“I remember being taunted, teased and treated like an outsider. Just because I had a light and wanted it to shine. No one has the right to make you feel unworthy and alone. The worse crime I believe is making a person feel uncomfortable in their own skin, ” says Shawn Cunningham Mrs. Maine American Coronet 2022.
According to the website, stopbullying.gov, bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
- National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) indicates that, nationwide, about 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying.
- The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that, nationwide, 19.5% of students in grades 9–12 report being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey. Bullying can occur during or after school hours. While most reported bullying happens in the school building, a significant percentage also happens in places like on the playground or the bus. It can also happen travelling to or from school, in the youth’s neighborhood, or on the internet otherwise known as cyberbullying.
Bullying can also take place among adults in communities and in the workplace.
Bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. It is important to talk to kids to determine whether bullying—or something else—is a concern.
Kids Who are Bullied
Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, social, emotional, academic, and mental health issues. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience:
- Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
- Health complaints
- Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.
Kids Who Bully Others
Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. Kids who bully are more likely to:
- Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
- Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school
- Engage in early sexual activity
- Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults
- Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults
Kids who witness bullying are more likely to:
- Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
- Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
- Miss or skip school
The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide
Media reports often link bullying with suicide. However, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors.
Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse. Bullying can have lasting impacts on everyone involved: the person being bullied; bystanders who witness the bullying; and the person who bullies others. In fact, bullying is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on a person’s development, the way they interact with others, and how they perform in school.
So how can schools, educators, parents and communities become empowered to tackle bullying and stop it in its tracks?
Schools can adopt a trauma-informed approach, by training teachers and staff skills to handle and recognize traumatic stress or other signs of trauma. These skills allow teachers to help or find other supports and services for students in need.
Resources like the Trauma-Sensitive Schools Training Package from The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) may help schools adopt trauma-informed approaches to create safe and supportive learning environments. These include:
- Educating school staff about trauma and its effects
- Promoting physical and emotional safety in relationships and the environment
- Reducing trauma-related triggers in the school environment
- Considering trauma in all assessment and protocol behavior plans
- Ensuring students and families have voice, choice, and empowerment
By adopting trauma-informed approaches, schools can help prevent bullying and trauma at school, and provide a positive school culture for both students and staff.
Parents, caregivers, teachers, and schools all play an important role in preventing and addressing bullying and its harmful effects.