The day after labour day – the first day of school for most of the kids in this part of the country! (cue, Welcome Back Kotter to those of you from my generation…). Sure enough, tonight I read an article about a teen boy whose backpack was stolen and the contents dumped in the toilet. The young lad is deaf and has been on the receiving end of some bullying at this school for years. Some kind-hearted folks have rallied to show their support but as the article points out, the youth no longer feels safe at this school and is looking at transferring. Shortly after I read a research summary about how bullying can have long-term mental health impacts well into adulthood and can be compared to other forms of abuse. Let’s face it, it is abuse so that’s not really a surprise.
We have made some great strides when it comes to bullying in terms of having a better understanding and maybe learning to take it more seriously but it is still incredibly prevalent and a persistent issue. It is one of the main things our youth worker deals with on a constant basis as kids who have been victimized already in their young lives seem quite vulnerable and at times easy prey for those who engage in bullying.
The base of the information in this blog post comes directly from Stop Bullying Now and is not our ‘work’ our even all of our words. It is however important information to share so we’re doing our part to pass it along in the way that works for us. The following are a list of myths from one of their publications.
1. Bullying is not the same thing as conflict. For years bullying has been seen as a conflict between two people or a small group of people (with a ring leader) towards someone else. Even after there has been a growing recognition that the person doing the bullying is the aggressor, it is still viewed through the lens of a conflict between person A and person B. Bullying is abuse and it is abuse that tends to happen over a length of time. There are often elements of power and control and sometimes authority, even if it is only perceived by the individual’s involved. This is why conflict resolution and mediation typically are not successful because conflict resolution is geared towards two equals who need to agree to stop their behaviour.
2. Bullying isn’t serious. Yes, actually it is. Research suggests that effects from bullying can last well into adulthood and negatively impact a person’s mental health. As the young lad at the start of this post suggests, it also impacts a person’s sense of safety. A youth who does not feel safe can suffer from the same chronic stress found in other abuse victims which can lead to major difficulties in learning, self-esteem and relationships.
3. Bullying is an issue for large urban schools and doesn’t really happen out here in the smaller schools. Unfortunately, bullying happens everywhere and with social media it can follow a child or youth or adult wherever they may go. Bullying is not just a city issue and can be just as devastating in smaller communities where a bullied person may feel like everyone in the community knows and is part of it.
4. Most bullying involves a physical altercation of some sort. That is certainly the image and idea that has been left over the years. We’ve all seen the ads of the gang of kids on the school yard pushing and shoving the little guy stuck in the middle but that is misleading. Like other forms of abuse, physical assault is one component of a larger, more complex pattern that involves name-calling, spreading rumours, isolating peers and harassment (including harassment via social media). In fact, verbal abuse is far more common in bullying than physical abuse is.
5. Kids just need to learn how to deal with the bullies on their own. Again, bullying is abuse. We know that victims of other forms of abuse typically need support and assistance in order to deal with and / or remove themselves from an unsafe situation. It always amazes me that we would not expect (rightfully so) an adult to just “deal” with ongoing abuse and yet we think kids, who have less skills, less experience, less knowledge and are dependent on others should just magically “deal” as part of their growing. Kids also need support, understanding, validation, respect and assistance to deal with abuse from their peers.
6. Most bullies are loners with low social skills. Actually, this is not true. In fact research suggests that bullies can have a wide network of friends and may in fact have more leadership skills than their peers at times. A key point is that they have at least a small group or peers that supports the bullying behaviour and makes it okay.
As cliché as it may seem, stopping bullying truly involves a coordinated effort and may mean paying attention to the culture of a school or work environment as much as the individual’s involved.
For more information, please visit; Stop Bullying