Although Americans sometimes dismiss bullying in school as a childhood rite of passage, this form of aggression may have long-lasting psychological ramifications for victims as well as for bullies, reports the September 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
There has been a lot of focus on bullying in the past several years and the impact it has on people, especially teenagers. Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis.
Bullying behavior can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims. Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Bullying has even been reported in online chat rooms, through e-mail and on social networking sites. Social media has made it easier for bullies to continue bullying outside of school.
Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment. The rise in suicide has brought this issue into the forefront.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting, kicking, threatening another, teasing, name calling, excluding from a group, or sending mean notes or e-mails. Often, children are bullied not just once or twice but over and over (Olweus, 1993; Roland, 1989; Smith & Sharp, 1994).
A conversation with my daughter and a program on MPR about bullying came together while I was driving to active a memory in me. I was aware of this memory but had never put the label of bullying on it until after the conversation and during the radio program. When I was a teenager I had a very bad completion, that was very embarrassing for me. I just wanted to hide my face. I grew bangs to cover up the pimples on my forehead and kept my head down so I wouldn’t be seen. To make matters worse it was also one the issue that my brother’s like to tease me about. I was given the name “Zit Face”. I was often called that name by my three brothers and it was written on the walls in our hallway. It was humiliating for me.
I remember my brothers following me home from school and calling me “Zit Face”. The worse incident I remember was coming home one day and a few houses from my house my brothers and about 5 of their male friends were waiting for me. As I approached a chorus of adolescent voices sang out ” Zit Face” over and over as I ran past them and in to my house. When I told my mother about what had happened she told me I was too sensitive and that I should just let it runs off of back. She didn’t realize that her response reinforced my humiliation. It is one thing to experience bullying and another not to get support to deal with it.
Bullying Causes Long-Term Emotional Damage
Studies show that the experience of being bullied can end up causing lasting damage to victims. If I think about it I am still impacted by the experience several ways. I know from personal experience that bullying can drain the beauty out of you. As a teenage girl, just starting to be interested in the opposite sex I internalized feelings of not being beautiful and questioned if boys would like me. I am sure that on an unconscious level this still impacts me today. Words and gestures can cause more harm than physical assault, especially damage that is sustained during the formative childhood years when our concept of your self is being created. Bullying causes damage to their self-concepts; to their identities. Being the repetitive target of bullying damages your ability to view yourself as a desirable, capable and effective individual.
It would be great if the average person was possessed of unshakable self-confidence, but this just isn’t how identity works. Identity is a social process, that is developed when we are children based on how other people interact with us. Confidence is based on experiences of success. Bullying teaches people that they are explicitly not part of groups; that they are outcasts and outsiders. It is hard to doubt the reality of being an outcast and an outsider when you have been beaten or otherwise publicly humiliated. I was taught at a formidable developmental stage that I was not attractive and undesirable. My brothers reinforced this by telling me I was ugly.
I am so happy that this issue is getting more attention and adults in school and at home are beginning to put things in place to stop bullying. I know now that I wasn’t “too sensitive” but that I was reacting to the sting of abuse. Adults have a responsibility to their daughters and sons to protect them from this behavior and help them develop a healthy self concept. Don’t let anyone bully the beauty out of your precious children.
There are a lot of resources available to parents to help them understand what bullying is and the impact of bullying on children, as well as ways to support children who are being bullied.
Ellen DeGeneres has a long list of resources http://ellen.warnerbros.com/2010/10/resources_to_help_stop_bullying_0930.php