Wanna Fight?

by Ceil Than and
John Edward Gill

bully victim
bully victim © godfer – Fotolia.com All rights reserved.

What is Bullying?

Ask a twelve-year-old what he or she hates most about school, and you might be surprised to learn that the school bully outranks homework and tests on the fear factor scale. A bully is a child who deliberately and continuously uses physical assault or verbal abuse to harm another child that he or she sees as more vulnerable. Bullies and their victims can be as young as eight years old, and school bullying peaks in the high school years. Bullies and their victims can be boys or girls, and bullying can take place in cyberspace as well as the schoolyard. Both the bully and his or her victim suffer, and some are driven to extreme or suicidal behavior.

According to a survey done by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50 percent of school age children report being bullied at some point during their school years, and 10 percent report being bullied continuously. Children in this age group are most intensely aware of their peers’ opinions, acceptance, and rejection. The experience of being singled out and picked on can turn into an ever more emotionally devastating downward spiral, and the experience of power felt by a bully can also become a dangerous emotional high that pushes him or her to more extreme behavior.

Bullying takes place anywhere children gather: the playground, the cafeteria, the school hallways, the school bus, the mall, online on web sites such as My Space, or on cell phones via calls and text messaging. Bullying takes the form of punching, hitting, tripping, name-calling, posting embarrassing messages or photographs, or sending nasty messages. Bullies can be boys or girls, known or unknown to their victims.

Who Are the Victims?

Children who are bullied are often singled out because they are seen as different, that is, nerdy, overweight, or too shy, of a different race or background, the new kid in school, or physically or mentally challenged. According to an essay by Karen Gouze, Ph.D. on the Children’s Memorial Hospital website, even more damaging than physical assault is “indirect” or “relational” bullying that involves isolating the victim from the group by spreading false rumors about him or her, or ignoring him or her. This type of bullying has been intensified by the use of the Internet and it is more difficult for parents and teachers to spot. The WebMD site (www.webmd.com) reports that children who are bullied have a higher absentee rate because the bullying makes them feel physically sick, and they wanted to avoid going to school and encountering the bully.

April Himes of Poteau, Oklahoma was a typical middle-school student. However, she had been singled out by her peers and teased because of her appearance. The teasing continued so long and so intensely that she committed suicide rather than go to school and face her tormentors one more day. On the memorial website posted by her parents, there is a gallery of seven other children from across the United States who were also bullied into the extreme response of suicide.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Parents are cautioned to watch for indications that their child has been bullied such as:

  • depression, feelings of worthlessness
  • anxiety, nausea, fear of going to school
  • sleeplessness, nightmares
  • withdrawal from family, friends and activities that were always pleasurable.

However, Dr. Gouze also encourages pediatricians in particular to help parents “build children’s resilience.” From the time their children are preschoolers, parents should
foster self-esteem in their children,
teach them to respect others and interact with them in socially acceptable ways,
model how to respond assertively, but not aggressively, to negative comments,
encourage them to buddy up with other children as a support system, and
teach them to know when to tell an adult about negative behaviors that they experience or observe.
The final step is crucial because bullying escalates the longer it goes unreported, and no one steps in to stop the behavior. Delayed intervention hurts the bully as much as the child being bullied.

View page two: Who Are the Bullies?

Copyright © 2008, Children’s Rights of New York, Inc.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2008, Volume 29, Number 1, issue of HOTLINE.
Reprinted with permission.