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Community Wellness:  What can be done about bullying

Community Wellness: What can be done about bullying

March 26, 2016

By Jon Youngs, MA, LPC
The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness


Bullying is a kind of violence that threatens young people's physical, social, emotional and academic well-being. It can result in physical injuries, social and emotional difficulties, and academic problems. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, substance use and, when combined with other factors, even suicide.

Bullying is not the same as teasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bullying as having three components. Bullying is “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, involving an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated."

There are a number of different ways perpetrators bully victims:

- Verbal bullying: calling a victim bad names or making derogatory comments about them.

- Bullying by excluding a victim from a social group or isolating them.

- Physical bullying: hitting, kicking, shoving or spitting on a victim.

- Bullying by telling lies or starting or perpetuating rumors about the victim.

- Bullying by taking money or other property from the victim and/or damaging it.

- Bullying by threatening or forcing a victim to do things they don't want to do.

- Racial bullying.

- Sexual bullying based on someone's gender or sexual orientation.

- Cyber bullying (via cell phone or Internet).

The most important thing to remember about bullying is that it is a power and control-driven dynamic, much like intimate partner and family violence.

Bullying tends to reflect the basic insecurities that we as humans have. As humans, we have a pecking order, and those with power tend to be seen as those with worth. Bullying is kind of a desperate effort by kids who bully to exert power and control on the competition for social status within the school environment. Schools provide the perfect environment for bullying to thrive -- it's a location with a high level of social interaction, as well as academic, economic and social competition, not to mention hormones.

Can we eliminate bullying? Probably not, and that's because of the nature of where we are developmentally, in those teenage years especially. It's a time when physical growth is happening, and when we are the most discontented with ourselves. We want to fit in and be part of something, and the competitive structure of school creates tension, which can lead to bullying.

The best way to deal with bullying is to not let those behaviors get to you. If we help kids stretch their resolve, self-esteem and positive sense of self, calling names will have less impact. If the bully is not effective at achieving the status they want to achieve, the bullying behavior will reduce if not cease altogether.

My approach when I talk to kids is really a self-esteem building approach that makes kids less likely to be negatively impacted by others. When the focus is less on me, the perpetrator of bullying loses power and effectiveness in their behavior. Teaching kids self-confidence and self-esteem building strategies is how families, churches, communities and schools can best help children who are bullied. The more a child being bullied becomes clear on their self-worth, they learn to recognize that the bully can only take as much control as the victim is willing to give. If I am confident, and have a strong social network of my own, that tends to take away the bully's power.

Sometimes students don't have a strong social network of their own. The approach is the same. Schools, churches, neighbors -- anyone willing to take a role in the bullied child's life -- can help them understand their worth and strengthen their self-esteem, so they can climb higher on the social ladder without continuing to be a victim of bullying or becoming a bully themselves. Similar to a domestic violence situation, when the victim is able to separate from the abusive person, eventually it takes away the abuser's power and ability to control.

Within the family, schools and the community, we can provide vehicles of positive achievement and a variety of activities and interests for kids to engage in. The more intrinsic value, however, is that we deserve to be treated with respect just because we exist. We have value by virtue of the fact that we are living beings, with emotions and feelings.

The norms we live by depends on the community, and the norms of what is socially acceptable. We can help children identify the qualities and values that are important in their community, culture, religion and ethnicity, and let them know we are all trying as best we can to live by and reflect those values. If we make decisions by our values and what kind of person we want to be, then we don't have to let other people determine our worth; and when we treat people in a way that reflects who we want to be, we feel better about ourselves.

Our sense of worth is determined by our choices and actions, but it's so hard at that age range to help children understand that. They still have their parents as the first determiner of their worth and value. If they don't receive love, encouragement and praise, they receive a different message about their self-worth and they begin to doubt themselves more. Children will be more susceptible to power and control in school by bullies or abusive relationships later on.

It takes everybody encouraging children to recognize their own power and their ability to determine their own worth to keep bullies at bay.