What Is Bullying, Anyway?
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance (as in Haley’s case.) The bullying is repeated, or can be repeated, over time. Making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose are all considered to be bullying. One out of three teens said they have been bullied in the last thirty days.
Bullying can lower a victim’s self-esteem, create a lot of anxiety, and affect academic performance, and it may lead to depression and body aches and pains. Ouch!
Myths and Facts About Bullying
Myth: Most kids who bully are poor students, aren’t good at sports, and/or come from dysfunctional homes.
Fact: Many bullies are the smart kids, the popular ones, the athletes, who have power.
“They can pick out the kids that no one is going to rescue. The kids who bully are generally liked by adults. They know how to turn charm on and off. It is social suicide to go against this kind of bully for fear that, if you do, you might be the next victim.” — Dorothy Espelage, professor of psychology, University of Florida
Myth: Cyber bullying is worse than face-to-face bullying.
Fact: Nope. Face-to-face bullying is still more prevalent than online. However, bullying in school often spills over into social media after school. There is no place to run, no place to hide.
Myth: Bullying causes suicide.
Fact: We don’t know if bullying directly causes suicide-related behavior. We know that most youth who are involved in bullying do NOT think about/attempt/complete suicide.
Myth: There is nothing kids can do to stop bullying.
Fact: Wrong. Anti-bullying programs in schools can be effective. Kids need to help create an environment in which bullying is not tolerated and know what to say and do, if and when they witness a peer being bullied.
Myth: Bullying has no long-lasting effects.
Fact: Children and teens who are bullied have a greater risk of low self-esteem, poor grades, depression, and an increased risk of suicide. They are often less engaged in school, and their grades and test scores decline. As adults, victims of childhood bullying suffer more than others from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
Myth: Bullying does not affect many children and youth.
Fact: Bullying in school affects between 18 to 31 percent of students. Cyber bullying victimizes between 7 to 15 percent. These estimates are even higher for some groups like LGBTQ teens and teens with disabilities.
Climbing the Social Ladder
Bullies are often described as the “coolest” kids, but they can be the most hurtful. The perpetrator (the person who bullies) is popular because she/he is powerful, has lots of friends and calls the shots when it comes to style, music, dating, and anything else that seems important. She/he wants to hold on to the position at the top of the social ladder and will do whatever it takes, whether or not that means mowing people over in the process—spreading gossip in school and via social media, convincing people you thought were friends to turn against you. Why would these supposed friends do that? On the surface, it makes no sense. But think about it: these “social strivers” are jockeying for a higher position on the social ladder. They may not reach the top but can get closer. The last thing they want is to find themselves on the bad side of the bully for fear that they might be the next victim.
In the past, the word bully evoked images of boys entangled in a physical fight. Girls were left out of the equation. But things have changed: today, there’s a lot of talk about girls and bullying. Girls don’t usually get into physical fights. Their bullying is all about feelings and relationships. Instead of punching someone out, girls can gossip, spread rumors, form cliques, and use social media to “take down” their target. It’s always been hurtful not be invited to a party or other event. It’s even worse now with invitations splashed all over Facebook and Instagram. And during the party there are those selfies of people smiling and laughing and having the time of their lives. It’s like an unending TV commercial that screams fiesta, happiness, fun, possibly romance.
With all this talk about power and climbing the social ladder, it should be noted that a popular girl who should, by all accounts, be the belle of the ball can be bullied too. Why? Well, because other girls are jealous and think she’s “too” swag, “too” smart, “too” high and mighty for her own good. So, the shoe fits on the other foot in this scenario, and the “too swag” girl gets the boot.
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