Many of us have heard others say that bullying is “just a fact of life” or “no big deal” or “you are not alone!” Too often, people do not take bullying seriously until the sad and sometimes scary stories are revealed; like the mass retribution shootings we are seeing more frequently across North America. Or the increasing numbers of teen suicides that involve cyberbullying, like that of 15-year-old Coquitlum, BC Canada resident, Amanda Todd.
Many studies show that bullying can have negative effects on a child’s development and their future. But the problem is much deeper and more widespread than we have been led to believe.
In a child’s world bullying occurs once every seven minutes on the playground, and once every 25 minutes in the classroom. Reports show that 30 to 40% of children with aggression problems grow up to continue with violence as adults. As they grow older, bullies may transfer their abuse of power on the playground to other forms of harassment, violence or abuse. Bullying changes its form with age:
- Children’s playground bullying often involves pushing, shoving, name calling, teasing and isolation.
- Teenage bullying may begin to include cyberbullying, sexual harassment, gang attacks and dating violence.
- Adult bullying may become assaults, marital violence, child abuse, workplace harassment and senior abuse.
In order to curtail bullying, one needs to also address what has instigated it.
A Learned Behavior
Childhood bullies are kids that have usually been exposed to some type of negativity that prevents them from functioning in a positive way. They have often been traumatized by someone else. In many cases, it is someone they look up to like an older sibling, a parent, a sport’s coach or a teacher. Bullying is their way of venting their own frustrations or fears.
Young people who bully are more likely to smoke, drink, skip school, get into fights, vandalize property and drop out of school. A recent study in the USA shows that 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24. Still many bullies continue to use their tactics into adulthood without legal ramification. Victims may include people under their authority or control like subordinate staff, spouses and children.
Scars for Life
Victims of childhood bullying are typically unhappy children who suffer from fear, anxiety and low self-esteem. They may try to avoid school or social interaction in an effort to escape it. Some victims of bullying are so distressed that they develop eating disorders, substance abuse and commit, or attempt to commit, suicide. Several instances of suicide by boys, who had been severely bullied in Norway in the early 1980s, moved that country to begin a nationwide anti-bullying program.
Bullying is not gender specific. Young women face an increasing number of challenges which can produce low self-esteem. At early ages it can start with bullying, and as they enter their teen years it transforms to verbal, physical, cyber and in some cases sexual abuse. In a 1993 study, it was reported that 60% of girls who were bullied were bullied only by boys, while another 15-20% were bullied by both boys and girls. Today many news headlines include reports of swarming by groups of girls. None so close to home as the Rena Virk tragedy.
In almost all cases of bullying and abuse, the bully or predator will single out a victim who is weaker and possesses a low level of self-esteem. More time and effort is needed to help children and adults become more aware of themselves, increase their level of confidence and to learn how to defend themselves on a number of levels. But this is only the beginning. In order to stop bullying, we need to also address the source.
Creating a Bully-Free Community
Children are afraid to speak out about bullies and their acts. Some common reasons could be threats made by the bully or discounting the urgency by an adult. Because of this, adults need to take a proactive role in identifying and curtailing bullying activities wherever possible. If you suspect that your child may be a victim of bullying, or perhaps is the person doing the bullying, there are immediate steps that you can take to help them deal with this terrible childhood trauma.
Like any epidemic, one cannot keep applying Band-Aids to the wound. Eventually one has to venture to the source of the infection. In the case of bullying, the source is adults and parents who are usually too busy or stressed to deal with their own anxieties or fears. In order to create a bully-free community, government, police forces, educational bodies and the media need to work together to:
1) Accept the fact that bullying is a growing epidemic and major cause of illness and crime in our society
2) Educate the public on the existence and drastic effects of bullying
3) Provide educational opportunities for children and adults who would be typical targets of bullying
4) Identify weaknesses in our legal systems that allow bullying to exist
5) Pass laws that force adults in authoritative positions to develop approaches and behaviors that prevent bullying from taking place, and nurtures positive growth in our children and citizens
6) Be prepared to enforce anti-bullying laws. Only by taking these steps will we be able to curtail this unacceptable behavior.
About the author: Ken Marchtaler was born in Vancouver, Canada. He has studied and taught Martial Arts for more than 20 years. His group of companies, Marchtaler Group, includes two Martial Arts studios in Victoria, Canada, as well as a number of programs developed for the Martial Arts community including Little Warriors®, 30 Minute Warrior® and the concept of Martial Wellness®. Ken recently appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX networks: Health & Wellness Today TV Show Full Interview with Dr. John Spencer Ellis.