All of us who have had kids in school recognize that from the moment our students get on the bus it is possible that bullying can begin.
I distinctly remember when our first son was in kindergarten. He experienced anxiety waiting for the bus because older kids were threatening him. I remember painful conversations, our own anger as parents and the tough job of teaching him what to do to protect himself.
Bullying can create lifelong consequences
With teenagers, bullying takes different forms and can be deeply personal. Peer acceptance is an enormous aspect of a teen’s life–a factor that makes it difficult to uncover patterns of bullying–and because teens have such loyalty and commitment to their peers, they will do just about anything not to be made fun of.
School bullying can be physical, verbal, sexual, emotional, racial, religious or a combination of these forms.
It can often be very subtle. Episodes of bullying may start with teasing and quickly move to something extremely abusive. We have to remember the high level of sensitivity to peers and the emotional swings that are a normal part of adolescent development.
Because moral development occurs in later teenage years, bullies do not possess good judgment as to what types of personal injury or damage they inflict when they bully other teenagers.
Physical forms of abuse usually occur in hallways, outside of school and in the more private areas within the school. A student who experiences physical bullying may be bruised, have torn clothes or damaged personal belongings. Sometimes students will “lose” belongings rather than admit how the item was damaged. Some forms of physical bullying include:
- breaking personal property
- cornering or trapping a victim
- threatening gestures.
Our teenagers, who are already emotionally vulnerable, find emotional bullying can be severely distressing. Some forms of emotional abuse include:
- name calling
- intense verbal abuse
- spreading false rumors
- hiding belongings
- exclusion from peer groups
The many sexual messages in our media today have caused our teenagers to be hypersensitive to their own sexuality. Sexual bullying can be identified as:
- unwanted touching
- making obscene gestures
- telling lewd jokes that are directed at one person
- circulating inappropriate or obscene photos
Cyber-space seems the perfect tool for bullying, and in a number of the more prominent cases revealed by the media, cyber-bullying played a significant part in devastating our teenagers.
The world of cyber-space is a dominant part of our teenager’s life. Unfortunately technology offers a significant venue for bullying through social networking platforms such as Facebook, video sources such as YouTube and cell phones with options for text messaging. Some examples of cyber-bullying are:
- large numbers of abusive texts
- transmission of revealing or embarrassing photos or videos
- hate messages through texts or emails
Unfortunately, religious and racial bullying are still common in our teens’ world. This type of abuse includes:
- making fun of someone due to race or origin
- exposing insulting stereotypes
- exclusion from peer groups
- discrimination for religious beliefs
All forms of bullying can have life-dominating and lasting effects on an individual. I have talked to adults who years later carry some serious and traumatic imprints which still plague them emotionally and relationally.
Bullying is often a hidden and insipid phenomenon and usually does not cease until someone becomes aware of it and intervenes to insure that it stops.
All of us who are parents, caregivers, teachers and friends of teenagers should be aware of these forms of school bullying and do everything we can to intervene. We need to protect our vulnerable teenagers from lifelong, devastating impact.
More posts to come; keep reading.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network