable. It can involve direct attacks such as hitting, threatening or intimidating, maliciously teasing and taunting, name-calling, making sexual remarks, as well as stealing or damaging belongings. Bullying takes place subtly as well, indirect attacks such as spreading rumors or encouraging others to reject or exclude someone. With the dawn of the 21st century cyber bullying is the newest bullying tactic. 

Thirty percent of U.S. students in grades six through 10 are involved in moderate or frequent bullying — as bullies, as victims, or as both — according to the results of the first national survey in the U.S. by the American Justice Department.

Recent bullying statistics from the American Justice Department show that:
n One out of 4 kids is bullied. The American Justice Department recently said one out of every four kids will be abused by another youth.
n Surveys show that 77 percent of students are bullied mentally, verbally and physically.
n In a recent study, 77 percent of the students said they had been bullied.
n One out of five kids admits to being a bully, or doing some “bullying.”
n Nearly 8 percent of students miss a day of class per month for fear of bullies.
n In the bathroom at school 43 percent of students fear harassment.
n Nationally 100,000 students carry a gun to school.
n In secondary schools 282,000 students are physically attacked each month.
n Among middle school students 90 percent have had their feelings hurt online.
n Nearly 75 percent have visited a Web site bashing another student.
n Students report that 40 percent have had their password(s) stolen and changed by a bully who then locked them out of their own account or sent communications posing as them.

Bullying occurs more frequently among boys than girls. Teenage boys are much more likely to bully others and to be the targets of bullies. While both boys and girls say others bully them by making fun of the way they look or talk, boys are more likely to report being hit, slapped, or pushed. Teenage girls are more often the targets of rumors, sexual comments, and cyber bullying. While teenage boys target both boys and girls, teenage girls most often bully other girls, using more subtle and indirect forms of aggression than boys. For example, instead of physically harming others, they are more likely to spread gossip or encourage others to reject or exclude another girl.

Let’s be clear: Bullying is not an isolated incidence. And no one should endure bullying. Bring up the topic of kids and bullying, and invariably, one or more of the following statements is uttered: All kids go through it. It builds character … They have to fight their own battles. I went through it, and I’m OK. Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective for us to realize that we can no longer accept bullying as a rite of passage.

Compare bullying to spousal abuse and sexual harassment — no one in their right mind would condone or label these character-building. Yet the similarities among all three become clear — an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim; the perpetrator blames the victim for the abuse; and if the abuse is not stopped, the victim often comes to blame him or herself for the abuse. To view bullying through the lens of other types of abuse makes clear the need to refrain from dismissing it as “normal.” Abuse is NOT normal. Add the complicating modern-day factor of nano-second, wireless, always-connected communication among kids via technology (cell phones, text messaging, e-mail, hate Web sites, instant messaging) and you’ve got a recipe for what I call 24/7 abuse. Even in the sanctity of one’s own home, the harassment may seem endless.

For parents whose kids are being intimidated and harassed by kids at school or online, you are well aware of what a lonely and confusing place it can be. You may wonder “when is it time to intervene, and, if I do, what steps do I take that won’t make it worse for my child?”

The time to intervene is now, but intervening does not mean that you immediately march to the school, create a scene in the guidance office, then file a police report. Intervening means talking and listening to your child, making him or her feel supported and safe, and problem-solving together. Make it clear to your child that the bullying is not their fault, and they do not have to face the problem alone.

Addressing children’s violence toward or intimidation of other children is not just the role of teachers and school administrators. Parents also play a crucial role in recognizing and reducing opportunities for such behavior. Parents should assume their children “are either involved in bullying or have seen it.” The trick is getting them to talk about it. Rather than asking “if” kids have seen or been involved in bullying, ask, “What about when you were bullied?” and “When have you picked on other kids or just stood by and watched when it happened?” Then ask how the situation made them feel and ask if you can help. Some changes in behavior patterns may also signal a child’s involvement in bullying — either as victim or perpetrator.
 
What makes a bully?

Bullying behavior can be identified as early as pre-school age, and some children who are bullies continue this behavior into adulthood. Most children learn to control their anger and fighting instincts as they grow older, but not the bully. These children have special characteristics. Children who systematically bully others usually have a group of children they bully regularly while other bullies randomly target a variety of students.

Bullies have particular behavior and personality traits including greater than average aggressive behavior patterns — the desire to dominate peers; the need to feel in control, to win; no sense of remorse for hurting another child and refusal to accept responsibility for his or her behavior
Parents of bullies usually support their child’s aggressive behavior toward other children and often bully their child.

What makes a victim?
Why aren’t all children victims? Research on bullying states that 60 percent of all students are never involved in any kind of bullying incidents, either as victims or as bullies. However, every day in schools, many students witness bullying incidents as they happen, and this forces their involvement. Often, these students do not realize that what they are witnessing is, in fact, bullying. Good-natured teasing and rough-housing are only fun if both parties involved agree that it is fun. The power difference between bullies and victims determines the nature of the interaction.

Most children are approached by a bully early in their school career, and when they change schools. It is often the child’s reaction to that first encounter with being bullied which determines whether or not they be will be approached again. Children who are victimized tend to display “vulnerable behaviors.” People who are identified as being highly vulnerable are often singled out as victims.

Consequences: Bully

The life-long outlook for bullies is not good. If bullies don’t learn how to change their behavior, the pattern of bullying behavior often becomes a habit as the bully gets older.

Bullies have average social popularity up to approximately age 14 or 15. In fact, some children even look up to bullies in some ways because they are powerful and do what they want to, or have to, to get their way with their peers. By late adolescence, the bully’s popularity begins to wane. By senior high school, if a bully is still attending school, his or her peers group includes other bullies, or more seriously, he or she has developed or is developing gang alliances. By late high school, school-yard bullying is a rare occurrence, but what takes its place is more serious.

By age 24, up to 60 percent of people who are identified as childhood bullies have at least one criminal conviction. A study spanning 35 years by psychologist E. Eron found that children who were named by their school mates, at age 8, as the bullies of the school were often bullies throughout their lives. For example, these children later had more court convictions, more alcoholism, more antisocial personality disorders.
Unless new behaviors are learned and adopted, bullies continue to bully throughout their lifetime. They bully their mates, their children, and possibly their underlings in their place of business.

Consequences: Victim
By senior high school, regular bullying incidents are often a thing of the past, but all victims know who the bullies are, and avoid them. By age 16 or 17, bullies and victims are usually moving in different directions in terms of curricular interests in school, therefore their paths rarely cross. Social groupings are clearly defined by this time in a student’s life and invisible boundaries have been drawn.

When a child has been repeatedly victimized, certain behaviors and attitudes tend to emerge which are inconsistent with their typical behaviors. Often children are too embarrassed and humiliated to report victimization.

Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor, a certified addiction specialist, the founder and president of ACTION Family Counseling Centers.


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