Bullies, Bullies Everywhere
School-based bullying is reaching epidemic proportions, the effects of which is resulting in a range of problems from lowered academic scores to cutting and suicide. I am not referring to the occasional name calling or tossing of insults that most children will engage in. The 'Stop Bullying' government website defines bullying as a repetitive action of a person using personal power (physical size, access to embarrassing information, or popularity) to control or harm others.
The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a 10 year longitudinal study and reports the statistic to be 48% of all students report being bullied at school. The U.S. Dept. Of Education does not agree, and reports only 22% affirmed being bullied in school, on the playground, or on the bus. The differential in statistics could be linked to fear of further backlash and bullying if a student reports under the Zero Tolerance Policy; which according to an NBC News report some believe does not work. According to a Focus on the Family report, while different studies have different percentage findings, it is safe to conclude that between 20-30% of all school students are involved in bullying as perpetrators, victims, or both. The sobering reality is that one in three students are being bullied.
The advancement of technology has exponentially increased bullying, to now encompass cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place via cell phones, social media, or through any internet site. An estimated 15% of youth are targets of cyberbullying. The impact of bullying and cyberbullying is far-reaching.
According to the online journal 'Medical News Today', new research is showing that bullying can literally altar brain activity and create mental health disorders. Cyberbullying is particularly harmful because information can be shared with hundreds or go viral amongst thousands in a matter of hours. Additionally, the victim doesn't just sustain the 'injury' once, because of repeated returns to viewing the onslaught of negative comments to the original post.
Medical professionals have long since claimed that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, responsible for controlling rational decision making, is not fully developed until the a person reaches 25 years of age. Most parents would attest to this truth, pointing to decisions made by their young adult children between the ages of 18-25.
Nowhere does the lack of wise decision-making manifest more than on social media platforms. Without giving time for wisdom to kick in, harmful words and images are sent across the airwaves to the victim in a matter of seconds. Apps such as ReThink-Stop Cyberbullying, allows users to download a new keyboard designed to users rethink their choice of words before hitting the send button. Parents can opt in to the parental controls for $1 a month, to monitor results of the App usage.
Instagram also uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) pop-ups to warn offenders that word choices should be reconsidered, or risk being banned from the platform.Recently, Instagram added another anti-bullying option for users. The ‘restrict’ option allows users to restrict bullies comments from showing up on the intended page, while at the same time not allowing the bully to see their comments are restricted because on the bully end, it appears their comment has hit the intended target.
This option is an improvement over the former option of blocking bullies, because blocking often times merely serves to escalate situations. Yet, the ‘restrict’ option only works if the user, the person being bullied, is wise enough and brave enough to restrict the bully. Often, a younger person will not take that action step unless a parent of youth mentor sits with them and works through restricting the list of followers together.
Other social platforms such as TikTok and Facebook have anti-bullying policies and means of reporting bullying comments, but do not offer the real-time protection that AI offers on other platforms.
Unrestrained bullying, face to face and/or cyber-bullying, leads victims down a treacherous path of needing to find a way to escape the torturous comments, the endless taunting, and the destruction of their reputation. Some turn to substances as a way of easing the pain. Others turn to cutting or other behaviors intended to momentarily relieve the pain. Some can no longer handle the pain, and attempt or successfully complete suicide.
My earlier statistic of a teen committing suicide every 100 minutes is sobering. That’s 14 teen suicides every day in our country. Chances are, there is a teen in your sphere of influence who is struggling. Don't ignore the situation. Don't be deceived into thinking it will go away or that it's normal. Take action. Do something. Say something. Find resources. Their lives are depending on you, the adult, to help.
*Copyrighted material, taken from authors text.