Bullying is no longer confined to the classroom or playground. It can happen anywhere – in or out of school – at any location. It can take place face to face, in a text message, during a phone call or in cyberspace.
These types of abuse may have a single label but the catch-all term encompasses multiple types of aggressive behaviour. Physical, sexual, emotional or cyber abuse can be devastating for the victim and, ultimately, for the bully. For the victim, bullying can wreak havoc causing feelings of extreme social anxiety, poor results at school and a withdrawal from activities with other children. For the tormentor, when ultimately caught in the act or uncovered by a school investigation, it can result in sanctions ranging from suspension and exclusion right up to punishment in a juvenile court.
Any deliberate act which hurts a single child or group of children is bullying and is usually fuelled by the perpetrator’s need to make up for an ill-defined inadequacy by subjugating or humiliating others.
- Physical bullying – is the most visible and happens when children physically gain power over others to control or punish them. While physical bullies are usually larger children than their victims, this isn’t always the case. Physical bullying takes the form of punching, kicking, shoving and other clearly aggressive behaviour. Because it is so much more visible than other forms of bullying, physical abuse has generally received more attention from teachers.
- Emotional bullyinghappens where youngsters attempt to hurt their peers or denigrate them in the eyes of others using non-physical means. Examples include teasing, ignoring or pretending that the victim isn’t there and excluding a victim from a social group. While less obvious than physical bullying, emotional bullying can be just as devastating for the child on the receiving end.
- Sexual bullyingtakes the form of name calling and other attempts to humiliate a victim using anything from innuendo and vulgar gestures right the way up to propositioning and uninvited bodily contact. There have been increasing instances of children using pornography in cases of sexual bullying.
- Cyber bullying is being taken increasingly seriously as the number of ways children stay connected proliferates. Any form of digital harassment – from sending an abusive text message to harassing and humiliating a peer on Facebook or other social media – is bullying. It can involve posting images which are hurtful to the victim, threatening them on social media or excluding peers from online groups. Cyber bullying is on the increase partly because the perpetrator can often remain anonymous – making the life of his or her victim miserable while remaining in the shadows.
Bullying may be as old as the hills even if its variants are relatively new but it should not be tolerated simply because it has been going on for hundreds of years. Teachers can take pro-active steps to stamp it out with a caring and supportive environment at school that fosters a climate of respect in the classroom. Teachers can set up bullying ‘hot spots’ around the school which are monitored by children themselves and should step in the moment that bullying takes place.
While anger and blame are natural, it’s important to try to break the feelings of inadequacy that lie behind bullying. For that reason, increasing numbers of schools are starting to implement practices which support both victim and bully to try to work through the issues behind the abusive behaviour.
Bullying in school is hard to stop once it has taken root but by learning how to prevent it and understanding some of the reasons behind it, teachers can go a long way to making their school bullying-free and keeping it that way.
Here are some useful websites if you think your child is being bullied: