Almost everyone has been bullied at one time or other. For most of us, it's a short-lived incident that we chalk up to experience. For some children, it's more than an isolated incident. It's an insidious presence, turning the educational experience into a hell from which they see no escape.
In Japan, a 13-year-old boy jumped to his death after enduring systematic bullying. The abuse, which included forcing him to practice suicide, went ignored by teachers, according to an ABC News story
.A 14-year-old Iowa boy hanged himself to escape anti-gay bullying. USA Today reports the bullying was so bad that teachers had begun standing guard in the school's hallways.
After years of bullying and death threats against him and his family, a Texas teen ended his life with a bullet. His tormentors, who targeted him for being of mixed race, were known as the "wolf pack," according to U.S. News.
These are just a few bullying-related suicides that made the news this year. Certainly, not all bullying ends in suicide, but bullying can have a lasting impact on a child's emotional wellbeing. That impact can last a lifetime.
ADULT SCARS OF CHILDHOOD BULLYING
In her practice, licensed mental health counselor Doniella Boaz focuses on helping people heal old wounds and build self-esteem. Victims of childhood bullying, whether physical or emotional in nature, can carry those scars throughout their lives, she says.
Adults who were bullied as children often feel awkward, and can be socially withdrawn and distrustful. Many do not believe or trust in themselves. The key, offers Ms. Boaz, is to realize that what was said was not, and is not true. "That was then; this is now. What happened to you then is not happening to you now."
Bullies tend to choose victims who are shy, introverted, or stand apart in some way. "I think bullying sometimes happens to someone who is different because of the fears of the bully that somehow that disorder/difference may rub off on him/herself."
Children who carry themselves in a confident manner are less likely to be bully targets. It takes compassion and a strong awareness of bullying for one child to speak up when another is being bullied. Out of fear of the bullies, most will not. That only adds to the victim's sense of isolation, as one of Boaz's adult patients can attest.
The greater Seattle area psychotherapist says you can forget all about that childhood refrain about sticks and stones. Verbal and emotional bullying leaves deep scars that are carried well into adulthood. "Words do hurt."
THE AGE OF THE CYBERBULLY
Bullying has always been with us, but cyberbullying has created a whole new level of torture. The challenge for victims is greater than ever. In addition to physical intimidation and abuse, online taunting can take on a life of its own. A couple clicks of a keyboard are all it takes for a bully's message to go viral, a process impossible to reverse. No longer is a child assured that leaving the schoolyard for the safe haven of home will provide respite from hateful behavior.
Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Colin Farrell, and sports superstars like WWE's Alicia Fox and David Otunga are among the many who have spoken out about the problem. Books, videos, songs, and public service announcements are screaming for us to pay attention. Increasingly, schools, parents, and legislators are working toward finding solutions.
From the Office of Adolescent Health:
1 in 5 high school students say they were bullied on school property in the previous year (2009)
about 8 percent admit being bullies (2009
)about 6.5 percent say they've been both victim and bully (2009
)1 in 5 teens say they have been cyberbullied (2010)
1 in 10 claim to have been a cyberbully as well as a victim
TWO-PART DEFENSE AGAINST BULLIES
Defending yourself against a bully requires a two-part approach: defend yourself in the moment and for the long term.
Kevin White, MD, PhD, tells Natural Choice Directory he was severely bullied as a child, due to his smaller stature. Echoing Boaz's theory about confidence, Dr. White suggests, "When immediately confronted by a bully with absolutely no way out and no help available, courage is your best defense. That's not to say you don't run away if you can, or that you don't try to defend yourself, or that you don't tell your teacher or parents about it later. But if you can't get away or get help in the moment, muster up all the courage you can and defend yourself until a chance to escape arises, or help is available, or the bully gets bored.
"Self-defense training through martial arts might be the best gift a parent ever gives a child," says White. "The key is just to get the bully to release his or her grip and RUN."
A "pathetically poor" athlete, White decided to take up running. "As my athletic achievements mounted, the bullying lessened and then ceased altogether. By the time I was a junior in high school, though I still was very small, all fear of being bullied was gone, and I actually was sad the day I graduated and had to leave the friends I had made."
Dr. White harnessed his childhood experiences to pen the novel, Inside a Hollow Tree, which deals with the issue of bullying in high schools.
Victims of long-term bullying need support to help cope with feelings that can lead to depression, drug abuse, and thoughts of suicide. "I have treated patients who have been bullied, and most victims carry a deep sense of shame, hopelessness, and fear," reports Silvia M. Dutchevici, founder and president of the Critical Therapy Center.
"Parents should ask their children about bullying in school. It is vital that parents encourage children to talk about their feelings, and if necessary, seek help in dealing with bullying by referring them to a therapist or a counselor."
OPEN THAT BLIND EYE
Once brushed aside as normal childhood behavior, bullying is coming to the forefront of our nation's, and the world's consciousness. Bullied children have a difficult time envisioning a future that doesn't include daily torture, making their lives feel unbearable. As for those bullies, they need help, too.
This is NEVER okay. We can turn a blind eye no longer.
References: Bullying and Adolescent Health (2011, October). Office of Adolescent Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Family: Bullying by 'wolf pack' led to Texas teen's suicide (2012, April 20). U.S. News; Kids and Laughing Teachers Bullied Suicide Teen (2012, June 6). ABC News; Should bullies be treated as criminals? (2012, June 13). USA Today
Photo copyright: "Bully Free Zone" by Eddie-S under Creative Commons License;
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.