By Gina Burgess
"For two years 13 year-old Johnny was a human plaything for some of his classmates. The teenagers badgered him for money, forced him to swallow weeds and drink milk laced with detergent, beat him up in the restroom, and tied a string around his neck, leading him around as a ‘pet’. When interrogated about the bullying, they said they pursued their victim because it was fun," said Dan Olweus, of the Research Centre for Health Promotion at the University of Bergen, Norway.
The quote was part of an article published in a Norwegian newspaper in 1993. Bullying among school children has been going on for centuries, but it was only in the 1980s that it became a phenomenon of study among social psychologists in Europe. In the 1990s it gained worldwide attention.
More recent headlines read like disturbing case studies from a child behavior psychology book.
- A 14-year-old kept a journal in which he fantasized about killing his bullies, and may be expelled from school – Phil Luciano, Peoria Journal Star, June 3, 2007
- A video of a 14-year-old being beaten up was posted online – Joe Oliver, Belfast Telegraph, June 17, 2007.
- A judge allegedly abused his office to ensure that his legal case against a football player who had hazed his son would be heard and heard promptly – Mary Pat Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal, May 14, 2007.
- Ben Vodden, 11 years old, hanged himself December 12, 2006 after being bullied on his school bus for months – David Lowe for The Sun in West Sussex, England.
- 250 students staged a walk-out after three bullies who inflicted a slashed wound requiring stitches were punished with a two-day suspension in Waiuku, New Zealand – R. L. Tang, Blogger News Network.
These examples characterize the many ramifications which stem from bullying.
There are many different forms of bullying which has been described as aggressive behavior toward another with intent of malice and "involves an imbalance of strength," according to a Department of Health and Human Services report.
There is no one single cause of bullying, the report states. There are numerous factors involved which include family, peers, school environment, and individual personality characteristics.
Regular bullying behavior usually comes from an individual who is easily frustrated, who is impulsive, hot tempered and demonstrates a dominant personality trait. The bully also exhibits a lack of empathy, has problems with authority and following rules, and "views violence in a positive light."
Physical bullying tendency is found more often in boys than in girls, but girl bullies exhibit more indirect bullying tactics that include exclusion tactics, teasing, lying, spreading rumors and gossip.
The family factors that are more common in bullies than their non-bullying peers include a lack of warmth from parents and a lack of interest in the child’s activities; parents who do not set down limits in their children’s behavior; lack of supervision; punishments that do not fit the misbehavior, often more harsh than called for; parents who are bullies themselves.
The DHHS report dispels the myths revolving around bullying. Bullies are not socially isolated, or loners. They generally have an easier time of making friends than non-bullies report having. They surround themselves with friends who view violence as a positive and how support their bullying.
Bullies usually have average or above average self-esteem.
Research has brought to light some disturbing facts. Children who are bullies are more likely to own guns for risky reasons such as to frighten someone rather than for hunting rabbits. Also boys who bully are more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24 than their non-bully peers.
It is no secret that upper classmen look forward to the influx of freshmen so they can do to them what was done to themselves. Pearl River Central, however, has squashed much of that behavior with the Freshman Academy program.
"The Freshman Academy has eliminated much of the bullying during the first few days of school," Dr. Elizabeth Yankay (pronounced Yank-eye), the Freshman Academy administrator and assistant principal at PRC, said when asked about the problem of bullying at PRC. "Since freshmen have their own courtyard and classes that are segregated from upper classmen, the upper classmen do not have the opportunity to intimidate the ‘new kids on the block.’"
"Prior to Freshmen Academy, each new school year, there would be stories of how boys would be sent into the girls restrooms, upper classmen playing tricks on incoming freshmen, and older students trying to put younger students into the trash barrels," she added. "This has not occurred since the initiation of the Freshman Academy."
On the first day of school at PRC, Principal Loren Harris discusses appropriate behaviors and then Don Criswell, the security officer at the high school, discusses the legal ramifications of specific behaviors like fighting and bullying. In the classrooms, teachers will again visit the expected behaviors which are outlined in the student handbook, Yankay said.
Another tool which helps is the ASAP meetings (Advising Students About Possibilities). Pope explained, "Character education is highlighted. Meetings will be held each week, and about 16 students by grade are assigned to a teacher advisor each. The ASAP team develops topics for discussion in the group including harassment, bullying and the like.
"I have found that students who display bullying tactics usually have a reason for needing to bully someone. We try to determine what the cause is and then work toward eliminating the cause from the child’s life, or helping the child to deal with the cause so that he/she does not feel the need to bully," Yankay said.
She added that the faculty and staff have professional development sessions through the Department of Education and by the campus security officers which provide information on how to recognize and deal with bullying and harassment.