Ever since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve students and then took their own lives at Columbine High School, this country has had an ongoing dialogue about bullying. School shooting after school shooting has increased the dialogue. Schools have developed policies and procedures to deal with bullying as a result. We ask ourselves what is wrong with our children? It seems as if kids these days are more and more violent.
Bullying can be defined as any verbal, physical sexual or cyber-aggressive act committed with the intent to cause harm.
In 2007, about 32 percent of students reported having been bullied at school during the school year Twenty-one percent of students said that they had experienced bullying that consisted of being made fun of; 18 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 11 percent said that they were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; 6 percent said they were threatened with harm; 5 percent said they were excluded from activities on purpose; and 4 percent each said that someone tried to make them do things they did not want to do and that their property was destroyed on purpose. Of those students in 2007 who reported being bullied during the school year, 79 percent said that they were bullied inside the school, 23 percent said that they were bullied outside on school grounds, 8 percent said they were bullied on the school bus, and 4 percent said they were bullied somewhere else.1
After several teen suicides, the media has focused heavily on the bullying of LGTBQ teens (whether or not they were actually LGBTQ). There is an undeniable homophobic and misogynistic aspect of bullying. For boys and men, to be called a ‘fag’ is to be entirely stripped of your manhood. It is the single worse slur we use for men. It’s usage invokes fear and anger, sometimes leading to retaliation by the victim. LGBTQ bullying is different in the sense that it is widely accepted by society, just look at the movies and music we consume, and its victims are thus seen as deserving. LGBTQ individuals are primary targets for bullying, and the recent suicides are not an aberration.
The widespread availability of the internet, and kids’ subsequent access and use of it, has created a new form of bullying; cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying can be definied by “bullying through email, instant messaging (IMing), chat room exchanges, Web site posts, or digital messages or images send to a cellular phone or personal digital assistant2.” In 2007, “about 4 percent of students reported having been cyber-bullied anywhere (on or off school property) during the school year3.” Even while in class kids are being harassed via new technologies. Of those who reported cyber-bullying during the school year, 73 percent said it had occurred once or twice during that period, 21 percent said it had occurred once or twice a month, and 5 percent said it had occurred once or twice a week. Thirty percent of students who were cyber-bullied notified a teacher or another adult at school about the event(s)4.
Previously we’ve talked about ‘avatar rape, or ‘ sexual violence in the virtual world. This is an extreme form of cyber-bullying, other forms include:
- Harassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages
- Denigration: Distributing information about another that is derogatory and untrue through posting it on a Web page, sending it to others through email or instant messaging, or posting or sending digitally altered photos of someone
- Flaming: Online “fighting” using electronic messages with angry, vulgar language
- Impersonation: Breaking into an email or social networking account and using that person’s online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others.
- Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information, or tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information and forwarding it to others
- Cyber Stalking: Repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm or are highly intimidating, or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety (depending on the content of the message, it may be illegal).5
Bullying prevention begins by standing up to bullying. Being an effective bystander and not tolerating bullying behavior (this means standing up to sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, classist, ableist…etc language at all times). Bullies who aren’t supported, whether directly (participating) or indirectly (silence), don’t last long and usually quit. There also needs to be real consequences (zero tolerance policies aren’t the answer either). Authority figures need to be made aware of its occurrence (and if they see it themselves they need to step in too!). Like prevention of all issues, this must be a community effort.
2 P., S, , P, & Limber, S. (2009). Cyber bullying: a prevention curriculum for grades 3-5. Hazelden Publishing.