Eight young people-dead. In a not so long ago past, many adults viewed bullying as teasing. No longer can we afford to view this phenomenon as something as light as kids play. The truth is bullying can lead to death and young bullies develop into adult bullies if not stopped. Bullycide is when one or a group of people harass, intimidate, embarrass; physically, mentally or emotionally beating down another to the point of pushing that person to commit suicide. Last year, I recall Carl Walker, whose mother found him hanging from an upstairs stairwell when she called him to dinner. Carl had been bullied unmercifully at school for a prolonged period. He was eleven years old. During the past few weeks, the rash of youth suicides has forced us to look at bullying a little closer; in shock. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, have begun a series of campaigns. A multitude of commercials and rallying around this issue was plastered all over the television, tabloids and the bloggers went crazy: some in an outrage, others blasting anyone who would ‘out’ a person publicly via the internet because he may be gay. A statistic that needs to be put on the table in every school is that approximately one third of the youth committing suicides are or PERCEIVED to be gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender or questioning, GLBTQ. The suicide of any child needs to be looked at closely with our society taking the responsibility to safeguard our children and do more than the quick flash or lending ourselves to the ‘Big Bang Theory.’ A study of Marr and Field (2001) states that there could be as many as 80 bullycides yearly and thousands of others tormented that remain in silence.
First, we must understand that there is a difference between teasing and bullying. They are: intent to harm, intensity of duration, power of the bully, vulnerability of the victim, lack of support and the severity of consequences to the victim. Teasing generally is done in innocence often by a friend, relative or classmate without the intention of long range harm to the person being teased. Power is key. One of the primary components of bullying is a need for power. The bully seeks a person that can be overpowered physically, emotionally or verbally. By observing the interaction, an obvious note of humor, positive relationship and ability to ‘handle’ the situation or person should be evident if it is teasing. The harm, no matter which form of bullying is used, is INTENTIONAL. Though no one knows when the actions of a bully will lead to such severe results as suicide, other affects are extremely harmful and also cause damaging long range effects. Some of them are: antisocial behavior, depression, loneliness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. For every child that commits bullycide, there are dozens that attempt it and many others that consider it. For a child to be bullied, there are usually predisposed behaviors that make him a likely target. Each of these is to be noted for PREVENTION by parents, teachers and others that are part of a child’s support system. For a child to be bullied there are usually predisposed behaviors that make him a likely target. The victims of bullying are more likely to have low self-esteem, a tendency to be alone, insecure, lack social skills and has an inability to stand up for themselves. Parents should begin guidance and building a sense of social and self connectedness at a very early age. Continuing positive activities to create a sense of security and on going communication even as the child enters middle and high school is paramount. Clear rules that include no name calling which are consistently reinforced should be implemented in classrooms and at home.
INTERVENTION is multi-leveled. Parents, friends and the school systems all play an integral part of intervening on behalf of the person being bullied, however, the first line of defense is the victim. The first time a student is bullied, whether it’s physical or verbal, the targeted person must show a firm sign that he is not the one to be bullied. If this is not done initially and he has become the target, fighting back can cause serious retaliation from the bully. Bullying forms a triangle; the bully, victim and bystanders. Bystanders are a powerful group. The bystander(s) may be one observer or as many as 30 in a class or more on a school bus. The bystanders, whether a friend or unknowing observers, have more power than they usually realize. The best intervention is for other youth to verbalize their discomfort and that they want the bullying to stop. For every person that expresses he wants the victim left alone or some form of displeasure, the time spent bullying the victim is reduced five minutes. School systems and individual schools have a responsibility to protect our youth by providing a safe learning environment. Bullying policies are in place in Miami-Dade and Broward County School Systems. They include a multi-leveled approach with inclusions of timelines for reporting, contacting parents and consequences for the bully. Too, states have begun to enact anti-bullying laws to address this issue and put pressure on school systems. However, committees, rules and laws only work if we all realize the seriousness and implications of bullying. It becomes every adult’s responsibility to safeguard our children so that their world is never reduced to such an extreme that they have to consider suicide.