Bullying among children is a school issue that never will be eliminated completely. Communication and clearly defined rules may help to reduce bullying incidents and effects. Dr. Sylvia Rimm, writer of several books and of the syndicated column "Sylvia Rimm on Raising Kids," says recent bullying could be seen as a bigger problem than it was in the past because of more aggressive bullies and bullied victims waging huge attacks on other students. And new technology tools, such as text messaging, Twitter and Facebook, make it easier to pick on children at a faster pace.
"Bullying has been around in schools for centuries, but in the past several decades, it has erupted into a major crisis in schools where administrators do not treat bullying as a major campus problem," says Dr. Robert Wallace, writer of the syndicated column "Tween 12 & 20." "Bullying reflects the violent scene in today's society."
Bullying is defined as "hitting, name-calling, exclusion, or other behavior that is meant to hurt another person," according to Stop Bullying Now! (http://StopBullyingNow.hrsa.gov/kids). Bullies usually target weaker victims in order to gain control. This control makes the bullies feel powerful. Rimm says some bullies work in groups, and some attack alone.
"Essentially, all kids are teased at some point growing up, and it is important to learn how to deal with it," says Dr. Henry Gault, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is part of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. "However, if it continues and a youngster feels more and more alone and isolated, there can be serious consequences."
Although bullying can occur at any age, Rimm says that the middle-school years tend to see frequent bullying incidents. Early adolescents are usually less confident in their sexuality and physical attractiveness and less secure with their friend groups as they go through puberty. Gault suggests friendships as a powerful element against bullies. Because bullies enjoy targeting single kids, a friend may serve as a protective tool.
The goal is for a child to convey the message that he or she won't be pushed around. Ignoring a bully hardly ever works; the child still is seen as vulnerable. In milder cases, kids most likely can take care of the bullies alone. Stan Davis -- a former school counselor and founder of Stop Bullying Now! -- is co-leading the Youth Voice Research Project to learn more about bullying prevention. The research has found that "telling them to stop" or trying to "walk away" makes the situation worse with bullies. During the research, when kids fought back against bullies, the situation only improved a third of the time. The most influential solutions included receiving support and protection from friends, adults at home and adults at school, according to Davis.
When the bullying becomes more serious and occurs on a daily basis, the school (principal, social worker, teacher) needs to take a role in stopping it. Wallace, a former high-school principal, says that bullying can be prevented "when all school employees work in harmony to treat bullying as a serious school violation that must be eliminated with firm but fair discipline." Anti-bully programs, which help to comprehend why bullying occurs and aid bullies in developing new personas, are productive, according to Rimm.
"Schools can very actively address bullying from day one by making clear that all students must be treated with respect," Gault says. "You don't have to like everyone or be friends with everyone, but they have to be treated with respect."
Kids who are bullied can suffer from severe psychological damage. Gault sees bullied children dealing with anxiety, depression, withdrawal, low self-esteem, a poor self-image and school refusal. Bullied victims also may take out their frustration on weaker children, becoming bullies themselves, according to Rimm. Bullies suffer from their own emotional issues. Stop Bullying Now! says that families who practice inconsistent discipline and give little adult attention are likelier to raise children who will bully. Regular and fair discipline teaches self-control and responsibility, according to the site.
"If teasing and cruelty to others were not tolerated and kids early on were taught about respecting others, if youngsters who appeared to be on their way to becoming bullies were treated early on, schools could then do a great deal to reduce the incidence and severity of bullying," Gault says.