I have always disagreed with the popular “sticks and stones” phrase because the memory of painful words can be incredibly destructive to ones self-esteem. I still vividly remember the day my sixth grade crush announced that I was the most unattractive girl in school. I also remember the girl in middle school who told me to put on pants to cover up my cellulite. I was lucky enough to avoid further events by attending a different high school, but most teens do not have that choice and are broken by the constant abuse from peers. Continued verbal torment can lead to social and emotional developmental problems, extreme anxiety, and even suicide.
Verbal bullying has taken a new form as we continue to develop Internet sources that can easily spread information. Recently, while discussing the topic of bullying with a friend of mine, she pulled up a page on the Internet devoted to insulting teenage girls. Not only were most of them from the same area, but also were from the same school. Immediately I pictured being the object of ridicule on this taunting site. How can I possibly show my face again at school? What did I do to deserve this? Why ME? Cyberbullying has become increasingly popular as our opportunities for networking increase. Because of the publicity that social networking provides, and the permanency that it affords, cyberbullying increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety in teens.
Beyond the emotional distress of being bullied, many are subject to physical pain. A story that broke my heart was from my cousin Lauren, who plays Becky Jackson on the hit T.V. show Glee. Lauren has been a positive inspiration as an activist against bullying, fueled by her own traumatic experiences. She would often say that some of the kids at school would tease her for having downs syndrome and that she did not like being different. One day at school, a few boys pushed her onto the ground and forced her to eat sand. For Lauren, this painful memory is a reminder of how her differences have been viewed in a negative light.
Verbal, physical, and cyberbullying all have detrimental effects on the personality and esteem of the individual. The person being bullied may struggle with depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and eating, loneliness, and decreased achievement in school. Often times, these effects will continue into their adult life, leading to increased drug abuse and decreased social stability. Those who are bullied tend to keep the abuse a secret, because of shame and embarrassment or fear of further pain they may suffer as a result of speaking out; thus, the bullying persists. If you are concerned that a child, friend, or family member is being subjected to this treatment there are common warning signs to watch for. It is important to pay attention to the child’s unexplainable injuries, lost items, frequent headaches or stomachaches, self-destructive behaviors, and avoidance of social situations.
We tend to focus solely on the victim and forget that those who bully have their own psychological issues that need to be addressed. Aggression is a key personality component in those who bully. Often times this aggression can be verbal or physical toward children or even adults. Signs that a child is bullying may include difficulty following rules, lack of respect for others’ feelings, failure in school, high concern with popularity, and an inability to take responsibility for actions. In order to prevent further bullying, the child should see a counselor who can help them develop empathy, interact in a healthy manner, reduce anger, and take responsibility for their actions. In order to begin to eliminate bullying, one must start with the root of the problem. The likelihood that the person bullying will turn to substances, drop out of school, and commit criminal acts will often decrease if the underlying issue of aggression is professionally handled.
Bullying knows no limits and is often times extremely dangerous for the well being of the bully and the bullied. The effects of bullying can also be dangerous for bystanders, those who stand by and watch without interjection. Often times, bystanders face peer pressure and are afraid of showing vulnerability; therefore, they refrain from doing the right thing and stepping in. For bystanders, both those being taunted and those who are taunting, it is important to set the standard from early on that bullying cannot be tolerated.
Parents should model empathy through their own behaviors and refrain from physical aggression, which often makes the bullying worse. The first step in recognizing if your child is a promoter or a victim of bullying is to stay informed of your child’s life by talking to him or her and asking questions. If you see a specific situation, sensitively discuss the serious consequences that bullying brings about. Regardless of the child’s position in the situation, the problem should not be ignored. The longer the bullying persists, the less likely the behavior will change. The longer we ignore, the more likely these experiences will damage a child’s well being, and could ultimately lead to life-threatening actions.