The Roman playwright Terence once said, "I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me."
If everyone shared and behaved according to this empathetic belief, bullying certainly wouldn't be as prevalent as it is. With 14 per cent of U.S. students (PDF) reporting being bullied and five per cent bullying others in 2014, bullying is a regular affair both inside and outside schools.
It is the intent to gain power over another person that defines bullying behavior. Though children may use the word "bully" to describe certain interactions with their peers, it is the perception of power imbalance that distinguishes bullying from conflict. Conflict can be healthy, bullying can't.
Recognizing bullying can be difficult, however, especially in the digital landscape we find ourselves. While more overt forms of bullying that are physical (hitting, punching and kicking) and verbal (name-calling and taunting) in nature do still occur at school, bullying can now be much more covert.
In fact, relational bullying, undermining peer acceptance and friendships, and cyber-bullying (using electronic communication technology to harm others) may be more discrete, more common and just as harmful.
With the advent of young people having access to devices that allow them to connect with each other on a 24/7 basis, there is potential for victims to be susceptible to bullying round-the-clock. Because bullying is a habitual behaviour, it becomes more comfortable for the bully and repeated if there isn't an intervention (PDF).
Much of the responsibility to prevent cyber bullying and cyber victimization should be placed on parents. The devices are only the tools -- education starts at home.
To add, how much easier is it to be hateful using typed words and emojis than spoken words in face-to-face situations? It becomes inescapable for the victim-- research points to youth who experience bullying while at school during the day being the same ones subject to bullying (PDF) while online at night.
Not surprisingly, the effects of bullying are negative for both the bully and the victim. In a longitudinal study (PDF), online bullying was a predictor of substance use and online victimization predicted decreased sense of well-being and belonging. Students that are cyber bullied often report feeling sad, anxious, afraid and unable to concentrate in school. In contrast to research on traditional bullying, females may be more likely than males to be bullying victims in a virtual environment.
Bullying may be a precursor of abuse in adulthood, too. A study from 2011 found that men who said they frequently bullied other students were more than five times more likely to abuse their female partners.
Although cyber bullying may be relatively new, the reason for it may be a remnant of our evolutionary past. Humans are social beings; we are simply ill-equipped to survive without the help of others. In evolutionary terms, tribalism was likely advantageous for our species as it afforded us protection from predators and enemies in a hostile world.
Tribalism and social bonding helped keep individuals committed to the group and thus less likely to abandon and join other groups. Unfortunately, it also leads to bullying when a member is resistant to conforming to the politics of the collective.
Even now our evolved instincts sometimes seem more easily motivated by hatred and fear than by empathy and camaraderie. The imbalance of social and physical power in our society plays out in many difference ways. Whether it is oppression based on class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, outward appearance or for other reasons, of one person or of a group, someone suffers. Bullying is no exception.
As Alice Walton, a doctor of biopsychology and behavioral neuroscience, puts it, overcoming bullying means we need to "tap into our 'higher' brain regions, calling on the moral and reasonable parts of the brain to override the 'lower,' more primitive parts of the brain that govern behaviors we no longer need around."
For that reason, lessening bullying requires a societal effort. No single institution can prevent the circumstances that lead to a young person fearing hateful comments online. Humanity has proven we have the capacity to improve the well being of others -- we should plan to make giant strides in minimizing bullying, too.
One of the best ways for schools to decrease bullying behavior is to implement evidence-based prevention programs. One potentially powerful strategy may involve promoting the positive character traits of bullies, such as assertiveness and leadership, in classroom activities.
This can get bullies to recognize both the personal and group benefits involved when they participate in a positive manner. However, to be effective, in-service training for teachers to resolve classroom management issues and prevent bullying should be combined with follow-up consultation.
An emerging tactic against bullying may use technology that is similar to spam filters for email. These new natural language processing techniques may eventually be part of the solution by helping to recognize and report online bullying.
Still, much of the responsibility to prevent cyber bullying and cyber victimization should be placed on parents. The devices are only the tools -- education starts at home. By guiding children on correct use of the Internet through open dialogue, the online experience for youth can be more thoughtful and positive.
I encourage you to speak with your children about bullying from an empathetic perspective, and regularly. Ensure your child can recognize bullying behaviour, feels comfortable reporting bullying and values all of the good being kind can do.
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Bullying can be an incredibly isolating experience, and many victims feel that they are alone–that something about them, specifically, has brought this on. Explain to your child that bullying is something that can happen to anyone: boys, girls, preschoolers, high schoolers, kids at large schools and kids at small schools. This means there is a large group of people impacted by bullying, and if we all work together, we can certainly make a difference.
A common reaction to bullying is encouraging the victim to ignore the bully. "They just want a reaction," people say, and if you deny them the reaction, they'll go away. That's not always the case. Sometimes, when the bully realizes they are being ignored, they can feel a sense of power over their victim that can actually make the situation worse.
Asking your child basic questions about their day and their experience at school can help you catch a problem sooner. Ask how a specific class was, or who they sat with at lunch. Ask who is trying out for the team, or who is going to local fair that weekend. These harmless questions tell your child that you care, but they can also help you detect changes in your child's situation that may indicate a bullying problem.
While helping your child prepare a speech or enrolling them in self-defense courses might seem like an empowering solution, you're sending the message to your child that this problem is theirs, and that they have to handle it alone. Instead, discuss what some solutions might be and involve your child in the decision making process.
The National Crime Prevention Council reports that 20 to 43 percent of middle and high school school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying. Encourage your child to protect themselves by following these two guidelines: 1. Never say or do anything online that you wouldn't say or do in person. 2. Never share any information that you wouldn't tell a stranger.
While we'd like to think we know everything about our children and their friends, don't express disbelief if they say someone has done something that shocks you. Your child needs to know that they can trust you. Asking them to provide evidence or saying that someone "would never do that" can come across as you taking the side of someone other than your child. Instead, be as supportive as possible and listen to their side.
A recent study of children ages 9 to 12, showed that 56 percent said that they usually either say or do something to try to stop bullying or tell someone who can help (Brown, Birch, & Kancherla, 2005). Make sure your child knows who he or she can talk to if they have something they want to share, whether that is you, a school counselor, a teacher or a coach.
Explain the importance of keeping online passwords private, even from close friends. Your child may be thinking that sharing a password with a close friend is harmless and convenient, but explain that anyone with their password could impersonate them online and embarrass them. If they insist that the friend would never do that, remind them that the friend could share their password, either intentionally or unintentionally, and someone else would have that same power.
While your first reaction may be to protect your child by calling the parent of the bully or confront the child yourself, this is not always a good solution. Not only is this this rarely effective, it may even prove fodder for additional bullying. Your child wants to feel empowered and involved in the solution, so discuss options with him or her and work together to decide on a plan of action.
Your child may be embarrassed or afraid to talk about what is happening to them. This is normal. Rather than pressuring your child into speaking before they are ready, just make it clear that you are willing to listen and be a source of support for them. Once they feel comfortable, they will know that they can open up to you and seek your advice. Better yet, if you've had this conversation preemptively, before a problem arises, your child will know right away that you can be their partner in finding a solution.
Green Giant's Raise A Giant site includes a page that lets you read letters other parents have written to empower their children. You can write your own letter and explore their other resources, including videos and sharable infographics. PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center site also has a page with resources like informational handouts, fact sheets, educational toolkits, and the "We Will Generation." You can also browse the video page to see if some of their video resources would be helpful for you or for your child. Green Giant's Raise A Giant site includes a page that lets you write a letter to empower your child, but you can also read the letters other parents have written to inspire your talks with your child.
Follow Dr. Shimi Kang on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drshimikang