The Buzz on Bullying
If you grew up and are functioning in American society, you can probably provide your own definition of bullying and have had some level of personal experience with it. Bullying is an all-too-common human activity that has existed since the beginning of recorded history and is present in most cultures. It is enacted by both boys and girls, as well as women and men. Research suggests that somewhere between 30 percent and 60 percent of American schoolchildren report being bullied.
Bullying hurts. Those who are bullied hate it. They fear it, dread it and try to avoid it. One recent survey found that 58 percent of school children claimed they stayed home from school on at least one day to avoid being bullied.
Bullying is about power. A colleague of ours says, "It's all about big on little, many on few, smart on less smart, older on younger." We're sure you know this fact. At some point, you've probably been the smaller one, the younger one or had your interests and feelings unfairly damaged by someone more powerful than you.
The Traditional School Bully
In the drama of the school bully, there are five roles available. You can star as the bully, co-star as the victim or you can play a smaller part as a peer bystander, school official or parent (of the bully, the victim or a bystander).
Most traditional bullying interventions start with the bully. The bully needs to be taught a lesson. And because bullying is inherently unfair, those playing the role of an adult bystander or victim's parent have a natural urge to teach the bully a lesson through some sort of punishment.
The "punish-the-bully" urge is natural and, unfortunately, ineffective. Think about it. You see a bigger boy picking on a littler boy. You intervene by grabbing the bigger boy by the back of the neck and chewing him out. Yes, your response is natural. Yes, the bigger boy deserved punishment. But ironically, when an adult intervenes in an aggressive or violent manner, the bullying cycle repeats, only this time an older, bigger adult is picking on a younger, smaller bully.
Some anti-bullying strategies focus on the victim, with the hope that the victim can learn effective skills for dealing with bullies. Such interventions try to teach some clever new interpersonal skills. Unfortunately, research and reality generally show that when faced with a big, aggressive bully, most of us can't recall our cool new skills, and we end up fighting, running, hiding and suffering bruises to our bodies or ego.
As you probably already know, although girls are sometimes physically violent, boys tend to be more physical. They punch, trip, kick and slam each other into lockers. A less-physical form of bullying is more often the bullying-of-choice for girls. This bullying, sometimes called relational aggression, includes spreading vicious rumors, using social exclusion, taunting and other psychologically painful strategies to hurt someone, damage reputations or keep others in line.
Reprinted with the permission of the American School Counselor Association. © Copyright 2006-2008 American School Counselor Association. All Rights Reserved.
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