Bullying—Some Causes and Effects
WHAT causes a child to begin bullying others? If you have ever been victimized by a bully, you may be tempted to say, “I don’t care! There’s no excuse for that kind of behavior.” And you are probably right. But there is a big difference between a reason and an excuse. The reasons why a child becomes a bully do not excuse the wrong behavior, but they might help us understand it. And such insight can have real value. How so?
An ancient proverb says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” (Proverbs 19:11) Anger at the bully’s conduct can blind us, filling us with frustration and even hatred. But insight into his behavior may help cool our anger. That, in turn, may allow us to see more clearly as we search for solutions. So let’s consider some factors that give rise to this unacceptable behavior.
What Gives Rise to Bullying?
In many cases the bully’s formative years are marred by poor parental example or by outright neglect. Many bullies come from homes where the parents are cold or uninvolved or have, in effect, taught their children to use rage and violence to handle problems. Children raised in such an environment may not see their own verbal attacks and physical aggression as bullying; they may even think that their behavior is normal and acceptable.
One 16-year-old girl who had been bullied at home by her stepfather and at school by fellow students says that she became a bully herself when in the seventh grade. She admits: “Basically it was a lot of anger building up inside of me; I just picked on anybody and everybody. Feeling pain is a big thing. Once you feel the pain, you want to dish it out.” While such physical aggression may not be typical of girl bullies, the anger behind it is.a
Many schools bring together large numbers of students from different backgrounds, who have been reared in widely varying ways. Sadly, some children are aggressive because they have been taught at home that intimidating others and verbally abusing them are the best means of getting their own way.
Unfortunately, such methods often seem to work. Shelley Hymel, associate education dean at the University of British Columbia, Canada, has been studying child behavior for two decades. She says: “We’ve got kids who are figuring out how to play the game and unfortunately, bullying works. They get what they want—they get power, status and attention.”
Another factor that helps bullying to thrive is a lack of supervision. Many victims feel that they have no place to turn—and the tragedy is that in most cases they are right. Debra Pepler, director of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution at Toronto’s York University, studied students in a school-yard situation and found that teachers detect and stop only about 4 percent of bullying incidents.
Yet, Dr. Pepler believes that intervention is crucial. She says: “Children are incapable of solving the problem because it’s about power, and each time a bully picks on someone, the bully’s power is enforced.”
So why aren’t more cases of bullying reported? Because victims of bullying are convinced that if they report the problem, it will only get worse. Thus, to some extent, many young people spend their school years in a permanent state of anxiety and insecurity. What are the effects of living that way?
Physical and Emotional Effects
A report from the National Association of School Psychologists in the United States says that every day more than 160,000 children miss school because they fear being bullied. Targets of bullying may stop talking about school or about a particular class or activity at school. They may try to go to school late each day or miss classes or even make excuses to miss school entirely.
How might children who are being bullied be identified? Well, they may become moody, irritable, frustrated, or act tired and withdrawn. They may become aggressive with those at home or with peers and friends. Innocent bystanders who observe acts of bullying also suffer consequences. The situation induces considerable fear in them, which detracts from their ability to learn.
However, the journal Pediatrics in Review says: “The most extreme consequence of bullying for victims and society is violence, including suicide and murder. The sense of powerlessness experienced by children who are victimized can be so profound that some react with self-destructive acts or lethal retaliation.”
Dr. Ed Adlaf, a research scientist and professor of public health sciences at the University of Toronto, expresses concern that “those who are involved in bullying are much more likely to experience emotional difficulties now and in the future.” During the 2001 school year, more than 225,000 Ontario students were surveyed, and between one fourth and one third of them were involved in some form of bullying, either as a target or as a perpetrator. In the same group, 1 in 10 had seriously contemplated suicide.
Persistent bullying may erode a victim’s self-confidence, induce serious health problems, and even ruin a career. Bullied individuals may experience headaches, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression. Some develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Whereas physical attacks may bring on an outpouring of sympathetic support for the victim, emotional attacks may not elicit the same response. The damage is far less apparent. So instead of sympathizing, friends and family may tire of hearing the victim’s complaints.
Bullying also has bad effects on the bullies themselves. If not stopped in childhood, they will likely grow up to bully others in the workplace. In fact, some studies reveal that those who had been bullies as children developed behavior patterns that endured into adult life. They were also more likely to have a criminal record than those who were not bullies.
The Impact on the Family
Workplace bullying affects domestic stability and tranquillity. It can trigger an inexplicable urge for the target, or victim, to hurt loved ones at home. Furthermore, it can lead a spouse or family member to fight the bully in a misguided show of support for the victim. On the other hand, a spouse may blame his or her victimized mate for bringing on the trouble. When such cases of bullying drag on unresolved, even spouses who are otherwise supportive have been known to run out of patience. As years pass, the family may be more likely to disintegrate.
In some instances bullying results in a loss of career and livelihood, in separation and divorce, or even in suicide. Between one half and two thirds of Australian victims of workplace bullying reported bad effects on their close relationships, such as those with their partner, spouse, or family.
Bullying Is Costly
Workplace bullying is also costly for employers. A workplace bully could be an acid-tongued boss or a scheming coworker and is as likely to be a woman as a man. Such ones overcontrol, micromanage, and put others down with negative remarks and constant criticism, often humiliating their target in front of others. Bullies rarely recognize their impoliteness or apologize for their behavior. They often victimize workers who are capable, loyal, and well liked by fellow employees.
Workers who experience bullying tend to work less efficiently. The productivity of coworkers who witness bullying is also affected. Bullying can lead workers to feel less loyal to their employer and less committed to their work. One report claims that bullies cost industry in the United Kingdom an estimated three billion dollars each year. And it is said that such behavior is responsible for more than 30 percent of stress-related illnesses.
Clearly, bullying has an impact on society worldwide. The question is, Can anything be done to curb the problem and eliminate it?
a Female bullies more typically use such tactics as social exclusion and spreading rumors. However, increasing numbers seem to be resorting to physical violence as well.
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Victims of constant bullying can become dejected and lonely
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Bullying in the workplace is all too common