Peer-on-peer bullying among youth has resulted in researchers establishing uniform definitions to guide studies and interpret data on the subject, but adults have not escaped the epidemic. The topic of bullying has garnered attention in social media with commenters debating whether holding parents responsible will prove to be a practical solution. State and local lawmakers have taken action to protect children and prevent bullying through model policies as detailed by Stopbullying.gov. Requirements vary from state-to-state, but contain similar vital language. Bullying is often identified as a public health epidemic in print media with both youth and adult offenders.
What is Bullying?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Education publicized a uniform federal definition in 2014 with core elements identified as unwanted aggressive behavior, observed or perceived power imbalance, and repetition of actions or high probability of recurrence. The definition acknowledges two modes of bullying: direct and indirect. Direct harassment includes face-to-face communication or contact whereas indirect harassment could be a suggestive photo posted to social media platforms. In addition to the modes are four types categorized as physical, verbal, relational and damage to property. Relational harassment involves damage to reputations or relationships. Cyberbullying involves relational aggression, verbal aggression, and can include property damage if an electronic attack modifies, publicizes, damages, or destroys privately stored electronic information.
Who is at risk?
A study conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 2005 identified sexual orientation and gender identity as a runner-up to the number one reason children are bullied: appearance. Recent studies recognize victims as isolated students or those viewed as different from their peers. Twenty percent of high school students reported instances of bullying on school campuses with LGBTQ youth and other groups, having an increased risk. Probability increases if the student is perceived to have damaged self-esteem or lacks self-defense. The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) reported 34% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were bullied on school property with 18% reporting forced sex and dating violence. Ten percent experienced threats or injuries with a weapon on school property. Reports by the CDC prove youth fare better with support from parents and safe school environments, but home and school environments are no longer guaranteed safe havens.
Bullying is a problem for youth, but no less of an issue for adults.. Alan McEvoy published a study in 2005 where teachers were described using the same selection criteria and tactics as peer-on-peer bullying. An imbalance of power was disguised as motivation or an appropriate disciplinary method where constant and deliberate humiliation resulted in self-doubt and questioning of academic capability. The study interviewed 236 students between the ages of 15 and 23 years with 93% of respondents agreeing teachers are easily identified as bullies, but escape corrective action. Seasoned staff was accused of fostering hostile environments while behaviors were dismissed as a difference of opinion. Some professionals have argued the need for such behavior because students equally bully staff. It would be appropriate for parents or guardians to intervene by advocating for the victimized students, but home environments can be a battleground as well.
Parents may display bullying behaviors, in comparison, invoking feelings of guilt or incompetence. A parent may not be supportive of student choices, such as sexual orientation or extracurricular activities, resulting in the student feeling rejected. Students can become victims at home when compared to siblings perceived as behaving or performing favorably. Parents can intentionally and inadvertently put down students by suggesting dieting or surgeries altering appearances, especially in comparison to another. Many professionals and bloggers have described the behavior as “aggressive parenting” and note it as rare or uncomfortable to highlight, but it is crucial students feel supported by communities and families alike. Parents desiring to make a change can locate resources or seek counseling services from a local provider.
What Can You Do?
Adults and children, regardless of location or background, can unite in an effort to prevent bullying through open conversation that models respect and kindness. Adults and peers help build confidence and provide youth with the tools to self-advocate. Schools and local agencies can benefit from assessment and use similar tools as a beginning to solution based conversation. It is also vital to review the laws applicable in each state because the system is not uniform. Techniques to safely defend against bullying are available and should be discussed to facilitate reduced instances at home and school.
National Bullying Prevention Center
The Bully Project