How Serious is the Issue of Bullying Really?

I’ve discussed bullying on ChapterTK as it’s an issue near and dear to my heart. The average days of my middle school years were horrifying. I remember my parents telling me to just ignore the bullies. They wanted a rise out of me and if I didn’t give that to them, they’d leave me alone. I will never tell any children I might have that same thing. In my experience, bullies will only try harsher and crueller acts until they find the one you can’t ignore. Yet, I worry this discussion on bullying has become overused. People reject so much of it as kids being kids. When is bullying serious and when isn’t it? Is it possible we are too sensitive about bullying these days?

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20 thoughts on “How Serious is the Issue of Bullying Really?”

  1. I will be the first to admit that bullying is a problem. When I was a kid, I played both roles. I was bullied, and I am ashamed to admit- I was a bully to others. There is no question that it is a problem, especially these days. Social media and constant contact with peers is something we didn’t have when I was in school. If you had a rough day with being picked on, you’d go home and that was it. Now, the exposure is constant and I feel like that is amplifying any issues that people my age used to see, and kids are getting hurt for it.
    That being said, I’ve seen too many instances of late where ‘kids being kids’ is being interpreted as bullying, and the hammer is being dropped on kids who can’t understand the concept of bullying, or what they’re doing is wrong yet. My 5 year old son had to being home and sign an anti-bullying contract that we had to read to him. Instilling values early is a good thing, but if kids can’t understand a concept yet, taking them to task for it seems a bit overkill on a policy designed to do real good.
    I almost view schools’ policies of anti-bullying a lot like legislation being passed. We are in the early stages of it, so the initial policy has a lot of kinks to be worked out. Given time, I think that with the new realizations we have, anti-bullying policies will mature, although I don’t believe bullying will ever go away, we’ll just be better equipped to deal with it.

    1. I think that’s a good way to look at it. We need to start young, although reading a 5 year old a contract seems odd. Still, bullying can start then and they need to understand why it’s wrong. Hopefully, as people continue to pay attention, it will get better. Right now, I just hate how bullying has to get to an extreme for people to think something is wrong.

      And, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much at also being a bully. Many who are bullied turn into bullies like that. Without anyone giving us direction or helping us understand the impact of our actions, how were you or any other child supposed to know. I often think of my own bullies that way. Yes, they were cruel. Yes, they left scars that exist to this day. That said, they didn’t understand what they were doing. Some may not have even recognized at the time that what they were doing was bullying.

  2. I’ve seen bullying from three sides; as a nerdy kid being bullied, as a parent, and as a teacher dealing with bullies and their victims. The only role I haven’t played is that of a bully.
    As an adult, I know exactly why I was bullied as a kid. I have ADHD that was out of control in my childhood & I stood out from the status quo in my clothing. My older parents dressed me in my neighbor’s, eight-years-out of style, “Brady Bunch” hand-me-downs. It sounds ridiculous, but something as small as having on the wrong leg width of jeans can make you a target. Sadly, once you’re a target, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll react. With ADHD, I reacted impulsively with my comments–often loudly–and that’s all it took to fuel the bully’s fire. I’d often be the one who would get in trouble because of my loud reaction, while the bullies would slip quietly under the radar and not face punishment.
    As a teacher, I quickly intervened when I saw, or was made aware of a bullying situation. It was interesting, as an adult, to see the dynamics of who bullied and why they bullied. It was equally revealing to see who the bullies targeted, and their reactions. Bullies will pick on others for anything and everything, and most bullies have attributes that could easily cause them to be bullied.
    Once I was a parent, I knew that it was imperative to teach, and treat, my children kindness and compassion, especially to those who are different. Sadly, being a kind person won’t keep you from being a victim. I also made sure that they had excellent social skills and that they dressed well and didn’t physically or behaviorally “stand out” from their peers. I think a huge amount of bullying prevention (on both sides) comes from what children are taught at home.

    1. I had all the makings of a victim of bullying. In the beginning, I had a lisp (whoever put the sp in lisp is evil) which wouldn’t be adequetly addressed until 4th grade, I suffered from bladder infections which were largely kept secret with the exception of one incident during the school day, and I hated wearing jeans. Dresses and leggings may be cool now, but they were not while I was in elementary school. As I grew up, I choose clothing different from my peers, got into nerdy hobbies like gaming and reading. Then I had braces put on… I couldn’t have been a bigger target had I had one drawn on me.

      Despite all that, what stands out to me most about those days is what my parents and other adults told me. “Just ignore them and it will go away.” Lies. It just made it worse. They just kept trying new things until they found something I couldn’t ignore. As for children, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have them, but I plan on making sure they are strong. I want them to stand up to anyone who tries to bully them right away. Within school rules, they should be able to dress as they want and be interested in what they want without anyone standing in their way. Part of that attitude comes from me trying to change my oddness so I fit in. Being someone I wasn’t hurt more than anything the bullies threw at me. If nothing else, I want my children to be proud of who they are and not feel like they need to be wearing the right clothing label to make that happen.

      1. I completely see what you’re saying about clothing labels and allowing your children to be who they want to be. When I said that I made sure my kids dressed and behaved well, I didn’t mean designer labels, strict behavioral rules or anything like that. I was forced to wear hand-me-down clothing that was dreadfully out of style (Brady Bunch era- I was young in the ’80s) and that made me very self-conscious, which in turn made me bully bait. My mom and dad saw no need to let perfectly good clothing from our neighbor go to waste–even though I told them that I was being picked on because of it. I got the old “Ignore them” speech, too. My kids were allowed to choose what they wanted to wear and I didn’t force a certain fashion or style on them. My oldest enjoyed the “goth” look, while my youngest was a jeans and tee-shirt sort of girl. I feel like both of them had the courage and confidence to stand up for themselves, if they were bullied, because we certainly instilled it in them. Luckily, both of them are low-key, sweet, easy going people who never had to really contend with bullying.
        My ADHD, was what really made me the target, because I couldn’t control my impulsiveness long enough to think situations through before reacting. The 1970’s style clothing was just the icing on my bully-bait cake! LOL! Through trial and error, I finally adapted to living with an over-active brain. Fortunately (and amazingly), my kids don’t have ADHD, so they were able to be more mannerly and appropriate than I was in my early school years.
        The fantastic thing about our school years is that they eventually end, and the bullying usually ends with them. Once I was in college, I found my niche and actually was very happy socially, as I am now.
        It sounds like you have a very good head on your shoulders. If you do have children, they will have a wonderful, caring mom! 🙂

  3. My daughter is currently being bullied and I’ve spent meeting after meeting with the teachers, principals and social workers at her school. The two boys in question have beaten her face bloody, destroyed her belongings, rubbed their penis all over her belongings and threatened to kill her. A neighbor’s daughter was told by the boys, ‘I’m going to rape you until you’re dead.’ These kids are six years old.

    When I addressed the issue with the school, they come at it from this angle: ‘We’ll set up a period of time for your child to write in a diary for fifteen minutes after class each day about how they feel. A teacher will be there so your child will have a safe environment to express her feelings.’ The boys did not have to spend 15 minutes writing in a diary about why they felt the need to hurt other children. Yesterday, another mom showed me her son’s shoes where the boys had cut all the laces, and his bike where they had pulled off the handle bars. My daughter is one of at least five they are tormenting. Now five kids stay after class each day writing about how they feel in a book so they can express their feelings, the bullies do not. But the school is working with them, they say.

    My problem is the focus is solely on the victims and the message being sent is ‘something is wrong with you.’ Wrong message. Children should not fear going to school. Children should feel safe. It’s such a critical age, too. The younger ones want to believe in justice, but they don’t see it. The parents and teachers all tell them how they should behave and act socially, but what happens in reality shatters those ideals and nothing happens to those who defy the socially correct boundaries. It makes teaching and parenting that much more difficult. Why? Why should they behave a certain way? Nothing really happens if they don’t. In fact, bullies get all the fun. They get control, no consequences, attention and they aren’t the ones getting hurt. It’s a win-win situation for them.

    I asked my school for an action plan. If a child does this, this happens. They came up with one, with three tiers of conduct. The final tier said if a child performed violent acts, or continued to hurt others or destroy property, the parent would be required to attend school with the child. I thought this was a fantastic solution! If your child continually bullies, you must come take care of your child. The problem is the plan isn’t followed, for whatever reason.

    I also can’t help thinking this can’t be the best environment for the bullies either. They need smaller classes and individualized attention, in conjunction with whatever support they should be seeking from mental health professionals.

    Philosophically, I wonder how far it needs to go before something is done. I think the desire for authority is natural. It’s part of the reason why hundreds are flocking to terrorist organizations. I’ve read account after account about how it felt good to be in control of others. To have power and authority. Yes, these issues of control and authority are difficult and complex, but I can tell you by six years old, we’ve left a gap for these themes to develop themselves.

    I just re-read this, and wow, it got long! Sorry TK. We’re in the thick of it so I think about this issue a lot right now.

    1. I get where you’re coming from in the sense that I was severely bullied, terrified to go to school every day. I kept quiet about it for the most part. When I said anything, I was told to ignore them and they’d go away (fyi, that does not work). I’m happy to know your daughter’s school has an action plan at all. At least that’s a little progress. I get really angry when I read stories about the bullied kid being treated as if they are the problem. “well, if you just didn’t being your My Little Pony bag to school…” Reminds me of my childhood and it infuriates me. Children should be allow to be whoever they are so they can develop into who they are meant to be. Know one is meant to be a clone of the system.

      But I also think the bullies have problems. They are just kids too, after all. They need to talk to someone about their feelings and be made to understand the damage they cause. I also LOVE the idea of a parent being forced to stay with their kid in school, but what if both parents work? Then the kid is removed from school? It’s almost like they’d have to step up a separate school or classroom for those children whose parents can’t do that. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a bad idea, either. These bullies are tyrants and at the very least need to be kept away from other children. I just also long for a way to teach them why their actions are wrong.

  4. There has to be universal zero tolerance where bullying is concerned, especially with the explosive growth of social media and online bullying. It’s important to talk about it and raise social consciousness now more than ever. : )

    1. I agree. I’ve express and idea before that children should have to take stress management classes starting in Kindergarten. It would start simply, like so many subjects, and then grow. That way, children can learn healthy ways to handle their stress. I think this would help out bullies and perhaps prevent some from ever becoming a bully.

      I agree with zero tolerance, but I think we need a very specific definition of bullying. I have seen stories of 6-year-old boys being accused of sexual harassment when they kiss a girls hand. Of course, there is a difference between gently grabbing someones hand and kissing and violently grabbing their hand, ignoring their attempts to pull away and kiss their hand. A lot of my experiences revolved around groups of girls egging on groups of boys or one particular boy to kiss me. When you’re cornered with your back to a locker and no escape, that environment becomes very hostile. My parents actually almost went to the principal to make a sexual harassment claim but I told them not to. The main boy was the boyfriend of the principals daughter, who also happened to be one of my biggest bullies. I saw that just making everything worse.Being yelled at wouldn’t have done anything for my bullies.

      1. Yes, sounds very reasonable. Learning stress management,as well as other life-skills is something I’d love to see on the curriculum. Something for the spirit as an optional choice might also be good, meditation or tai-chi instead of classical P.E. for those who prefer that I don’t think would be unreasonable. : ) Things designed for improving mental, spiritual, and physical health.

        Absolutely, and I think that defining the problem after teaching stress-management would also get more students involved in looking for solutions. Consciousness raising is a good place to start, I think.

        1. P.E. is kind of what I think of. As I understand it, P.E. is supposed to show kids different ways to be active. A stress class would show them different ways to deal with stress. I saw a lot of kids turn to sex, drugs and or alcohol just to deal. I had a friend tell me once “I want to black out. I just want to forget all the pain for a time.” For now, kids happen into ways to deal with stress and some happen into bullying. They don’t have to if we expose them to all the different ways they can safely handle their emotions.

  5. While I was frequently a victim of bullying when I was young, I look at each instance as a situation unto itself. Whenever the bullying was physical, it usually ended when I socked the guy. And sometimes, much like with Enkidu and Gilgamesh, defeat = friendship. It didn’t always stop all bullies or prevent a new bully somewhere down the line (“HERE COME NEW CHALLENGER!”), but it always stopped THAT bully. The last bully I ever fought was an annoying juggalo guy in highschool, and that turned me into a minor folk hero so no one messed with me again after that.

    1. I never really fought back, but I really wish I did. People kept telling me not to and I listened. If I had children today, I’d tell them to stand up for themselves. In fact, I think I’d tell them to stand up for themselves first and that I’d have their back if they did. I think that alone has more effect on a bully than running to a teacher.

  6. Bullying sucks.

    I’m a burn victim and I have severe scarring on my legs, and I’ve had them since I was three years old. I used to live in Arizona where every day was so swelteringly hot that wearing long pants wasn’t an option, and I was torn to shred because of my scars. Like, actively made fun of for being “the burned kid.” Then, when I moved and got to middle school, I decided to never wear shorts again (and I actually haven’t worn them since then) but the bullying was still there. I was socially awkward and weird as a result of being ostracized in elementary school, and my attempts to be cool were just embarrassing. On one occasion, I was shoved down onto the concrete as I was attempting to get on the bus. Every person that would then go on to get on the bus made an active effort to step on my face and crotch as they got on the bus. I then had to go on the bus and face those people, bleeding from my face, and they all laughed, bus driver included. And it was made worse by the fact that I wasn’t exactly going home to an awesome situation, either. The bullying eventually ended for me when I moved again and became part of a clique that wasn’t really a target, but I still saw it all the time. I did what I could to curb it, sometimes successfully, sometimes not-so-much.

    Here’s another story. My best friend grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and wasn’t allowed to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, we were in third grade when 9/11 happened, and you would not believe how horrible things got for him after that tragedy occurred. He was bullied both emotionally and physically, and teachers would look the other way, or even participate in it because of his “disrespect.” My friend never really caught a break, either, as when he got home, his dad would beat the crap out of him. It was a horrible situation all around.

    I personally don’t think that the issue is overblown at all. I’ve seen and been one of the victims of abuse and it is a really terrible thing. It needs to stop. Like, kids being kids is okay to a certain extent, but I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to some pretty terrible stuff while using that as an excuse. There are also schools out there that proclaim that there is no bullying on their campus, and will do everything they can to protect that insane image, including accusing the victims of bullying of lying. It’s a serious problem and it’s still just as bad as it was before, if not worse due to the rise of social media.

    I apologize for the incredibly long post, but it is a topic that I am passionate about, and a sensitive issue with me. I’m still self-conscious about my scars, and never go out in anything that doesn’t fully cover my legs. It’s not awesome.

    1. Your long post is just fine. This issue is so serious. I cringe whenever I hear parents say they need NEED to buy their children a specific brand of clothing so they won’t be bullied. What about those who can’t do that? Like you, wish scars on your legs that you couldn’t hide, or the kid with braces, or with a lisp? Making kids the same as the rest out of fear only helps the bullies. I don’t know where this knack for picking on those who are different came from, but it needs to stop. If anything, we have only seen the tip of the issue. I think the problem of bulling lies not only in the actions of bullies,but in why they make those actions, in the families they grow up in and in the school system they’re put into. We need to adequately address all these areas to truly get to the bottom of the issue?

      Have you ever seen a documentary called Bully? I watched it on Netflix and started crying. Actually, when I went to go find this preview to show you, I started crying again. That kid who said he’s nervous to go to school, who is literally being attacked on the bus, reminds me so much of my childhood self it’s scary.

      1. That is something I certainly need to watch; thank you for pointing me to it.

        I think the worst thing about this is how passionately schools will deny that there is a problem. Like in the trailer, “I’ve been on that bus. Those kids are as good as gold.” Well, great, lady. You solved the problem. All you have to do is show up on that bus and every other bus simultaneously every single day and maybe sometimes some of the kids will behave slightly better.That is, if you weren’t totally full of shit about being on that bus in the first place, which you were.

        I was fortunate in that my elementary school actually said something to the kids who were bullying me, though I distinctly remember that the conversation was focused on the fact that I was one of the highest test-scoring kids in the school and it sounded like if that wasn’t the case, the issue might have been totally ignored. And even then, I think the bullies just got a “talking to” which just made them stop doing it quite so openly.

        In middle school, hell no, nobody was going to help me. Even if I said something to someone, which I didn’t because the administration was this impenetrable wall that seemed impossible to talk to, nothing would have happened. And I’ve seen people bring it up, only to be told off. It’s horrific that school administrations are in denial about bullying. They all
        (I guess I shouldn’t say all, it just feels that way, sometimes) pretend that it doesn’t exist, even when presented with direct evidence, even when eleven year old kids are committing suicide, even when watching it happen. I can’t understand that. It’s just beyond my capabilities to comprehend why and how people can choose to ignore such a huge issue, especially when they’re the ones who have the power to actually do something about it.

  7. I think we are only just beginning to comprehend what actually constitutes bullying in all of its diverse forms, the extent of bullying, the ramifications of bullying, the causes of bullying and how to successfully tackle it.

    I have seen bullying from different angles: I was bullied throughout my school years, I have experienced workplace bullying, I have had to deal with bullying as a teacher and now I am dealing with my children experiencing bullying so I am experiencing it as a parent. Full circle. Across all those decades of experience, it might seem as if nothing has changed since bullying is still happening. The reality is, however, that it will never be eradicated. Cruelty and power plays seem to be built into human nature and some don’t quell those feelings or mitigate against them for a variety of reasons. What has changed, however, is the way in which bullying is viewed.

    Growing up, I was physically bullied in my younger years, often pretty badly. A boy once stood on my throat until I passed out. An elderly lady came to my rescue. Others were around but no one else intervened. There was a lack of intervention in the past, a feeling that this was just a rite of passage, that it was the children’s perogative to sort things out, that thankfully has been replaced by a culture of adults knowing they need to step in and get involved. In my later school years, I was the victim of constant social and emotional bullying. While it did not really chip my self-esteem (since I had no respect for the opinion of the bullies) it certainly dented my social confidence (to this day) and frankly it was exhausting and boring to deal with it day in and day out, coming up with the comebacks, trying hard to ignore it so they would get bored and move on. And the school staff did not regard that as bullying. Again, that was my problem to sort out. I got the “not everyone is going to get along with everyone else” chat. They rubber-stamped my persecution. Again, that has thankfully evolved and now schools and parents, adults generally, appreciate that bullying comes in more forms than fists.

    It is true that a bully’s behaviour often signifies that there is something awful going on with them too – perhaps at home, perhaps some insecurity, perhaps a “passing it on” from having been bullied themselves – but still the onus needs to be on preventing kids from becoming bullies rather than trying to firefight and deal with bullying once it is happening. Spot the early signs, be vigilant, support kids by creating a culture where they know they can speak up, be heard, be believed when they confide that they are being bullied. Let kids know that they will have their problem dealt with, that they can trust the adults to intercede on their behalf. Especially now that modern technology has made it possible for bullying to occur beyond the school gates so that some kids experience no respite from it, policies and strategies need to be robust and the discipline needs to be proportionate.

    One of my sons is experiencing bullying in the form of social ostracism and name-calling right now. We are Scots living in America. We stick out. He’s not very confident anyway. He’s an obvious target. None of that should place the onus on him to just deal with it. Thankfully the school are supporting him with confidence building and social skills and have told me they have dealt with the ringleader of the bullies – which I have no choice but to believe. However, I think it is also incumbent on them to think about whole school strategies of empathy building, of celebrating and tolerating difference, of comprehending action and consequence in order to minimise the incidence of bullying in the school also. The three things – prevention, discipline and support – need to go hand in hand.

    Apologies for the long answer. This is a subject close to my heart for many reasons.

    1. It’s close to my heart as well. I think rite of passage is how it was viewed when I was a kid as well. No one did anything. It was just something to deal with. People don’t understand how bad it gets. I was afraid to go to school. When my period started, I would skip every month I was in school due to stress. No joke, I only menstruated during the summer or long vacations. It didn’t help that I was terrified I might be the next virgin Mary. I mean, you weren’t supposed to miss a period two+ months in a row, right?

      I think the victims of bullying are the main concern – those who need to be helped right now. However, the situation won’t be fixed until we start addressing the problems that create a bully in the first place.

  8. Because our identities are socially constructed: what I think about myself seems merely subjective, But what many others think about me seems bullying can have really negative effects.

    I have never understood people who seemed unconcerned about it. From what I’ve read, it can have long-term consequences, seriously affecting people’s self-esteem.

    Sometimes I try to bring up examples of people who have been bullied and overcome it to help others might be in the same circumstance. So, you have to model/actress who is told she’s ugly. But obviously she is not. So just because someone says you are doesn’t make it so. Or, I’ve been watching the PBS series on the Roosevelts. Interesting to see how FDR was bullied at a boys school — and clearly no reflection on who he really is.

    So our identities are socially constructed, But not socially determined. We know more about ourselves and other people do, we consider other peoples motives in what they are doing … And we can resist their definition of us.

    1. The thing is, a child doesn’t always understand why. I don’t remember the day I first started thinking of myself as broken or worthless. I just always was. Any chance I had to grow self-esteem was dashed by my bullies. I couldn’t overcome those thoughts because everything happening to me reinforced them. Saying “look at so and so, they were bullied,” doesn’t help anyone deal with their situation. It doesn’t stop the threats and the violence. I seriously considered killing myself in 4th grade because they very idea of putting up with life for 8 more years was tortuous. “It will all be fine when you get out of school” they said. I was at a breaking point. No one who had overcome could save me from my day to day existence. I still had to go to school the next day, a place that terrified me. The fact is, just ignoring bullies does nothing. It doesn’t stop them from pushing you into lockers or shoving you onto the ground. Nothing stops them but standing up to them. Even then, they might not stop. The schools need to do something about the bullies to protect everyone else, but I think there needs to also be a step two. Something needs to b e done for the bullies so they can understand why what they do is wrong and prevent more bullies from coming into being.

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