Patch has been reporting on the menace of bullying, which has become a national epidemic, since early 2018. Our partners and readers have been contributing to awareness surrounding the one out of every three kids who are bullied in America.
Thank you, partners, especially NoBully.org, and contributors.
There’s a lot we’ve learned and shared, and you can see our full archives at the bottom of this story. Here, though, is a look back at 10 things — 10 of the most important things — we’ve learned and shared about bullying.
1. What is bullying?
Bullying can involve everything from persistently targeting someone on the playground or in the hallways to isolating kids from their friend groups to physical aggression to cyberbullying — especially insidious bullying that takes place on social media apps or in text messages.
It can be like a cruel game of whack-a-mole.
One post goes down and another springs up. And with the ability to screenshot anything that’s on the internet, even if a post is removed, what was said or shown can live forever and haunt people into adulthood.
When kids are bullied on the internet, empathy fades to zero. In physical bullying, seeing the whites of another kid’s eyes can be a check on aggression — but that just doesn’t happen online, and the comments are more vile and incendiary.
2. Who are the bullies and who are kids who are bullied?
Kids who bully and their targets don’t fit a specific profile. In some cases, they bully to control the social order in school or increase their own social standing. Some kids who bully struggle with low self-esteem, yet others are confident and socially successful. Kids who bully can be boys or girls or do well academically or poorly. One thing they often have in common is a lack of empathy.
Kids who are bullied are as likely to be beautiful and handsome as not. They may be popular or lack friends. They may be singled out because of their physical features, illnesses or disabilities, or because of their sexual orientation, race, religion or cultural beliefs. They may be talented, creative and smart kids. They may be underachievers.
3. How serious is the problem?
One in three kids is bullied. If the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control were presented with a disease affecting one in three children, it would be considered an epidemic. Increasingly, anti-bullying advocacy groups, including but not limited to No Bully, see bullying as an epidemic.
Additionally, it’s estimated that 160,000 U.S. schoolchildren stay home every day to avoid their bullies.
Bullying changes who kids become. Their grades suffer. They’re more at risk for depression. They’re more likely to struggle with substance abuse and mental health problems that carry over into adulthood. Their relationships can suffer.
In some cases, they kill themselves. And in some cases, they kill other kids — though research is still emerging on whether there are links between bullying and student suicide and bullying and school shootings.
4. Does bullying lead to suicide?
The CDC says it’s doing more research on whether there’s a cause and effect. What the agency knows through peer-reviewed research is that as the amount of time kids spend on social media goes up, so do depression and suicidal thoughts and action.
A 2017 study found that social media use more than doubled from 2009 to 2015, and that teens active on social media sites for at least five hours a day were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions then their peers who spent just an hour a day looking at social media.
But there’s some disagreement on this subject.
The Cyberbullying Research Center’s take was a little different. What the researchers there say is that while some kids who are cyberbullied do take their own lives, those kids have underlying diagnoses and problems that are also strong precursors to suicide.
5. Have school shooters been bullied?
Patch’s Paul Scicchitano, in a story featuring the brother of accused Parkland, Florida, school shooter Nikolas Cruz, reported that while there is no widely accepted profile of a school shooter, a growing number of experts say there is a clear link between bullying experiences like those suffered by Cruz and the very small minority of students who rise to the level of a school shooter.
And it show the victims of bullying are even more likely to suffer negative effects than their tormentors — including the very smallest percentage of children who become school shooters.
The shameful truth behind America’s school shooting crisis is that no one is born to be a school shooter and the phenomenon may be a preventable scourge to some extent.
There is now a greater emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns, school resource officers, mediating student disagreements, allowing victims of online bullying to come forward in anonymous forums, identifying threats and finding help for the emotionally troubled who walk among our children.
They eat with them in the cafeteria and play with them in the shadowy world of online gaming, chat rooms and even popular apps like Snapchat.
6. Are girls bullied more than boys?
Recent government research shows girls are three times more likely than boys to be bullied online or by text message.
With girls, bullying is more relational. They isolate and banish their targets from the tribe, gossip and start rumors and call them terrible names. It’s nothing short of psychological warfare, and it’s often for the silliest of reasons. And they use the digital landscape in a more vitriolic way.
With boys, bullying is often —not always, but in general — more physically aggressive, pushier and shovier.
7. Is biased-based bullying harder to combat?
Biased-based bullying is more nuanced and difficult to confront. The damage is profound when people are bullied based on something as basic to their identity as the color of their skin or ethnicity.
Combatting it requires an admission that the world isn’t color blind and understanding the underlying prejudices and biases that can motivate bullying. That means a one-size-fits-all approach to bullying is ineffective because it assumes all bullying is the same.
8. What is digital self-harm?
In some cases, the bully and the target are the same. Some kids post mean things online about themselves as a way to talk about the awful feelings of self-loathing rustling around inside their heads. Experts call it digital self-harm. Put another way, it’s the digital equivalent to cutting.
The Cyberbullying Research Center expected their statistically relevant survey of middle and high school students to show that around 1 or 2 percent of kids had engaged in this practice, but instead around 6 percent said they had — a non-trivial number that represented thousands and thousands of kids.
9. Can’t kids just stand up for themselves?
Sometimes, that works. An Arizona teenager — one of those kids who was bullied because she’s an academic overachiever — stood up to her bullies via social media with her “Every Day, I Wear Your Words” video. Her mother noticed that she had become withdrawn, spent more time in her room and was moody. When pressed by her parents, the girl responded the way many bullied children do — that everything was fine.
When she finally did open up, she convinced her parents to allow her to post a video in which she placed Post-It notes of every mean thing that was said her all over the T-shirt she was wearing to let her bullies know how it made her feel.
It gained traction on social media. The bullies hadn’t apologized when Patch.com talked to her, but they left her alone.
But experts say that expecting kids to stand up to bullies can be harmful. One expert who talked to Patch editor Karen Wall in New Jersey said expecting children who are bullied to defend themselves is an insidious form of victim-blaming shifts responsibility away from the bully and makes the targeted child responsible for the assault.
10. What can parents do?
Experts consulted by Patch said one of the most important things parents can do is start talking to kids about bullying before they enter kindergarten. Parents don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, use terms like “bully” because young children won’t understand that. But they can talk about how important it is to be kind to one another.
Those conversations have to continue through high school graduation day.
One other thing that’s come up over and over in our reporting is how important it is for the rest of us to be good role models. Kids emulate the behavior of adults they respect — whether that’s parents, some other trusted adult or public figures.
So, if you’re a parent and you’re watching the news with your kids and you see political figures behaving in a way you wouldn’t want your kids to, it’s important to have a conversation in the moment about better ways to make a point.
As kids mature, parents naturally want to give them more freedom and independence. And they should. The easiest path to losing your kid’s trust is to hover over them and monitor everything they post or every site they visit on social media.
But it’s a balancing act.
If kid’s behavior suddenly changes — say they spend more time in their rooms, are moody, tell you everything is fine when it is clearly is not — parents need to force a conversation.
The Menace Of Bullies: A Patch National Reporting Project
As part of a national reporting project, Patch has been looking at society’s roles and responsibilities in bullying and a child’s unthinkable decision to end their own life in hopes we might offer solutions that save lives.
Do you have a story to tell? Are you concerned about how your local schools handle bullies and their victims?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your views in the comments.
Selected Stories From The Project
Bullied To Death: When Kids Kill With Words America’s Shameful Truth About School Shooters And Bullying Cyberbullying Most Often Affects Girls; These Women Are Trying To Stop It Bullying Kids: Straighten Up, Or Your Parents May Have To Pay Up Teen Who Killed Himself Wasn’t ‘Worthless,’ Family Tells Bullies Menace Of Bullies: Why This Woman Resigned Her 6-Figure Job Survivor Of Bullying And Suicide Writes Frankly About Both ‘I Will Be Your Friend’: First-Grader’s Shirt Fights Bullies Girl-To-Girl Bullying: Why It’s Different, Difficult To Confront What Prompts Bullying In This Ohio School Cyberbullying In This Michigan City Carries $500 Fine, 3 Months In Jail Bully Upstander: Whatever He Said Caused Bullies To Back Down Bullying Caused 11-Year-Old To Attempt Suicide, Mother Says Bullied 10-Year-Old’s Suicide 8th In School District This Year The Menace Of Bullies: Most U.S. States Take On Cyberbullying Cyberbullying Is Now Against The Law In Michigan Shooting Incident Linked To Bullying At School, Mom Says Girls More Likely Than Boys To See Bullying As Harmful: Study 13-Year-Old Hangs Herself, But Bullying Killed Her Teen Tells Bullies In Video: ‘Every Day, I Wear Your Words’ ‘The Hero Myth’: Why Expecting Kids To Fight Bullies Is Harmful ‘Mr. Anti-Bully’: Reformed Bully, 12, Sets Mistake Right Mallory Grossman Bullying Detailed In Wrongful Death Suit Malden Schools Were Non-Compliant Through Bullying Saga: DOE ‘They All Failed And Changed A Child’: Malden Bullying Detailed Mom Speaks About Bullying Heartbreak: ‘I Feel I Failed Him’ Why These Kindergartners Start Each Day With A Handshake The Bully Menace: ‘The Hurt Never Goes Away’ Bullies And Their Targets The Same: Digital Self-Harm Rising Williamsburg Poetry Teacher Helps Bullied Kids Open Tortured Minds Bullying Tougher To Confront When It’s Bias-Based: Researchers The Bully Menace: 13 Age-Appropriate Reads Teen’s ‘I Wear Your Words’ Video Inspires Nashville Songwriters
From No Bully, Patch News Partner
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