Watts Times writer Jennifer Bihm shares her story of being bullied, tips on how to deal with bullying and more.
By Jennifer Bihm - Contributing Writer, L.A. Watts Times | http://bit.ly/li7Gm6
Nia Perkins stands outside her Wilmington, N.C. home Thursday, April 1, 2004, with her son Bryan, 9, in front of a racial slur spray-painted on their garage door overnight Wednesday. Perkins, who is one of the few blacks in the mostly white neighborhood, said she plans to move after the end of the school year. She said she has complained in the past to school authorities about children in the neighborhood bullying her 9-year-old son, Bryan, on the school bus. (AP Photo/Wilmington Star-News, Ken Blevins)
June 2, 2011 - I tried to fake another stomach ache, except my dad wasn’t going for it.
So this reporter, a middle schooler some time in the late ’80s, had to go and face another day of ridicule about a list of things that were supposedly wrong with me.
Teasing wasn’t enough for one girl, however, and her taunts about my hair, clothes, etc., turned into repeated threats to “kick my a-- after school.”
Back then, bullying wasn’t a “thing” like it is today. It wasn’t widely reported on or analyzed. For me, it was just something I dreaded but had deal with at school.
“The United States really only started doing research on it after the Columbine shootings,” explained Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social work at the University of Southern California and expert in school violence.
Astor was referring to the 1999 tragedy when two students at Columbine High School in ColoradoDylan Klebold and Eric Harris managed to kill 12 students and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves. went on a shooting spree at the school.
In the aftermath of the massacre, journals belonging to the pair revealed that they blamed bullying and victimization on their actions.
Since then, he said, awareness of the problem has grown dramatically.
“If you go back to 1995 and say, ‘How many media stories were there on bullying,’ you won’t find any in the national media at all. For years it seemed like bullying didn’t exist. Of course it existed; it just wasn’t getting covered. After the Columbine shootings, bullying started getting covered everyday…”
What is Bullying?
“It’s difficult to talk about bullying generically because the behaviors (that characterize it) are so different,” Astor said.
It covers a wide range of behaviors like social exclusion, sexual harassment or even shooting.
But, he said, it mainly has to do with a power differential between one kid and another kid or a group of kids one being stronger and one being weaker.
According to Los Angeles Unified School District’s School Safety website, “two of the main reasons people are bullied are because of appearance and social status. Bullies pick on the people they think don’t fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act (for example, kids who are shy and withdrawn), their race or religion, or because the bullies think their target may be gay or lesbian…”
The most current statistics from the Bureau of Justice - School Crime and Safety reveal that:
- About a third of teens in the United States reported being bullied while at school.
- About 20 percent had been made fun of by a bully; 18 percent of teens had rumors or gossip spread about them; 11 percent were physically bullied, such as being shoved, tripped or spit on; 6 percent were threatened; 5 percent were excluded from activities they wanted to participate in; 4 percent were coerced into something they did not want to do; and 4 percent had their personal belongings destroyed by bullies.
- Forty-four percent of middle schools reported bullying problems, compared to just over 20 percent of both elementary and high schools.
Both guys and girls can be bullies, say LAUSD officials via their School Safety website.
Miasha Williams, 12, looks down as she holds a sign for Temecula Valley High School students to see as school is released for the day Wednesday, May 16, 2007, in Temecula, Calif. Under orders from her mother Ivory Spann, the Gardner Middle School seventh-grader has held the sign in front of schools mornings and afternoons since being suspended for bullying on May 10. She returns to school Friday. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterpries, Frank Bellino)
“Bullies may be outgoing and aggressive. Or a bully can appear reserved on the surface, but may try to manipulate people in subtle, deceptive ways. Many bullies share some common characteristics.
“They like to dominate others and are generally focused on themselves. They often have poor social skills and poor social judgment. Sometimes they have no feelings of empathy or caring toward other people.
“Some bullies actually have personality disorders that don’t allow them to understand normal social emotions like guilt, empathy, compassion, or remorse. These people need help from a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist…”
Effects of Bullying
“It hurts, it hits a nerve,” said student volunteer Alison Roeder, who is heading up the Anti Bullying Campaign at Tom Bradley Elementary School in Los Angeles June 9.
The campaign will include workshops aimed at teaching kids bullying prevention and coping techniques. The workshops are aimed at 4th- and 5th-graders because that’s where Roeder said the problem is most prevalent at the school. She says she hopes the event will become annual.
“The nature of bullying is very cyclical and then (the victim) might turn around and do it to someone else,” she said.
“It makes school, instead of a place of learning and engaging in new topics, an unsafe place; it makes them associate school with those experiences and not want to go to school.”
Studies show bullying can also have long-term effects like loss of self-esteem and depression, according to experts at Psychological Harassment Information Association. In severe cases, bullying has been shown to lead to suicide.
New Trends and Cyber Bullying
Online bullying, or cyber bullying, happens when teens use the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.
Parry Aftab, creator of stopcyberbullying.org, said part of the reason the trend is growing is that kids feel bolder with the anonymity that posting online allows them.
“Often people, who are bullied in real life, use the Internet to get even,” she explained.
“People who aren’t tough can hide online.”
With that boldness comes even more disturbing trends, she said.
“We’re seeing more physical violence offline having to do with online activity.”
In recent years, the online activity has spilled over into gang culture, where set-ups and hits are orchestrated online. Kids can post threats to rival gang members as someone other than themselves so as to incite violence against that person. The “posed- as” person is usually clueless until it’s too late.
“This is serious and disturbing, because now (cyber-bullied victims) are not going to die because they’re depressed and kill themselves, they’re going to be shot because of a cyber set-up,” said Aftab.
“Another change in high school bullying is the high rate of athletes and very successful kids who are bullied,” writes Mandy Jane Clark on stop-bullies.com.
Clark notes that envy could play a major role in the trend.
“In some communities, it almost seems like being smart and accomplished could be a sentence to bullying since other kids are threatened by that talent and brightness. Rather than being the ‘in’ group today, successful kids are being targeted by bullies.”
How to Deal
The LAUSD recommends trying other methods as opposed to retaliation.
“For younger kids, the best way to solve a bullying problem is to tell a trusted adult. For teens, though, the tell-an-adult approach depends on the bullying situation,” say district officials.
“One situation in which it is vital to report bullying is if it threatens to lead to physical danger and harm. Numerous high-school students have died when stalking, threats, and attacks went unreported and the silence gave the bully license to become more and more violent.
“Sometimes the victim of repeated bullying cannot control the need for revenge and the situation becomes dangerous for everyone.”
They also recommend staying with a group of friends, especially if they feel their bully will become violent, finding a trusted friend or adult to talk to if possible, ignoring the bully and walking away, and finding positive and “true” friends to hang out with.
As for my part, not having the benefit of the studies, advice or parents who would let me stay home from school left me with the lone choice of defending myself.
Because, deep down I knew the torture would never end if I didn’t. Looking at today’s trends and outcomes when it comes to school violence, I guess I should be thankful that all I got after the fight was over was left alone.
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