September typically means back to school for quite a number of individuals and families. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not so good. One of the things that seems to be a never-ending school phenomenon is the school bully. You hear about bullying all the time. You also hear about the million anti-bullying programs and campaigns in all the various schools. So much so that you start to tune it all out after a while and wonder if the problem is really that big. C’mon, didn’t we all grow up with a school yard bully? Didn’t we all just learn to suck it up and get over it.
The problem is really that big.
We’ve been fortunate to start a youth based Victim Services program where two of our staff have offices in local high schools. It’s a very cool program and we’re really proud of it. Talk about an eye-opener though. The sheer volume of kids who are bullied and harassed and tormented is insane. So much so, that we’ve started to classify a large number of bullying related issues under a hate-crime umbrella because there really isn’t much difference between the two.
What we see are huge numbers of kids who are bullied for a few key reasons; sexual orientation seems to be a big one, sexual assault victim who is still going to school with her assailant is another, sexual exploitation victim who shared a picture with someone he or she thought loved them is now right up there too. While kids who are vulnerable are of particular risk and even more so if they belong to a community or group that is not the mainstream (such as belonging to the LGBTQ community), it seems bullying is not limited to the shy wallflower like maybe it used to be when we were little. It’s really only been in the past couple of years that we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the connection between teen suicide and bullying and it’s seems to be a strong link.
In honour of suicide awareness and prevention month (September), we thought we would focus on information about Bullying versus the issue of suicide itself.
Bullying is often described as persistent, unwelcome and mostly unwarranted behaviour. As a general rule, bullying is about power and control, the same way any other abusive relationship is. The victim may be an unwilling participant in the relationship, but they’ve been dragged in whether they like it or not by the simple fact that they are the target.
Bullies will often use aggressive and hurtful behaviours against someone they see as less powerful to create and maintain their own sense of power and to feel control over another person. There is an imbalance of power and intent to harm. Minimizing bullying is the same as victim blaming in a domestic or sexually violent incident.
Bullying is often ongoing and can be described as any kind of physical or verbal mistreatment where one person dominates and controls another.
While bullying definitions have changed and bullying behaivour has expanded from school yard to social networks, the following is a general list of behaviours that describe bullying.
- excluding and / or isolating someone
- being singled out and treated differently
- shouting, nit-picking, criticizing, point, identifying all of your faults that they believe you have
- attempts at humiliation
- watching and monitoring everything you’re doing
- stealing, hiding and / or ruining your belongings
- trying to force someone to do something they don’t want to
- name-calling, insults, teasing (hurtful), put-downs
- telling lies and rumors about you
- bullying is often found in harassment, discrimination, prejudice and abusive behaviours.
Sometimes people see bullying as typical childhood conflicts but there is a difference. When kids have some form of conflict such as a heated argument while playing sports, or a run-in of some kind on the play-ground, both children are typically upset over what has happened. Some conflict between kids is to be expected growing up. The difference between conflicts and bullying can often be seen in the difference in the attitudes after a run-in. In the bullying relationship, the bully might be nonchalant, wondering what the big deal is, telling others the kid asked for it while the victim is very upset and frequently distraught by the incident. Bullying often doesn’t stop on its own and usually gets worse over time.
Sometimes adults need to step in and protect kids and hold the aggressor accountable, and sometimes the adults need to teach the victim how to protect themselves. Either way, kids shouldn’t be expected to do this alone. They don’t have the emotional or cognitive maturity to do that yet and as adults, it’s our job to teach these skills.