Bullying in Schools

Bullying Definition

Bullying in schools is a systemic problem that affects all school districts in the United States. In 2016, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported that 1 in 5 students have been bullied in school. Bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior characterized by a power imbalance and the intent to cause harm. Students who are bullied often feel threatened and powerless.

While bullying can be destructive and persistent, it can also be subtle enough that educators are not aware of it. Since bullying can lead to long-lasting psychological, emotional, and physical problems, it is essential for educators to recognize the signs of bullying and how to combat it.

Types of Bullying

The three types of bullying students can experience are direct bullying, indirect bullying, and cyberbullying. Within these categories lie verbal, physical, and social or relational bullying.

Direct bullying is a combination of both verbal and physical bullying. Verbal bullying involves spoken comments or written information that is emotionally damaging to the targeted student. Physical bullying consists of physically harming a student or their possessions. An example of direct bullying is hitting a student while also calling them rude names or using foul language.

Indirect bullying is mainly verbal and is experienced frequently in schools. An example of such behavior would be a student spreading false information about another student with the intent to cause humiliation.

The rise of technology has taken bullying to the internet. Cyberbullying is when students use email or social media platforms like Facebook to write damaging content. A 2015 Centers for Disease Control study found that 15.5% of high school students are cyberbullied, while 24% of middle schoolers are cyberbullied.

A common form of cyberbullying is sharing a student's private photos or videos without their consent. This form of bullying is more insidious and often takes place off of school grounds, so it is more difficult for educators to detect and address.

Similar to cyberbullying, social or relational bullying is when students gossip or spread rumors to hurt the reputation of the student being bullied.

Causes of Bullying

The causes for bullying are varied, meaning any student can become a target, regardless of gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic status.

Understanding why students bully others can help educators better combat it. Factors that can lead to bullying include differences in appearance, social status, race, and sexual orientation. The National Center for Educational Statistics found that 25% of African American students were bullied in 2016, while 22% of Caucasian students, 17% of Hispanic students, and 9% of Asian students were.

Some students who bully others have low self-esteem; however, there are others that have much higher self-confidence. Those with high self-confidence tend to lack compassion and empathy and can respond aggressively whenever they feel threatened.

Current societal events and conversations can compound bullying problems. As an example, bullying based on sexual orientation has increased as the conversations surrounding LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) have increased in recent years.

In some cases, students' need for attention and the desire to be perceived as brave and confident can cause them to bully. Students who experience issues at home, such as abuse and neglect or a divorce, can cause them to bully others due to despair, anger, or jealousy.

Effects of Bullying

Bullying during formative school years can have long-lasting effects. Students who are bullied may have poor academic performance as their interest and participation in school decreases, and unexplained injuries and self-destructive behavior can occur. A 2016 National Center for Educational Statistics survey reveals that 14% of bullied students struggle academically.

Emotional effects include struggles with low self-esteem, insomnia, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions. In addition, students who are bullied are twice as likely to suffer from health problems, such as stomach issues or headaches.

Bullying does not only impact the students, but also their family and classmates. Feeling powerless and confused, parents and other family members of bullying targets may experience depression, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses. Some parents become overprotective of their children if they feel they "failed" to protect them. Friends and classmates of the student who is bullied may feel powerless to help, guilt over not standing up for the target, and fearful of becoming the next target.

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