We all have heard about kids being bullied at school and about the anti-bullying programs being developed to stop bullying. In fact, the month of October is dedicated to Bully Awareness and to stop bullying. However, do we really know how severe the problem is? Research shows that 1 in 4 children are bullied at school. It also shows that children who are bullied are more likely to do poorly in school, are more likely to become depressed or suicidal, more likely to develop eating disorders and tend not to tell anyone (CDC). The statistics also indicate that children who are teased in school are more likely to develop emotional problems as an adult (CDC). One surprising statistic is that if another student intervenes while someone is being teased the bullying is likely to end by 51% (CDC).
While we know bullying effects the student being teased, there are interesting statistics about bullies. Students who bully are more likely to have emotional problems and school problems too (CDC). The research also shows that students who bully are also more likely to become depressed, suicidal or be involved with violent acts as an adult (CDC). As we can see the person being bullied and the person bullying are both at higher risk for significant problems as a child and as an adult. Therefore, it makes sense that we do stop bullying in childhood as soon as it starts.
One statistic I would like to go back to is 51% of bullying tends to stop if another student intervenes. However, this does not happen often. I hear many of the children I work with who are bullied tell me that no one ever helps them. They say that none of their friends or other students get involved. They tell me the other kids look the other way and ignore it. These children also tell me that they often receive little assistance from their teachers. They say that if they say something to the teacher often the teacher often ignores what the student reported or blames both students for the problem which provides no help.
This is what I hear from the children who decide to tell someone. Most children I work with decide not to tell anyone. They are afraid of people thinking they are weak, “a cry baby”, things getting worse and letting their parents down. They feel their parents will think they should know how to handle the situation and if they don’t they will disappoint their parents. This helps no one and it only helps to perpetuate stereotypes such as all boys and men need to be big and strong physically and fight to prove their manhood. This type of thinking hurts boys and it hurts girls too who have to grow up with boys who act on this stereotype. Often girls become the victims of the stereotype such as date rape.
There is another issue involved in the bullying situation. It is called the Bystander Effect. It was first widely described when we were focusing on “road rage,” where people felt the permission to be rude or felt no responsibility to get involved in a situation they witnessed. With “road rage,” since the person’s identity was protected by their car they felt safe swearing at people or running the person off the road. In the other situation, people felt like no one could positively identify them it was alright not to speak up when they witnessed someone hurting someone or committing a crime in public.
We have part of this happening in schools. Students feel that since no one else is saying anything it is okay for them not to say anything. After all no one else is getting in trouble for not saying anything so how could they get in trouble, therefore it’s better to say nothing.
The other factor fueling this lack of students speaking up against bullies is the “typical male stereotype.” According to this stereotype if you speak up and tell a teacher you are a “tattle tale” and you might get beat up. Another part of the stereotype is if you speak up then you just made yourself the same as the kid being teased so you will be teased. Students who are being teased are usually viewed as the “weird kid” and no one wants to be labeled the “weird kid” so most kids will say nothing about another student who is being teased.
Think back to when you were in school. There was that one kid who was labeled “weird” and teased, but did you say anything? Most likely not. You did not want to be associated with the “weird kid” and risk getting teased, getting beat up or losing friends. So instead of saying anything, you did what most other kids did, you said and did nothing. All this did was help keep the male stereotype alive and allowing bullying to continue.
Therefore, in my opinion if we want to eliminate bullying, we need to start working with are children. We need to teach boys and girls that this old “male stereotype” is wrong and to ignore it. We need to teach our children if you notice or are aware of someone doing something to hurt someone else or someone else’s property, they have an obligation to speak up and if you don’t you are as guilty as the person who did it. You need to explain that they are just as guilty because by not saying anything you are allowing the bullying to happen and continue. Some parents may say I am going to far, but if you are aware of a crime such as an assault and saying nothing, you can be charged as an a compliance. By not saying anything, you allowed a crime to occur and you can be punished. Therefore it’s good to teach our children this lesson early.
As I started this article out with various statistics about bullying, it is obvious bullying is very serious. It is something that we need to address and to address it and help everyone, we need to work together.
Dr. Michael Rubino specializes as a psychotherapist for children and teenagers with over 20 years experience. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website at www.rcs-ca.com or on Twitter at @RubinoTherapy