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Criminal Justice

BULLYING: CONTROVERSY AND PREVENTION

In today’s American society, one of the most controversial issues is bullying which can be defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” meaning that the person doing the bullying sees him/herself as inferior to the person being bullied. Most of the time, bullying as an aggressive type of behavior does not just occur once or twice but is repeated or has “the potential to be repeated, over time,” such as being bullied every day at school or when circumstances create the opportunity to be bullied. The most common type of bullying is physical violence, such as being punched, kicked, slapped, or in some instances fully assaulted (What is Bullying? 2013).

As an ongoing issue in today’s society, bullying for the most part is seen as controversial because of the potential impact it has on the person doing the bullying, the person being bullied, and those who witness bullying on a daily basis in our public schools. As discussed at the Violence Prevention Works website, the person or student that is the target of the bullying can experience physical and emotional effects that may last for many years and well into their adulthood, such as clinical depression, low self-esteem, various health problems, poor grades in school and even thoughts of suicide (How Bullying Affects Children, 2013).

For the person or student that is responsible for the bullying, some of the negative impacts or results may include frequent fighting on school grounds, stealing and vandalizing school property and that of other students, drinking and smoking on school grounds and also at home, especially if there is a lack of parental supervision, and carrying some type of a weapon on school grounds (How Bullying Affects Children, 2013).

For witnesses or observers of bullying in school, along with feeling that their school environment is not safe, they may experience fear which creates the inability to intervene in the bullying, a sense of guilt related to not intervening in an act of bullying, and in some instances, a temptation to participate in the act of bullying (How Bullying Affects Children, 2013).

For the school itself, “when bullying continues and a school does not take action, the entire school climate can be affected,” such as having to deal with a perceived environment of fear and disrespect, difficulties related to in-class learning and teaching, a dislike for the school, and the perception that “teachers and staff have little control and do not care” about the students (How Bullying Affects Children, 2013).

Certainly, one of the most controversial aspects of bullying is that some of the victims decide to take their own lives in order to stop the bullying. According to researchers Anat Brunstein Klomek, Andre Sourander, and Madelyn S. Gould, a number of recent studies have demonstrated a close association between bullying and suicide in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Psychologically, students that become the victims of school bullying “consistently exhibit more depressive symptoms than nonvictims, have higher levels of suicidal ideation (or ideas related to taking their own lives) and are more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims” (2011, p. 1).

What makes this aspect of bullying even more controversial is that some studies have concluded that girls “who are involved with school bullying (as either victim or perpetrator) were at significantly greater risk for suicidal ideation” than boys. This also applies to the bullies themselves, due to the fact that “girls who are bullies have more suicidal thoughts” as compared to girls who are not bullies (Klomek, Sourander, & Gould, 2011, p. 2).

Another aspect of bullying that adds to the controversy concerns some disturbing statistics. For example, a survey conducted in 2010 “revealed about one in seven students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying” which shows how widespread the problem of bullying is in today’s society. Also, this survey revealed that about 56% of all bullying incidents occur in school or on school grounds; that about 15% of students that do not show up for school on any given day “report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school;” that one in ten students drop out of school because of bullying, especially in high school; and that 90% of 4th through 8th grade students, the “top years” for bullying, complained of being the victims of bullying (Bullying Statistics, 2010).

Finally, there is the current controversy linked to what is referred to as cyberbullying or using a computer and the Internet to bully a person from a distance. This form of bullying has become widespread, due in part to the availability of the Internet and the ease by which a bully can harass and intimidate his/her victims by sending threatening emails, videos, and text messages. In many U.S. states, cyberbullying is illegal and some cases have resulted in criminal prosecution of not only the bully but also  his/her parents. This aspect of bullying is not going to go away anytime soon and will very likely increase as the Internet becomes more available to students at libraries and the homes of school friends.

As to the steps that can be taken to prevent bullying in our nation’s schools, the American Psychological Association has devised a number of interventional actions and techniques that can be used to help prevent bullying. For teachers and school administrators, the APA offers three specific techniques. First of all, always be knowledgeable and observant, meaning that teachers and school administrators “need to be aware that although bullying generally happens in areas such as the bathroom, the playground, crowded hallways, and school buses, it must be taken seriously; secondly, students must be thoroughly encouraged to inform adults about what is occurring in the school and be taught to “engage in positive behavior, along with skills that will help them to intervene when bullying occurs;” for parents, they must create positive expectations concerning what is acceptable and not acceptable in school while also stressing that bullying will not be tolerated both in school and at home (Bullying, 2013).

Parents must also be observant and constantly look for signs that a child is being bullied in school, such as coming home with clothing torn or dirty, “hesitation about going to school, decreased appetite, nightmares, crying, or general depression and anxiety.” Perhaps most importantly, parents must instruct their children on how to handle being bullied in school. For example, parents can create “practice scenarios” in their homes in which children can “learn how to ignore a bully and/or develop assertive strategies for coping” with a bullying student (Bullying, 2013).

In addition, for parents who have children that act as bullies in school, there are three basic areas that should be explored. First, parents must attempt to stop the practice and process of bullying before it begins, such as by educating the bullying child that such behavior is totally unacceptable and creates physical and as well as emotional damage to the child being bullied, not tot mention the possibility of legal prosecution (Bullying, 2013). Second, a parent can make his/her home “bully free” by setting an example that aggressive behavior is not acceptable under any circumstances. And third, parents must try to instill self-esteem in the bullying child by stressing that bullying does not build character (Bullying, 2013). As to preventing cyberbullying, the APA suggests that children who are being bullied via the Internet must report all bullying activity to their parents or teachers and if applicable to report cyberbullying to local police authorities (Bullying, 2013).

Overall, bullying in our public schools is an old issue, meaning that such behavior has been going on for many years. In the past, children who were victims of school bullying were told to fight back; however, this type of reaction is now considered as part of the problem. Therefore, children that are being bullied in today’s American school system basically have three options that have been shown to prevent future bullying. First, it is advisable not to fight back or retaliate, and although a child may be tempted to return violence with violence, “try not to show anger or tears” and either “calmly tell the bully to stop bullying or simply walk away” (Bullying, 2013).

Second, the child that is being bullied should always try to avoid being alone, especially in school hallways and bathrooms, and to avoid the bully as much as possible. And third, the child that is being bullied should be encouraged to report all bullying incidents to either a respected teacher, a school principal, or some other school administrator (Bullying, 2013). With all of this said, it really comes down to early childhood intervention on the part of parents who have children that bully their fellow classmates and find pleasure or excitement related to the act of bullying.

References

Bullying. (2013). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/bullying/index.aspx

Bullying statistics. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/ bullying-statistics-2010.html

How bullying affects children. (2013). ViolencePreventionWorks! Retrieved from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_effects.page

Klomek, A.B., Sourander, A., & Gould, M.S. (2011). Bullying and suicide: Detection and intervention. Psychiatric Times (28)2, 1-6. Retrieved from http://www. abusewatch.net/Bullying%20and%20Suicide.pdf

What is bullying? (2013). stopbullying.gov. Retrieved from http://www.stopbullying. gov/what-is-bullying/index.html