Bullying Has Become An Epidemic. To Reduce Its Devastation, We Must Forget What We Have Been Taught.
Expert brings forth 4 strategies to reverse our backward approach to the bullying crisis and clean the slate.
I entered the school locker room to see the graffiti on the bench. Big block letters in marker. My name and insert offensive insult here.
It was grade 10, I was still relatively new to the school having just transferred. I played all the sports that would come up. I was comfortable in an athletic setting and competitive. As it turns out, not great qualities in endearing yourself to others in your gym class. I pushed to win in basketball, floor hockey, volleyball, whatever came up. I certainly was not the best athlete in the class, but my competitiveness rubbed one person in particular the wrong way. He was the influencer. The tough guy. A bully. The guy who the other kids were afraid of and the girls did not like. He always got his way and did not like the new guy stealing his thunder.
The graffiti in the locker room also showed up in the classroom. My name and insert offensive insult here was all over the chairs. It was anonymous to the teachers at first, but the students knew who it was. Other boys started to pile on and the school had some damaged property to contend with.
I was humiliated, insulted, embarrassed. It took a while for me to figure out why I was being singled out and not sure what do. Do I call this dude out after school? Do I let it pass? Heady stuff for a teenager in a new environment.
I was never confronted physically but I figured it was coming. If I got through a physical confrontation, I would have some big brothers to deal with. Do I report him? I did not like that idea for a whole host of reasons (more on that shortly).
Fortunately, within a day or 2 (seemed like a month as I recall), a savvy teacher figured it out and got to the bottom of the problem. The kid was found out and dealt with by the school administration. That was pretty much the end of that, yet the feeling still etched 40+ years later. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Not feeling I could talk to anyone. Made me feel 2 feet tall. It hurt. I had done nothing wrong.
That would have been 1980-81. Long time ago. Old school bullying. Someone picks on another. Not that unusual at the time.
The definition of bullying according to Webster’s: acts or written/spoken words intended to intimidate or harass a person or to cause physical harm to a person or his or her property.
There are different forms of bullying. Physical, social and verbal. The venom cuts deep. Deep into one’s sense of self worth.
Much has changed to layer on top of traditional bullying. Cyber bullying is a thing. Whereas historically school and playground were prime settings for bullying to occur, this has expanded to include the workplace, just about any public setting (just check your social media to find examples), in sport and as we will discuss, at home.
In today’s youth sport for example, it happens a lot. Much of it subtle, some of it not so much. When there is a discrepancy in power, then bullying occurs. Coach on player. Also, parent on parent. Parent on coach. Coach on official. Official on player. Official on coach. Official on official. Administrator/board member on parent or coach or vice versa. Sometimes coach on parent and of course player on player. How about parent on player? More than we realize. These reflect the trend in our current society.
What about bullying by teachers on students? Or, at home? Parents bullying their own kids?
Intimidation is the act of frightening someone into doing something. Intimidation is associated with manipulation, condescension, physical abuse, and sometimes physical harm. Intimidation is a form of bullying.
When we include intimidation into the scope bullying, or under the umbrella of bullying, then we can see how common it has become.
I can think of many situations in my career, some passive aggressive and some plain aggressive, where manipulation, condescension, intimidation, were part of the work environment.
We see it on the screen and in media. We see it while driving. We see it at the grocery store or at the gas pumps. We see it in the drive through line when someone thinks things are moving too slow, and we see it a lot in youth sport.
Bullying is spreading like a virus.
The bullying crossroads.
Everyone reading this could agree that there should be zero tolerance for bullying. Most of us can relate to a personal experience or witnessed one firsthand and the damage it can cause. Yet, bullying is growing at an alarming rate.
According to best selling author on the subject, Jennifer Fraser*:
Bullying occurs once every seven minutes. It’s amazing that it flourishes when it’s well-documented to cause intense social-emotional suffering, and poor school performance, and can even lead to suicide. In fact, a new word has been coined to describe the tragedy of suicide caused by bullying: “bullycide.” Why are we powerless to stop this destructive behavior?
Fraser adds that to make progress on reducing the epidemic of bullying, we must try to forget everything that we’ve been told about bullying and start with a clean slate.
Fraser suggests four strategies to reverse our backward approach to the bullying crisis:
1. Broaden the focus beyond children.
Bullying is not confined to our youth. Parents need to be aware on how bullying is passed from generation to generation and how we can stop it. While much of the bullying education targets youth, the real change will come with parents.
2. Widen the scope of awareness beyond parents.
Parents are not the only adults who can infect children with the bullying behaviors. These behaviors can also be taught by teachers, coaches, bosses and managers, anyone really. Bullying statistics at the workplace are staggering. 76.3 million employees in the USA speak to some sort of bullying at work.
We need to create a culture where 99 percent of people are whistleblowers, not just 10 percent as is now the case.
3. Make anti-bullying education and practice a priority.
While there are anti-bullying days and awareness weeks in many countries, this is not enough to move the needle from a society of bullying and abuse culture to one structured on empathy and compassion.
When we think about the mental health movement and how this is has benefitted from education, anti- bullying can follow a similar path.
4. Expose all forms of bullying as abnormal and unacceptable.
This becomes perhaps the hardest step, because many of us grew up in a culture where this type of behavior was perceived as normal. Evidence shows how bullying harms the brain, and the impact that has on society. Taking action is always the hardest part.
In short, bullying runs much deeper today than it did when I experienced back in the 80’s. While there were always bullies around, it’s impact only started to be studied in the 1970’s. The evidence now linking the effects of bullying to mental health and violent behavior are enough cause for us to each to our part to educate ourselves and call it out when we experience it.
We do experience it. More than we think. Ever notice the red cars when you have a new red car? Same applies here when we are conscious of the problem.
Bullying is all around us. Now we need to call these behaviors out, no matter how small. Not by blaming or shaming, those are bullying tactics. Calling them out as not right will teach our youth a better path.
One step at a time.
* Jennifer Fraser, best-selling author, and award-winning educator has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. Her online courses and workshops provide dynamic lessons on the impact neuroscience has on personal development and culture change. Her previous book, Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom (Motion Press, Aug. 8, 2015), explores what happens when the bully is a teacher or coach. Her new book, The Bullied Brain: Heal Your Scars and Restore Your Health (Prometheus Books, April 1, 2022), delves into how bullying affects the brain and how the brain can heal. Learn more at bulliedbrain.com.