What is Bullying?
In order to be classified as bullying, three key characteristics must be present in the situation:
- Intent to Cause Harm:
- The behavior is aggressive in nature and is a deliberate and intentional action to harm or control another person(s) by targeting them.
- A Real or Perceived Imbalance of Power:
- The aggressor will target someone whom they perceive to have less power or “weaker” than they are in order to achieve their goal of hurting them. Types of imbalances of power can include: physical strength, access to embarrassing information, social status, age or grade level.
- Repetition Action:
- The aggressive behavior must be repetitious over the course of time
Types of Bullying
- A physical means of harassing someone else such as kicking, hitting, tripping, pushing, spitting at, pinching, theft and/or destruction of personal property, intimidation of an individual based on physical location.
- Utilizing words to harass someone such as name-calling, teasing, inappropriate comments especially those sexual in nature, taunting and threats
- Cyber (sometimes referred to as Digital):
- The harassment of an individual utilizing digital or electronic devises or means such as text messages, e-mails, liking, favoring or follow individual posts on social media platforms, spreading or repeating rumors sent by e-mail or text messages or sharing harmful posts about an individual on social media platforms (Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter, Instagram) sharing embarrassing or sexually suggestive pictures, videos or creating fake profiles.
- Relational / Social (sometimes referred to as emotional):
- Purposely excluding someone from an activity with the intent to cause them hurt, convincing others not to be friends with a certain individual, intentionally creating and spreading untrue rumors or falsehoods, and character assassination.
Signs a Child May Be a Target of Bullying
While it is important to remember that all children who are experiencing bullying will show warning signs. However, changes to look out for in a child may include:
- Unexplainable physical injury
- Lost or destroyed personal items including clothing, books, magazines, school items, electronics and jewelry
- Increase in frequency of sudden or faked illnesses (headaches, stomach aches)
- Changing in eating habits (opting out of meals or coming home hungry because they did not eat at lunch time)
- Change in sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping
- Changes in academic patterns – sudden decrease in grades and not wanting to go to school
- Avoidance of social situations and loss of friends
- Decreased self-esteem and self confidence
- Self-destructive behaviors including self-harm or talk of suicide
Who May be a Target for Bullying and Why?
The simple answer is that bullies can and will target ANYONE. There is no special recipe or rationale behind why certain people are targeted and others are not. Additionally, those that were never targets before, could find themselves being targeted, and those that were, could be suddenly left alone.
While there are no concrete reasons for why someone may be the target, there are some characteristics that a bully will look for such as:
- Perceived differences from their peers such as:
- Wearing glasses
- Different or non-designer clothing
- Situational factors like being the “new kid”
- Unable to have or afford luxuries that kids would deem as “cool” such as the latest technology or smart phones
- Perceived as weak or less likely to defend themselves
- Depressed, anxious or having low self esteem
- Those viewed as “annoying”, less popular or lacking friends
- Individuals with special needs or disabilities
- Race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation
- Individuals with food allergies – a growing, and alarmingly dangerous new target area given the potentially fatal consequences
So WHY do kids engage in bullying behavior? While some children are born troubled and have some diagnosable issues that may naturally create aggressive behavior, bullying is often a cry for help and a sign of more internalized feelings being acted upon in an incorrect manner.
Bullying is a way for children to in a way solve their issues – by making themselves feel better by making others feel worse.
Reasons a child may engage in bullying behavior:
- They are having issues at home such as:
- Lacking attention from a parent
- Unstable home environment (abusive parents, constant fighting)
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Children who have been allowed to grow up without rules and boundaries at home, will come to expect there is none at school or in the face of others
- Learned behaviors from those around them (parents, siblings, other friends)
At the end of the day, while their behavior may be inappropriate and damaging, bullies are still children and the behavior is a learned behavior and it can be unlearned. Parents must be open to the possibility if confronted with it, that their child MAY be engaging in bullying behavior and by doing so, will allow them to learn about the struggles of their own child and help them.
Signs a Child Might be Engaging in Bullying Behavior
- Frequent physical or verbal fights
- Social circles include friends who have histories of bullying others
- Exhibit increasingly aggressive behavior
- Frequent disciplinary issues at school
- Blaming others for their problems or a lack of responsibility for their action
Understand the Role We Play – UPSTANDERS vs. BYSTANDERS
When it comes to bullying, there are two distinct categories that everyone falls into – yes, everyone. These roles are referred to as being an upstander or being a bystander.
A BYSTANDER is any individual who witnesses or is present for an event but does not take action in any way to impact the situation positively. More often than not, children will fall into this category because of fear of retaliation if they attempted to stand up for someone else or they are not aware of things that they can do to actually help the situation.
Examples of how someone can be a bystander:
- Assisting the bully
- Reinforcing the bully’s behavior or providing an audience for it
- Individuals who are aware of what is happening (having seen, heard or observed it) but do nothing
In most cases, those who would fall into the bystander category are not aware that their actions are actually showing approval of the bully’s behavior and can embolden them to continue engaging in the behavior.
An UPSTANDER is someone who recognizes a problem and takes direct action to bring about a positive outcome or change the situation.
Examples of how someone can be an upstander:
- Telling a trusted adult
- Refusing to join or help the bully
- Offering support or friendship to the target
Remember, the minute someone does something to help someone being bullied – you become an upstander – everyone can do it!
DANGERS OF BULLYING
It is important to remember that for some, bullying is not something that can easily be left in the past and forgotten about once the experience has ended. Both bullies and their targets can suffer long term consequences lasting from adolescence and beyond.
Long term effects of bullying for the TARGET:
- Anxiety – social and emotional
- Substance abuse issues – drugs, alcohol and tobacco use
- Increase risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors
- Acting out in violent ways and development of an aggressive behavior
- Difficulty establishing and sustaining trusting, reciprocal friendship and long-term relationships
Long term effects of bullying for the BULLY:
- Increase risk for spousal or child abuse
- Anti-social behavior
- Substance abuse issues – drugs, alcohol and tobacco use
- Less likely to be educated or maintain employment
What Can Parents Do?
No parent wants to see their child suffering, and more often parents are the last to find out about bullying experiences their child may be going through. It is important to know how to speak to a child about bullying so that they come across as non-judgmental and purely a safe and trusted person to confide in.
- Talk about bullying in conversation- it tells your child that you are aware of it and you are interested in how it may affect them or their friends. Try to remain non-judgmental, which may be difficult if your child confides in you that they are being bullied, but it is beneficial to react in a way that encourages the child to trust you even more. It can be helpful to start the conversation with something generic, possibly with a situation that you heard or found online and begin to ask curious, open-ended questions. • Some examples of open-ended questions are:
- “What does bullying mean to you?”
- “Why do you think people bully?”
- “What does your school do about bullying?”
- Whom would you talk to if you felt you were being bullied?” Remind them that they could always talk to you about bullying.
- Explain The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) to your child. It is important that they know their rights and if they know that bullying is against a New York State Law, they may feel better reporting it or talking to you about it. You can add that cyberbullying is included in the law and explain that cyberbullying is anything mean or hurtful said online, inappropriate pictures being posted, hate pages or any method of hurting someone emotionally through any means of technology. Advise them that they can report bullying to any teacher or faculty member in school that they feel comfortable with and that you can schedule a meeting together.
If Your Child Tells You They Are Being Bullied:
- If a child is being bullied it is of great importance for them to talk to someone about it. Difficult, hurtful, stressful feelings kept in can turn inward and lead to depression and/or anxiety. It is a huge protective factor for a child to have at least one non-judgmental adult to talk to.
- Create a safe environment for your child by listening nonjudgmentally, giving him/her your undivided attention and offering words of support, such as “I am here for you” “Nobody has the right to make you feel that way” “I’m sorry you are going through this- you are not alone, although it may feel that sometimes.” Acknowledging their feelings will let them know their feelings are important and will not dismissed.
- Thank your child for confiding in you and let them know how much that means to you. Tell them you are proud of them for talking about their feelings, especially the hard ones. Reassure them that you are there to help.
- Before a child tells a parent about bullying, they have usually tried to ignore it or help themselves first, so it may not be helpful to tell them to stand up for themselves or ignore the person. When a child tells a parent about bullying they are looking for the parent to guide them to a solution that makes them feel empowered.
- By involving the child in the process, you are creating the feeling of empowerment and allowing them to be part of the solution.
- It is usually best to work through the school and not to call another parent.
- Let your child know that they are not alone and that there are many people who care. Explain that although bullying happens to many students- it is NEVER okay. You can look at the school page online to see who the DASA Coordinator is and ask your student if they know that person. If it is not listed, you may look up their name here.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) youth or those that are perceived as LGBTQ may experience bullying from their peers. This bullying often targets LGBTQ youth based on their expression and non-conformity to societal expectations.
Creating a safe environment for LGBTQ identified students
In order to create a safe environment for LGBTQ identified students, schools must train staff/faculty in how to effectively work with LGBTQ identified young people and bullying prevention tactics in reference to homophobia and transphobia in school settings. Schools must also develop clear and specific policies that prevent bullying and protect students in the case that bullying does take place. According to stopbullying.gov, creating a safe environment for these youth also relies on building strong connections with students and ensuring to keep the lines of communication open between students and their teachers, parents, and other forms of support.
GSA Clubs (Gay Straight Alliances or Gender Sexuality Alliances) are also spaces in which students can find safety and a sense of community while building confidence in their identities. LGBTQ inclusive curriculums are rarely used in school settings and can be integrated into classrooms for all age ranges. Finally schools must protect the privacy of their students. Information regarding the gender identity or sexual orientation of students should not be disclosed or discussed with parents without the consent of the student.
Effects of LGBTQ focused bullying
Based on the GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey LGBTQ students report that in the last year
57.6% felt unsafe in school
31.8% skipped a school day in the last month because they felt unsafe
48.6% experienced electronic harassment or cyber bullying
63.5% of these students did not report it because they believed staff would not intervene
Due to bullying, harassment and discrimination LGBTQ students were also 3x more likely to drop out of school than their straight/cisgender peers, had a lower Grade Point Average (GPA), and had lower self-esteem and feelings of school belonging.
Parents/Caretakers can often be left feeling helpless when their child experiences bullying. For parents/caretakers of LGBTQ students who are experiencing bullying, it is important to support your child. Support and affirmation at home can reduce feelings of isolation. Parents/Caretakers can also serve as advocates for students and intervene productively to link youth to resources. Parents/Caretakers who are looking for support in understanding their child’s identity or expression can also look to community resources for support and non-judgmental discussion.
The Dignity for All Students Act
The Dignity For All Students Act (DASA / Dignity Act) is New York State’s proactive response to battling the epidemic of bullying, harassment and discrimination within the school system. The goal of the Dignity Act is to create a safe and supportive climate where students have the ability to focus on their education and social development without the fear of being discriminated against or physically, verbally and emotionally harassed. The New York State Dignity For All Students Act promotes the idea that all students in elementary and secondary education have the right to a safe, welcoming, considerate and compassionate environment.
D.A.S.A. Key Points
• The New York State Dignity For All Students Act (DASA / Dignity Act) was signed into law on September 13, 2010 by Governor David Paterson
• The Act was implemented in school districts statewide on July 1, 2012
• The Act was updated in 2013 to include “cyberbullying” or virtual harassment through social media, e-mail, texts or other means of technology.
• The Dignity Act states that NO student shall be subjected to harassment or discrimination by employees or students on school property or at a school function based on their actual OR perceived race, color, weight, nation or origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practices, disability, sexual orientation or gender
• The Dignity Act amended 2801 of the New York State Education Law mandating that all Boards of Education include language in their respective district Codes of Conduct that complied with the Dignity Act
• All schools must partake in a professional development training seminar on issues related to harassment and discrimination
• Mandates that one employee of EACH school building be trained as ‘DASA Coordinators’ which mandates that the individual report all incidents of bullying to the State Education Department within one report at the end of each school term