“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me. All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
Bailey O’Neill, a 12-year old student at a suburban Philadelphia school, died due to injuries suffered from an alleged bullying incident on January 10th of this year which left him with a concussion and a broken nose. After the incident, Bailey began having refractory status epilepsies in which the brain is in a state of persistent seizures. Doctors placed him in a medically induced coma but he was sadly taken off life support on Sunday and passed away. A criminal investigation is under way.
New Jersey education officials recently stated that over 12,000 instances of bullying and intimidation were reported in the 2011-12 school year. California has the highest level of bullying with New York coming in second. (Source: www.statisticbrain.com).
Despite tough anti-bullying programs and laws, incidents are on the rise. Part of the reason for this is cyber bullying. Years ago, kids who were bullied could escape to the privacy and security of their own homes. Nowadays, through the use of electronic technology (computers, cell phones, social networking sites, etc.) kids are subjected to bullying 24/7.
As a victim of bullying myself, I can tell you that the psychological effects last well into adulthood. It’s not something easily forgotten. In my case, for example, I was picked on and ridiculed for the way I walked. Having been born with a disability called cerebral palsy; I walk with a limp and speak with a speech impediment. It hurt to no end to be ridiculed for something that I had absolutely no control over.
But had I known then what I know now I think I probably would have handled myself differently. I didn’t run home and tell my mother what was happening at school. I didn’t want to cause my parents any further pain. This trend continues today as the majority of those bullied do not tell their parents. But back then, I didn’t understand why other kids were making fun of me. In hindsight, I now realize that it had nothing to do with me.
Kids bully others to make themselves feel better or to pick themselves up. It’s as simple as that. They may feel the need to bully someone else in order to appear “cool” to their friends. The victim never does anything to deserve the bullying behavior. They may be chosen for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, they are seen as submissive in personality and sometimes it’s simply because they are seen as a threat (prettier, smarter, etc.).
Those who bully more often than not have other problematic behavior patterns. They tend to have aggressive personalities and be the leader of the group. Bullying incidents occur most often among middle school aged children (6th to 8th grade). Currently, I have two daughters in middle school (6th and 7th). While my oldest has thankfully never experienced any kind of bullying behavior, I unfortunately cannot say the same for my youngest daughter. So this subject is not one that I take lightly. No parent wants to see their child get hurt.
Parents of both victimized and bullying children should encourage openness and honesty. Talk to your children and take the time to listen to what they have to say. Don’t just assume that your school will handle it or that your child would never do such a thing, etc. Whether your child is the victim or the victimizer, he or she is crying out for your attention.
But what exactly is bullying and how does it differ from “normal” adolescent behavior? Bullying is an act of intimidation and can be broken down into three types: verbal, social and physical. It involves everything from making fun of someone to verbal threats. Not to mention ruining someone’s reputation intentionally by spreading rumors which aren’t true and encouraging others not to be friends with that person. Bullying, of course, also involves causing the other person physical harm.
There are some who say that developmentally appropriate conflict is often confused for bullying. As we reach our teens, for example, we begin to understand our personalities better and seek friends who are more like us. And sometimes this developmental growth hurts but there are major differences between normal conflicts and bullying. Bullying is always intentional and hurtful. In bullying, one is always made to feel inferior.
However, in normal developmental conflict, the intent is not to cause harm but to simply experience personal growth.
If there is anyone out there right now reading this who is either currently bullying or perhaps bullied someone in the past, do me a favor and answer one question: how would you feel if the shoe was on the other foot? In other words, how would you feel if you were the one being bullied?
Ironically, bullies frequently fear being bullied or ridiculed themselves. While most are domineering, others suffer from a low self-esteem. So putting others down is seen as a way to lift themselves up and feel like they fit in.
I am not feeling sorry for bullies here but I will tell you that not all bullies are bad people. They are just taking the wrong way out of dealing with their own personal issues at the time. As I said earlier, I was often ridiculed when I was a teenager. Many years later, I ran into one of my tormentors. When I told her that I had written a book which included stories about my high school years, she remarked, “I’m not proud of what I did. I’m sorry.”
Honestly, I was left speechless by her heartfelt words. Although I was extremely grateful for her apology, I hadn’t realized until then that I was still carrying around the hurt after all those years. I wanted to just cry in her arms but instead I walked away holding back the tears.
As both a former victim and the mother of two young girls, I am very happy to know that anti-bullying laws have finally been implemented. I don’t think, however, that such rules are enough to end bullying around the world. The end to bullying has to begin in the home, not in the legislature or our schools.
If children feel loved and accepted at home, they will be less likely to seek acceptance at someone else’s expense. We must teach children to treat others the way that they themselves expect to be treated.