BULLYING IN OUR SCHOOLS
School bullying refers to all types of bullying done on school property, whether it is peer-to-peer bullying, bullying of younger children by older children, or bullying in which a teacher is either a victim or a culprit. Bullying in schools is as old as any problem that plagues schools, and yet it is one of those cases that receive the least amount of attention. The air of denial is sometimes so pronounced that some schools brand themselves as “bully free” institutions. In the end, these downplayed incidents leave victims traumatized and scarred for many years while the culprits gain more confidence to continue with their evil deeds.
Physical abuse, taunting, and exclusion of the victim from popular groups and past-times are some symptoms of bullying in schools. The victims are usually those students who are typically insecure, branded as “nerds”, and lack a circle of friends.
Although most victims of bullying in schools are too meek to take matters into their own hands, a few of them can be pushed to certain critical limits. Shooting incidents such as the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre have raised speculations that bullying in schools can lead to dire consequences.
Even if the connection between bullying and that specific incident has been subject to much debate, the connection between bullying and dire consequences isn’t in doubt. A study showed that 60% of identified bullies during their grade 6-9 years eventually got involved in at least one criminal conviction by age 24. Clearly it’s a problem that builds to later consequences, and something has to be done to prevent it, to stop bullies as early as possible.
There is new concern about school violence, and police have assumed greater responsibility for helping school officials ensure students’ safety. As pressure increases to place officers in schools, police agencies must decide how best to contribute to student safety. Will police presence on campuses most enhance safety? If police cannot or should not be on every campus, can they make other contributions to student safety? What are good approaches and practices?
Perhaps more than any other school safety problem, bullying affects students’ sense of security. The most effective ways to prevent or lessen bullying require school administrators’ commitment and intensive effort; police interested in increasing school safety can use their influence to encourage schools to address the problem. This guide provides police with information about bullying in schools, its extent and its causes, and enables police to steer schools away from common remedies that have proved ineffective elsewhere, and to develop ones that will work
Bullying is widespread and perhaps the most underreported safety problem on American school campuses. Contrary to popular belief, bullying occurs more often at school than on the way to and from there. Once thought of as simply a rite of passage or relatively harmless behavior that helps build young people’s character, bullying is now known to have long-lasting harmful effects, for both the victim and the bully. Bullying is often mistakenly viewed as a narrow range of antisocial behavior confined to elementary school recess yards. In the United States, awareness of the problem is growing, especially with reports that in two-thirds of the recent school shootings (for which the shooter was still alive to report); the attackers had previously been bullied. “In those cases, the experience of bullying appeared to play a major role in motivating the attacker.”
International research suggests that bullying is common at schools and occurs beyond elementary school; bullying occurs at all grade levels, although most frequently during elementary school. It occurs slightly less often in middle schools, and less so, but still frequently, in high schools. High school freshmen are particularly vulnerable. Bullying is well documented in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, providing an extensive body of information on the problem. Research from some countries has shown that, without intervention, bullies are much more likely to develop a criminal record than their peers, and bullying victims suffer psychological harm long after the bullying stops.
Bullying has two key components: repeated harmful acts and an imbalance of power. It involves repeated physical, verbal or psychological attacks or intimidation directed against a victim who cannot properly defend him- or herself because of size or strength, or because the victim is outnumbered or less psychologically resilient.
Bullying includes assault, tripping, intimidation, the spreading of rumor and isolation, demands for money, destruction of property, theft of valued possessions, destruction of another’s work, and name-calling. In the United States, several other school behaviors (some of which are illegal) are recognized as forms of bullying, such as: (1) sexual harassment (e.g., repeated exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, and sexual abuse involving unwanted physical contact); (2) ostracism based on perceived sexual orientation; and (3) hazing (e.g., upper-level high school athletes’ imposing painfully embarrassing initiation rituals on their new freshmen
Not all taunting, teasing and fighting among schoolchildren constitutes bullying. “Two persons of approximately the same strength (physical or psychological)” fighting or quarreling” is not bullying. Rather, bullying entails repeated acts by someone perceived as physically or psychologically more powerful.
Extensive studies in other countries generally found that between 8 and 38 percent of students are bullied with some regularity, and that between five and nine percent of students bully others with some regularity. Chronic victims of bullying bullied once a week or more, generally constitute between 8 and 20 percent of the student population.
In the United States, fewer studies have been done. A recent study of a nationally representative sample of students found higher levels of bullying in America than in some other countries. Thirteen percent of sixth- through 10th-grade students bully, 10 percent reported being victims, and an additional six percent are victim-bullies. This study excluded elementary-age students (who often experience high levels of bullying) and did not limit bullying to school grounds. Several smaller studies from different parts of the country confirm high levels of bullying behaviors, with 10 to 29 percent of students reported to be either bullies or victims.
Clearly, the percentage of students who are bullies and victims varies by research study, often depending on the definition used, the time frame examined (once a week) and other factors. Despite these differences, bullying appears to be widespread in schools in every country studying the problem.
Most students do not report bullying to adults. Surveys from a variety of countries confirm that many victims and witnesses fail to tell teachers or even parents. As a result, teachers may underestimate the extent of bullying in their school and may be able to identify only a portion of the actual bullies. Studies also suggest that children do not believe that most teachers intervene when told about bullying.
“If the victims are as miserable as the research suggests, why don’t they appeal for help? One reason may be that, historically, adults’ responses have been so disappointing.” In a survey of American middle and high school students, ” 66% of victims of bullying believed school professionals responded poorly to the bullying problems that they observed.” Some of the reasons victims gave for not telling include: (a) fearing retaliation; (b) feeling shame at not being able to stand up for themselves; (c) fearing they would not be believed; (d) not wanting to worry their parents; (e) having no confidence that anything would change as a result; (f) thinking their parents’ or teacher’s advice would make the problem worse; (g) fearing their teacher would tell the bully who told on him or her; and (h) thinking it was worse to be thought of as a snitch
The same is true of student-witnesses. Although most students agree that bullying is wrong, witnesses rarely tell teachers and only infrequently intervene on behalf of the victim. Some students worry that intervening will raise a bully’s wrath and make him or her the next target. Also, there may be “diffusion of responsibility”; in other words, students may falsely believe that no one person has responsibility to stop the bullying, absent a teacher or a parent.
Student-witnesses appear to have a central role in creating opportunities for bullying. In a study of bullying in junior and senior high schools in small Midwestern towns, 88% of students reported having observed bullying. While some researchers refer to witnesses as “bystanders,” others use a more refined description of the witness role. In each bullying act, there is a victim, the ringleader bully, assistant bullies (they join in), reinforcers (they provide an audience or laugh with or encourage the bully), outsiders (they stay away or take no sides), and defenders (they step in, stick up for or comfort the victim). Studies suggest only between 10 and 20 percent of noninvolved students provide any real help when another student is victimized