Bullying: A Big Problem
It is obvious that bullying is big problem. A person only needs to look at the instances of teen suicide and school shootings, such as Columbine, to know that bullying can have a major, negative impact on children. There is not a day that passes when bullying has not happened in schools all across the world. All across America, hundreds, if not thousands, of children skip school each day because they are afraid of it happening to them. For good reason, if a person has ever gone to a school as a child, they have gone through the traumatic experience of being bullied in some way. However, despite how bad many people say it is, or in some cases is not, it is actually much worse. Bullying is one of the biggest problems in schools today. Too little is being done to stop it so the problem continually gets worse and worse. It must be stopped before it gets out of control; the well-being and safety of students is at stake so it cannot be left unchecked like it is.
Let’s face it; bullying isn’t some 20th century invention. As long as there have been social hierarchies there have been bullies. T.J. Billitteri claims in a 2010 article that “Bullying is as old as recorded history ‘Cain attacked and killed his brother Abel and killed him’ reads Genesis 4:8” Basically, Billitteri says that as long as humanity has existed there has been bullying. In another article, John Greenya quotes Ted Feinberg of the National Association of School Psychologists when he says “Parents and schools recognize that bullying is a problem that will not go away of its own choice — it's not a faddish thing.” Whether we like it or not, bullying is not a problem that is going to go away on its own. It must be stopped.
In her book, Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, Elizabeth J. Meyer defines the differences between bullying and harassment. “Bullying is defined as a behavior that repeatedly and over time intentionally inflicts injury on another individual whereas harassment includes biased behaviors that have a negative impact on the target or the environment.” (2). What she is saying is that bullying is physically beating someone up while harassment is verbally abusing a victim.
As the human race evolves socially and technologically, bullying techniques have evolved as well too making the problem even worse. Cyber-bullying is a drastically rising problem. Cyber-bullying is using technology to bully someone whether it is through a text, a computer, or a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace. In a 2010 Sciencedaily.com article, the author said “One example of this is the Facebook group ‘Vi som hatar Stina Johansson (Those of us who hate Stina Johansson). This Facebook group was very difficult to remove. It took Stina’s parents almost one whole month.” Cyber-bullying is a big problem, and it is very difficult to stop. However, there are those who think that it isn’t such a big problem. Kate Harding of Salon.com says, “Just as Facebook is not causing the death of genuine friendship; it is also not causing the birth of High School enemies. It only facilitates the malicious gossip, rumors, cruel intentions, and hormone-fueled anger that have long been a painful part of teenagers’ lives.” What she is saying is that it is wrong to blame social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace for bullying because they aren’t the cause of bullying; they are merely a vehicle for it. It is people behind it all not websites.
While cyber-bullying may not be the cause of bullying, that doesn’t mean that cyber-bullying is not a gigantic problem. The example of the Stina Johansson Facebook hate group is one of thousands of examples of the drastic problem cyber-bullying has become. It doesn’t matter at all if cyber-bullying is the cause or not. What is an undeniable truth is that cyber-bullying is a gigantic problem. If a child has a bully at school, then at the very least he or she can go home for the weekend or even go on school breaks and be away from the bully completely. With Cyber-bullying, that is not an option. The bully can easily bombard the victim with as many hateful messages as he wants and all it takes is the click of a button. The victim cannot get away from that. Yes Harding is right; Facebook and other social networking sites are not the cause of bullying. But it is still a vehicle nonetheless and therefore a problem. A bully doesn’t need to even contact the victim. They can put videos or organize hateful groups on Facebook. A Rutgers University freshman named Tyler Clementi jumped off of the George Washington Bridge to his death after a roommate posted a video online of him having a homosexual encounter with another man. This is a prime example of the horrible consequences of Cyber-bullying. Whether some people admit it or not, it is a huge problem.
Another majorly problematic form of bullying is sexual harassment. This is not just being sexist in bullying; it often goes into bullying someone for their sexual orientation as well. Elizabeth Meyer describes it as ‘gendered harassment.’ She says that “gendered harassment is a term used to describe any behavior that acts to shape and police the boundaries or traditional gender norms: heterosexual masculinity and femininity.” (1-2). So, what she is saying is that gendered harassment is a tool used by bullies to keep the gender based social norms in place. Harassment because of sexual orientation, or homophobic harassment, is a growing problem. Meyer describes it as “any behavior, hidden or obvious, that reinforces negative attitudes toward gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.” (5). In short terms, it is harassing people because of what may or may not be their sexual orientation. A victim does not have to be a homosexual to be the victim of homophobic harassment. Calling someone ‘a stupid queer’ regardless of whether or not they are a homosexual is blatant homophobic harassment. In Greenya’s article he says, “Studies show that one-third of gay students are physically harassed due to their sexual orientation, one in six is beaten badly enough to need medical attention and gay teens are four times more likely to be threatened with a weapon at school than straight kids.” This is not right. It should not matter if someone is a homosexual or not and even if they are, that shouldn’t mean that they should be abused for it.
There is a solution to stop people from bullying others because of their sexual orientation. Many schools have started Gay-Straight Alliances. Mary Ellen Flannery wrote another article on bullying aimed directly at homosexual students. She praised the additions of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. “Nearly half of gay High school students say their school has a GSA, and those kids are about a third less likely to be threatened or injured at school, and less than half as likely to attempt suicide.” It only takes one person to make a huge difference on someone’s life. If a lot of people band together to combat harassment of homosexual students, a huge difference can be made.
Of course, homophobic harassment is not the only kind of sexual harassment, there is also harassment simply because of gender. Sexist comments are what it comes down to. If a boy teases a girl for being a girl that is sexual harassment. Meyer says that “terms such as bitch, babe, chick, and fucking broad are commonly used in schools by male students as ways to assert masculinity by degrading female peers.” (9). Verbally degrading peers into nothing more than sexual objects is another common form of sexual harassment. It is far more common, and frequent, for females to be the victims of this than males.
Unfortunately, there are some people who do not see bullying as a big problem. Teachers or even parents think that it is good for children to be bullied. David Derbyshire said in a 2010 Daily Mail article, “In a study of American children aged 11 and 12…children who returned hostility with hostility appeared to be the most mature, the researchers found…were more popular and more admired by teachers and peers.” So, he is saying it is good to be bullied because if a child stands up to bullies, it shows that the child is more mature and the child will be better liked by teachers and peers alike. Of course, Derbyshire acknowledges in the article that bullying in of itself is still a really bad thing; he says that “While the study did not suggest that it was healthy to be the victim of bullying, it found negative experiences could teach children about conflict resolution.” So, Derbyshire says that the act of bullying in of itself is bad, but standing up to it can be really good.
However, Derbyshire is one of the few people who feels that bullying isn’t such a big problem. Most parents and teachers agree that bullying does deep psychological, and in some cases physical, harm. A January NEAtoday article by Mary Ellen Flannery quotes the president of NEA, the National Education Association, “Bullying robs students of the opportunity to learn and can ‘exact scars that can last a lifetime.’” Flannery herself says in her Tomorrow’s Teachers article “No allegation of bullying should be ignored because…it is perceived as a harmless rite of passage.” While there may be some children that feel that it is good to fight back against the bullies, encouraging that would be encouraging fighting fire with fire. If kids stand up against bullies in a drastic way, such as getting into fist fights with their tormentors, then they are no better than the bully is. They’ve brought themselves down to the level of the bully. There is a potential benefit to giving victims a little power so they have some hope of their torture being stopped. When I was beaten up in 4th grade my mother told me to tell my bully that if he hit me again I would strike back. I did just that and I didn’t have a problem anymore. However, there is a line that must be taken into account. There comes a time when fighting back against the bullies will cause more harm than good. However, Derbyshire quotes Psychologist Melissa Witkow of Willamette University of Oregon, who in turn mentioned the study mentioned earlier in Derbyshire’s article, by saying “The study backs up research from academic Helene Guldberg, child development expert at the Open University, who said teachers should not protect pupils from playground spats as they can help them handle difficult events in the future.” This could not be further from the true solution. Sure some children will benefit from this, but using the ‘let them handle the conflict themselves’ idea as a one-size-fits-all approach to bullying is just going to make the problem worse. If the ‘handle it themselves’ idea is implemented, the bullies will realize the fact that they can do anything to the victim and the teachers will not interfere. Some kids may fight back and that will only solve the problem in the rarest of cases. For the children who cannot, or will not, fight back the bullies have a new open target.
As an example, let’s say that a child who has developmental and physical disabilities finds himself the target of constant bullying, which is not at all uncommon. There is no way for that child to defend himself in any way from the bullies. If the teachers will not interfere, the victim cannot fight back and the bully is left the victor because no one is going to stop him. There is no way the solution of letting the kids figure it out themselves helps the problem at all. It will just make it worse. Bullying is not good for the victim no matter how you slice it.
There are much better ways of stopping bullying then simply letting the victim handle it by themselves. One of the biggest anti-bullying techniques that is used far too little is the bystander. Children need social acceptance. This is evident because most of them go to great lengths to get it. One of the techniques used is bullying others. They gain social acceptance by bringing someone else down. It’s often a public thing. So, bystanders need to get involved in bullying prevention. If schools can teach students to prevent other student from bullying at an early age, that will help the problem. If a student says something to another kid in passing that is hurtful, a bystander to that incident needs to step in and stop it. Kids care very much about what their peers think about them. If children in schools know that they will not gain popularity or support by verbally ripping someone apart or beating them up, they are far less likely to do it. Bullying other students gives the bully social power because other students will side with the bully to avoid being the victim themselves. However, if bystanders do not give the bully power by siding with him, the bully will have nothing to gain from being a bully.
Teachers also need to get involved. Teachers have more power in the school than any bully can have, so they need to do their part in stopping it. As it is, they aren’t. In his article, Greenya quotes Jaana Juvonen, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles “teachers intervene only about 10 percent of the time.” This is way too little and means that 90% of bullying cases have no interference at all. It is little wonder that it is so rampant. The bullies are fully aware that victims, bystanders, and even teachers are not going to stop them 90% of the time so, since no one is going to stop them, they have no reason to stop. There will be no consequences for them.
One can compare it to Hitler and Nazi Germany. Hitler took over Austria. No one stopped him. Other countries wanted to avoid conflict. He took over Czechoslovakia. No one stopped him. The Rhineland and the Sudetenland came next. No one stopped him. It took the invasion of Poland for people to care and that led to the single bloodiest conflict in human history. The point is that inaction on the part of stopping bullies will lead to the problem getting worse and worse. Eventually, it will get so bad that teachers and principals will have to intervene. By then, the problem has gotten so out of control that it will take much more effort to even begin to help the problem than if they had just intervened from the start. The longer people wait to start fixing the problem, the worse it is going to get and the harder it will be to get the whole thing under control. This isn’t just applicable on a case-by-case basis, but in the whole problem.
Schools have already seen drastic consequences of not doing enough to prevent bullying. Repercussions have already gotten bad enough that blood is being shed. People need to look no further than in Littleton, Colorado on April 20th 1999. On that fateful day, two students of Columbine High School named Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris brought several guns and duffel bags filled with explosives, which luckily failed to detonate otherwise the casualties of the massacre would have been far worse, into the school and proceeded to massacre 12 fellow students and one teacher as well as injuring 21 more students. Journals written by the killers explain their motives. A Newsweek article by Susannah Meadows quotes one of Harris’ journal entries: “Everyone is always making fun of me because of how I look ... well I will get you all back. If people would give me more compliments, all of this might still be avoidable," he wrote. But he quickly realized it was useless: "Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to my face." Harris felt that massacring students who had teased him was the only way to stop all of this. It is apparent no one stopped bullying him and the result was one of the deadliest school massacres in history.
It isn’t like the Columbine High School massacre was the first school shooting or even the first major one. There have been other bloody school massacres but Columbine was the first school shooting that had bullying as the prime motive. However, it doesn’t even need to be bullies who are the targets in school shootings. When children go that berserk and start mass murdering like, Klebold and Harris, innocents get harmed too. It is highly unlikely that all of the kids who were shot bullied the two Columbine killers. Chances are a lot of the kids that the two of them shot didn’t even know the names of the kids who killed them much less had a hand in tormenting them. For another example, take the film Carrie. Throughout the whole movie she is tormented by her peers and it culminates at the prom where they drop a bucket of pig’s blood all over her. She goes nuts and kills everyone at the prom. The point is, she got bullied, like Klebold and Harris, past the point of insanity and innocent people paid the price for it. So, if bullying is not stopped, if it goes unchecked for too long, everyone suffers. It doesn’t matter if some people are not involved. Considering all of that, the ideas that ‘the kids need to handle it for themselves so teachers and parents need to stay out of it’ or ‘just ignore the bully and he’ll stop because he gets no reaction’ seems pretty silly. It may work if the bully is hurling a passing comment, but if the bully is dedicated to making the life of the victim miserable, which is the case more often than not, that will do nothing but give the bully an opening. If bullying goes on without interference for too long it gets out of control.
Knowing the consequences, schools need to come down harder on bullies. In Billitteri’s article he mentions Massachusetts bullying laws “The Massachusetts state law requires students from Kindergarten through 12th grade to take part in an anti-bullying curriculum each year. In addition…school staff members must report bullying to an administrator, and they must undergo annual training on bullying prevention and intervention… the law also requires principals to tell police if they believe ‘criminal charges may be pursued against a perpetrator.’ That sounds a lot better than “let the child handle it on their own. Don’t get the administrators involved.” However, there are critics of the anti-bullying laws. Conservative Christian groups are against them. In Greenya’s article he says “legislation and anti-bullying programs that seek to reduce sexually oriented teasing are encountering strong opposition from conservative Christians, who claim they promote homosexuality and impinge on Christian students' freedom of speech.” So, some Christian groups are fighting against laws that prohibit people from verbally harassing homosexuals because it inhibits their freedom of speech. That would be like fighting an anti-hate crime law because people say that calling someone a vicious racial slur inhibits their freedom of speech. There is a fine line between free speech and hate spewing. Verbally abusing someone because of their sexual orientation, or for any reason for that matter, is hate spewing. As for promoting homosexuality, children aren’t going to look at an anti-bullying law and say to themselves “well, since it is illegal for someone to verbally harass me because of my beliefs or sexual orientation…I think I’ll become a homosexual now.” No, anti-bullying laws are good and they will help prevent bullying which in turn will help prevent incidents more like Columbine from happening.
But a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. As with most things in life, there is not a single solution to this mess. Meyer says in her book “bullying and zero-tolerance policies tend to ignore the cultural and societal factors that lead to violence in schools.” (2). One-size-fits-all approaches do not get to the root of the problem, it is like cutting off the head of a weed. It will just keep growing back no matter how many times you cut off the head. Flannery has a similar view on this. She quotes Colby College professor Lyn Mikel Brown: “you really have to do this work with students,” Brown says. “Those programs don’t allow for messy, on-the-ground work of educating kids.” A blanket approach will not work. School districts need some serious anti-bullying laws to combat the problem.
Bullying is a big problem. If authority figures will not interfere, students will continue to bully others to gain social acceptance from their peers especially if they know that teachers will not stop them. If kids are left alone to fend for themselves, or simply taught to ignore the bullies, they may eventually snap and begin harming those around them, or they may not; they may just attempt, or succeed in, killing themselves. That is not a better alternative. To truly prevent bullying, teachers need to intervene and, more importantly, bystanders need to step in as well and stop it. If the bullies have nothing to gain from bullying someone, they will not do it. As of right now, with little being done to stop them, they stand to gain at the very least social acceptance if they socially cannibalize other students. People need to step in to stop this. Society doesn’t want another Columbine. We do not want to be watching the news and suddenly a report comes on about how another middle schooler killed himself or brought a gun to school and killed fellow students as a violent reaction to being bullied. Bullying is not a problem that will go away if we ignore it. It will be around as long as society tolerates it, and as past events have proved the longer that people tolerate it or do not do enough about it, the worse the problem gets. Schools need to stop it now before it is too late.
Works Cited Page
Billitteri, T. J. (2010, December 10). Preventing bullying. CQ Researcher, 20, 1013-1036.
“Cyberbullying: A Growing Problem” Science Daily 2010. Feb. 22nd 2010.
Derbyshire, David. “Why it's not always bad to be bullied: Learning to fight back helps children mature, says study.” Dailymail U.K. 24 May. 2010
Flannery, Mary Ellen. “Counting on You” Tomorrow’s Teachers April 2011 P 18-21
Flannery, Mary Ellen. “Does it get better?” Neatoday January/February 2011 P 38-40.
Greenya, John “Bullying: Are the Schools doing enough to stop the problem?” CQ Researcher February 4th 2005 Vol. 15 Issue 5.
Meadows, Susannah. "Murder on Their Minds; The Columbine killers left a troubling trail of clues." Newsweek 17 July 2006: 28.
Myer, Elizabeth J. “Gender, Bullying, and Harassment” New York, Teacher’s College Press, 2009.
"Social Networking Sites Cannot Be Blamed for Bullying." Are Social Networking Sites Harmful? Ed. Stefan Kiesbye. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011.