I saw her in the morning
They threw her books in the dirt But it was none of my business.
I saw her in the afternoon
Crying alone in the bathroom But it was none of my business.
I saw her walking home
With them following her, throwing their insults
But it was none of my business.
I saw her every day
They did too, and kept on and on and on
But it was none of my business.
I didn’t see her today
She gave up,
couldn’t deal with it
She’s left our school
She’s happy now
And now I know
It was my business.
— Katie Niekirk, Grade 8
Standing up against bullies is not easy, as this award-winning poem reflects. Several anti-bullying programs call on students to move from being bystanders when bullying is occurring to becoming “upstanders” and intervening on the part of the victim. Let’s look at the problem of bullying and how to respond when we experience it or see others being victimized.
Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone verbally or physically, and purposely shunning or excluding someone from a group. Kids who are bullied and those who bully others may have serious, long-term problems.
Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, mental health, and school issues. They are more likely to experience:
• Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
• Physical health complaints.
• Decreased academic achievement — GPA and standardized test scores — and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. Kids who bully are more likely to:
• Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
• Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
• Engage in early sexual activity.
• Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults.
• Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults.
Modern technology is the latest weapon used by bullies. “Cyberbullying” is the term for bullying that takes place using electronic technology. This includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.
Kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior.
• Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night.
• Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
• Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
Victims of cyberbullying are more likely to: use alcohol and drugs, skip school, experience in-person bullying, be unwilling to attend school, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem and more health problems.
Since bullying of all types occurs in schools, and research studies show that about 21 percent of students experience it, we should strategize how to prevent bullying and how to respond to it when it does occur.
Here are some ways that parents can prevent serious effects if bullying should occur:
• Spending family time together. Decades of research shows that there are many ways to build inner strength. First, young people who spend time with their parent(s) or guardian(s) talking, enjoying shared time, and doing activities they are interested in together are more resilient. They are more likely to weather the storms and stresses of childhood and adolescence than youth who do not spend time in these activities with their families. Even having dinner with your teens on a regular basis and talking during the meal has been shown to make a positive difference in their lives.
• Encouraging positive relationships with adults outside the immediate family. Youth who have positive and stable connections with teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, extended family members, and other adults are likely to be more resilient.
• Encouraging active participation in hobbies and interests. The concentration, learning, and joy that comes from active involvement in playing music, playing sports, doing art, and other activities of young people’s choosing can counteract the negative effects of peer behavior.
• Encouraging service to others and helping youth see that they have made a positive difference by helping others. When young people know that their actions have helped others, they acquire authentic self-esteem which buffers them against others’ mean or excluding behavior.
• Teaching young people to understand that some people they meet in life may say or do mean things to others. We found in our research that youth in seventh grade and above often found it helpful to remind themselves that mean behavior is a choice made by perpetrators. These youth said that they reminded themselves that they did not cause others’ mean behavior, and that it was not a reflection of anything wrong with them. Instead, they saw the mean behavior as evidence that the other person was acting in an immature way. It can also help young people to understand that sometimes people who do mean things are just having a hard day. We should still do everything we can to stop harmful behavior, without labeling someone else a bully.
(Material in this article was adapted from three websites, at which more information can be found: www.stopbullying.gov, stopbullyingnow.com/advice-for-parents-and-guardians/ and www.thebullyproject.com Please visit these sites for additional information.)
(Ed Gaffney is Co-Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the Diocese of Colorado Springs. This article appears in conjunction with Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is observed each year during the month of April.)