According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Even though bullying commonly happens in childhood, the impact can last well into adulthood. Duke University recently conducted research that shows the rates for agoraphobia and panic disorders greatly increases with bullying. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low esteem haunt many adults who were once bullied in childhood.
In previous generations, many children were supposed to handle their own issues. “Let them work it out” or “ignore it” were popular phrases to encourage resilience from seemingly normal and unstoppable behavior. With many schools enforcing an anti-bullying campaign, the way we treat bullying is changing. Although it may be commonplace, it doesn’t have to be.
The most obvious form of bullying is physical. This can be clearly witnessed with little ambiguity to its intention. When a child with more power either socially, physically, or intellectually, hurts another child to gain more control, the targeted child feels threatened. Examples of physical bullying include: kicking, punching, shoving, hitting, etc. Since physical bullying is the easiest to see, it is the most commonly understood form of bullying.
Another type of bullying is called “relational bullying,” which can include ostracizing someone from a group, spreading rumors, and manipulating others. Relational bullying is used to increase social hierarchy by controlling a person they perceive as weaker. This is most often used by girls and can be emotionally destructive, but, unlike physical bullying, this type of bullying is frequently undetected by parents and teachers.
Although fairly recent in our history, cyberbullying is widely used by teenagers and even adults. Because there is a degree of separation from someone when using the internet, it may be easier to treat others in a way we would not normally do so in real life. Online harassment can take many forms. Social media plays a role when people write nasty comments that are made public. Sharing nude photos around the web or through phones is also a form of cyberbullying. Impersonating someone online and using their image to embarrass themselves is particularly damaging. The difference between cyberbullying and other types of bullying is that cyberbullying doesn’t end when someone walks away.
Sexual bullying is pervasive in our culture not only in schools, but in the workplace as well. “Joking” with girls while touching them inappropriately can feel confusing, especially to teenage girls. When sexual harassment takes the form of a “joke”, it can be difficult to speak up. A girl might be accused of not having a “sense of humor”. Unwanted touching, comments about someone’s body, sexual pressuring, and sharing nude photos without someone’s consent are all forms of sexual bullying.
By suggesting a bully is someone without empathy, we are dismissing the many children who are quite average and still engage in bullying behavior. There are bullies who show aggression as a way to feel powerful because their parents demonstrate that type of behavior at home. There are insecure bullies who use relational bullying to stay in a position of reasonable social power so that they don’t slip and may in fact, get to the top of the popular ladder. There are bullies that wouldn’t ordinarily bully, but because they are in a group of people who are all bullying, they see no wrong in going with the crowd.
Just like there are different types of bullies, there are different types of children who are bullied. Although anyone can be bullied, common victims of bullying tend to have a few common traits:
- Low self esteem
- Lack of friends
- Physical signs of lacking confidence
- Possible difficulties learning
- Physical differences
Common characteristics of those bullied include:
- A feeling of helplessness
- Social withdrawal
- Self blame
If you are worried about bullying in your child’s school, here are the signs to watch for in your child:
- Unexplained bruises
- Extreme fear surrounding school
- Bad dreams
- A defeated attitude
If you are concerned about bullying, find out as much information as you can from your child and approach the school. Do not blame your child or ask your child why he/she didn’t do something that would have prevented it. Do not tell your child to ignore the bullying. Instead, help your child understand what to do when he/she is bullied and who specifically to tell in his/her school. With the right support, bullying does not have to impact mental health.