State of the Union: School Bullying
Kyle Ferlic, MA, LPCA
Counselor, Center for Family Transformation
One of my favorite scenes in the classic movie A Christmas Story revolves around the iconic debacle between Ralphie and Scut Farkus. Within the film, Scut is a portrayed as a scheming bully. He is bigger in stature than Ralphie, and he goes out of his way to make Ralphie’s friends feel fearful and anxious. After several encounters with Scut, Ralphie tackles him to the ground and begins beating him up, leaving Scut bloodied and crying. The movie portrays this climactic moment with Ralphie as the hero, conquering his oppressor.
Is it that simple?
I wonder if we can identify with Ralphie, feeling disparaged at some point in life by those in power. We might desire that same experience Ralphie had in the movie, and we might believe that all would be well with the world afterwards. Not long ago, bullying was thought to be a “rite of passage”1. Some even considered it as a way for children to build character. Today, the general public is gaining a fuller understanding of bullying and its impacts, or so we believe. What do we really know about bullying, its effects, and its frequency on youth today? Is it possible that our Hollywood view of bullying holds us back from alleviating the problem?
How do we define bullying?
Recently, the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund2 (UNICEF) wrote that bullying has upset the health of 150 million children between the ages of 13 and 16 worldwide. Similarly, the World Health Organization3 (WHO) stated that a little over 1 in 10 kids gets bullied globally. This is a big issue, folks. It was only a few years ago that we came up with a common definition for bullying, which is important because it determines how we measure and report it. The U.S. Department of Education defines bullying as, “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by a youth, or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners. It involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated”4.
If a kid gets bullied, why might happen?
To summarize, bullying includes hostile behaviors by one child toward another, repeated over time, where the hostile child holds power. It is helpful to review bullying’s impact, both on the victims and bullies. One expert5 realized that bullying is rarely between one aggressor and one victim. Instead, bullying can be seen across a range, where everybody involved is negatively influenced in physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and social ways. Bullying (including over the internet) can cause trauma leading to academic problems, anger, anxiety, depression, drug use, isolation, mental illness, misconduct, physical issues, poor self-esteem and even suicide1, 5, 6, 7.
What types of experiences lead to future bullying?
The poorest overall health outcomes occur to those who both receive bullying as a victim then bully kids in return. These children are known as bully-victims4, 7. It seems there is a cycle to bullying. Not all bullies are victims per se, but it leads to an intriguing question. What is happening to children that causes future bullying behaviors? Studies show that anger, delinquency, domestic violence, inability to control emotion, lack of positive role models, low social skills, physical abuse, poor parenting and sexual abuse all lead to an increased likelihood of that a child will act like a bully8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
What can we do to help?
UNICEF’s13 #ENDviolence campaign has great options. Also, the U.S. government’s Stop Bullying7 website is a wonderful resource. It provides practical ways to squash bullying. For parents, we recommend joining parent-teacher associations, participating in safety planning committees, staying connected to your child’s needs and using positive parenting skills. For teachers, we encourage creating a safe place for both bullies and victims to resolve problems. Establish clear expectations around violence and following through with them. For children, we recommend speaking up when they see bullying to reduce its traumatic effects. This is best done by finding trusted adults and telling them immediately.
In ending, although we love A Christmas Story, it might be time for us to give up outdated views of bullying. If we work together to understand and reduce bullying before it happens, we might see its negative impacts go down. It could create a more wonderful tomorrow for all.
- Fritz, G. K. (2017). Progress in the fight against bullying. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 33(8), 8. doi: 10.1002/cbl.30234
- Brink, S. (2018, September 6). A staggering number of young teens face bullies and violence in school. org. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/09/06/645210397/a-staggering-number-of-young-teens-face-bullies-and-violence-in-school
- Inchley, J., Currie, D., Young, T., Oddrun, S., Torsheim, T., Augustson, L., Mathison, F., Aleman-Diaz, A., Molcho, M., Weber, M., & Barnekow, V., (2016). Growing up unequal: Gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being. Copenhagen: Denmark: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe.
- Gladden, R. M., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Hamburger, M. E., & Lumpkin, C. D. (2014). Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements (version 1). Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Department of Education.
- Espelage, D. L. (2016). Leveraging school-based research to inform bullying prevention and policy. American Psychologist, 71(8), 768-775. doi: 10.1037/amp0000095
- Chi En Kwan, G., & Skoric, M. M. (2012). Facebook bullying: An extension of battles in schools. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 16-25. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.014
- United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHH). (2017, September 8) Facts for kids about bullying. gov. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/kids/facts/index.html
- Bosworth, K., Espelage, D. L., & Simon, T. R. (1999). Factors associated with bullying behavior in middle school students. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 19, 341–362. doi:10.1177/0272431699019003003
- Espelage, D. L., & Asidao, C. S. (2001). Conversations with middle school students about bullying and victimization: Should we be concerned? Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2, 49 – 62. doi: 10.1300/J135v02n02_04
- Espelage, D. L., Bosworth, K., & Simon, T. R. (2000). Examining the social context of bullying behaviors in early adolescence. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78, 326–333. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2000.tb01914.x
- Espelage, D. L., Low, S., & De La Rue, L. (2012). Relations between peer victimization subtypes, family violence, and psychological outcomes during adolescence. Psychology of Violence, 2, 313–324. doi:10.1037/a0027386
- Espelage, D. L., Low, S., Rao, M. A., Hong, J. S., & Little, T. D. (2014). Family violence, bullying, fighting, and substance use among adolescents: A longitudinal mediational model. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24, 337–349. doi: 10.1111/jora.12060
United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). (n.d.). #ENDViolence. Unicef.org. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/end-viole