The purpose of this study is to define what is bullying in its different contexts, the psychological consequences to towards the bully and the victim, how bullying affects the school or learning environment and the mitigation or intervention programs employed by school counselors or teachers to effectively combat bullying in middle schools. The schools’ administration or the teachers perceptions about bullying behaviors is important in schools to effectively combat the vice because it is linked to low self-esteem, decreased academic achievements or school violence among students. The nature of the problem and its dynamics will be discussed and the intervention methods to the problem.
Aggression and violence are among the common problems today in the society among the youth not limited to America but a global phenomenon. One of the ways the youth express their frustrations is through bullying. Bulling has been an old age occurrence which in many occasions forced school children to deal with even as bullying has been receiving more media coverage today than in the past eras. Bullying in schools is gaining much awareness because the society has recognized the detrimental effects of bullying as a damaging and potential form of violence in schools. It harms all involved and many diverse effects as affecting the school climate. Violence from school bullying can range from traditional extortions of typical lunch money to the new emerging appearance of weapons such as guns brought to school with the intention of terrorizing other students. This bully like aggressive behavior can be witnessed through an ‘identifiable group of bullies’ who victimize systematically their peers in specific groups. The problem of bullying is acute in America which happens daily at the schools and has demonstrated horrible tragedies like suicide among youth and school shootings all of which in these events bullying was the precursor or underlying factor.
A scenario explained, was an incident of Kelly, a girl of thirteen years who was verbally abused consistently by peers and unwanted by others. As she went to sleep, she told her mother she had enough of her classmates. She committed suicide by overdose being a victim of bullying (Hazler, 2000). Unresolved bullying conflicts are the potential outcomes of these tragedies. Bullying occurs in size city or school whether in big cities, small towns and medium sized cities (Olweus, 1993). Most dramatic incidents in America from bulling events have occurred in medium to big cities like Kentucky, Colorado or Arkansas. A 15 year old, Jason McLauglin allegedly shot a student who passed away later in critical condition. A classmate of Jason attested that he did have a lot of friends as a result of him being teased of having a bad acne that was small in size and wondered whether it resulted to his actions (Burcum, 2003). The ColumbineHigh School incident in the violent attacks of Kleboid and Harris brought to the limelight the potential outcomes of bullying in school. Bullying is a critical issue that must be addressed because it is a problem that is nationwide in any country, in any size community and therefore necessary to investigate the dynamics and intervention mechanisms to bullying.
Bullying and its forms
Bullying is a general term that is applied to behavior patterns observed in a person whereby they exhibit a lot of resentment, internal anger, lack of interpersonal skills and aggression and chooses to displace this anger onto another person. It can also be loosely be defined as abuse of power by the perpetrator with the major intention of causing pain to the victim. Bulling has many forms and can include things such as constant teasing, criticism, exclusion, nit-picking, name calling, threatening, name-calling that is encompassed with psychological, verbal, emotional and physical violence especially with children, exhibit all the different ways in which bullying is manifested (Roberts, 2000). Bullying behaviors normally start in elementary school reaching their peak in middle school and decrease in high school (Bulach, 2003). Bullying can also include a shove in the corridors, a subtle comment in class, a mad dog stare or more overt and dangerous physical attacks, threats or violence through repeated harassment by a mob or a bully. Bullying by groups is termed as ‘mobbing’ which may involve tactics like emotional abuse like intimidating, shunning, isolating or humiliating the individual.
A study conducted by Pepler and Atlas (1998) shows that physical bullying took 30% of episodes observed while verbal bullying included 53% of bullying episodes observed. Peer pressure and cyber-bullying is rampant in most middle schools. Cyber bullies use devices for communication such as social networks like Facebook and Myspace to commit hostile actions towards other students. Cell phones are the basic communication devices used in schools through cyber-bullying. Gang bullies or social cliques and groups can also employ intimidation or negative peer pressure through verbal violence to gain power over their perceived victims who are weak, unable or unwilling to fight back. This phenomenon is prevalent among teens, adolescents and young adults that often go unreported in school institutions.
Effects of bullying
Bullying is done with the intension of undermining the individual’s self esteem, confidence or social status by influencing or coercing the victim’s lifestyle, actions and behavior so as to gain power over the person. Repeated harassment and bullying is stressful to the victims and impacts their school performance which may also lead to emotional effects and long term health issues. Victims of bullying go through tough periods of coping with long term effects of bullying that they experienced during school. Members of bully mob gangs, cliques and groups usually fear that their mob leader may turn on them thus creating an intimidation cycle even with the bullies. As discussed, school bullying is detrimental to both the victim’s emotional and educational development.
Middle school children have deeper need to belonging and acceptance in social groups in which bullying can disrupt these connections which are important to the growth of students. Effects of bullying usually affect both the victim and perpetrators in long term and short term consequences. Chronic victims experience more psychological and physical problems compared to their non-harassed peers. Moreover, bullied youths generally have a difficult time in there adulthood as they try to grow out of the ‘victim role’ and more likely to exhibit low self-esteem. Students who were chronically victimized during middle school experience often are at risk of increased clinical depression with other problems in mental health apart from low self-esteem in adulthood. Middle school children who experienced long periods of bullying may develop symptoms which resemble Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and also being emotionally distant, hyper-alertness or being easily startled.
Short term effects observed in victims of bullies include stress, aggression with siblings, insomnia and anxiety (Beane, 1999). Other characteristics can include mood swings, self-isolation and physical manifestations like bruises or cuts. Bullies on the other hand could be experiencing physical or emotional abuse by other adults or family member. Violent or intimidating discipline from parents to their children may lead them to embracing aggression or anger as the way in dealing with conflicts and consequently the bullies intimidating their victims as they believe it is acceptable behavior. Also, parents do not provide little or no monitoring and guidance; contribute many at times for the bullying behavior witnessed in schools. The mental problems exhibited by bullies could as a result of juvenile delinquency or criminal behavior. Their social background suggests vulnerability to psychiatric morbidity, association in social isolation or rejection by peers, distance in emotional contact between family members, inconsistent disciplining and lack of warmth. Therefore counselors or adults should seek the bully’s underlying problems when mitigating their actions. Bullies also need support towards normal development (Newman, 2000).
Who bullies and who is bullied
Middle school children often face numerous and serious challenges in the period of social, emotional and physical adjustments. The challenges are attributed to these multiple adjustments which usually take place in many anti social behaviors observed in and out of classes and the general population. These challenges also face educators and parents in mitigating unwarranted behaviors. Bullying is a phenomenon which many mental healthcare professionals have tried to investigate. It creates climate of anger, fear, timidity, vengeful feelings, self-loathing, depression and hatred among other various states in emotional development. School children with low self-esteem can intimidate other students in order to feel or gain a temporary or false sense of empowerment. Girls having self confidence or other different personality issues or traits might bully their peers because of resentment, jealousy or as a result of common act done by other girls. The targets of bullies are mostly based on sexual orientation and individuals who have submissive personalities, mental and physical differences, below or above average weight having motor skill or speech difficulties. However they can also target other students regardless of social standing or appearance.
Students who usually have close ties with guardians or parents or those with overprotective parents, are at higher chances or likelihood to be victimized. Most of the time the bullying children are stronger both mentally and physically while those bullied are not strong or popular. Bullying in middle schools usually occurs in locker rooms, during recess or hallways out of hearing and sight distance of teachers (Sheras, 2002). Students are normally victimized by their peers with involves gender differences in the forms of bullying exhibited. Boys use more direct bullying acts influencing their dominion with imposed physical strength to force their victims in doing certain acts (Olweus, 1993). The physical acts by bullies are aimed to establish male dominance over their peers. Female bullies employ more indirect approaches and involve more relational forms of aggression that is characteristic of girls and focus more on manipulating or damaging their peers’ relationship. Females are more likely to be bullied through rumors than males Researchers are also investigating heterosexual relationships where aggressive male bullies might be picking on female students. In whatever form of bullying, the outcomes are generally detrimental socially and academically to both parties. Students who commit acts of bullying are normally known aggressive types or trouble makers. On many occasions it’s the most bullied victims who commit violent school crimes as means of vengeance (Bender, 2001).
How bullying affects school environment
The aspect of bullying is difficult to ignore or avoid at school and while victimized individuals may change neighborhoods or schools to avoid a group or bully, it is a stressful and complex proposition which does not always guarantee safety of the student in the new environment. School bullies have been a cause of detrimental effects to student’s well being in academic and emotional development. Victims of bullying might avoid going to school in order to avoid their aggressors. This inevitably limits the students’ participation in class activities, difficulty in concentrating with schoolwork and maintaining passing grades. The climate associated by bullying effects in the students emotional development like timidity, fear and vengeful feelings affect their attendance and participation in school and class activities. The school administrators may sometimes fail in handling bullying incidents effectively more so when counselors or instructors misidentify the bullying incidents merely as ‘typical teenage activity’ or simple harassment.
The National Association of Social Workers (2002) depicted that bullies are generally concerned with their own selfish attitudes and pleasure in what they want and not concerned whether their victims attend classes, participate outdoor activities or even attend school. The school environment for victims of bullying is usually unbearable in the perception of unsafe environment which constantly keeps them in fear and hide in order not to meet with their perpetrators thus affecting their overall performance in school. Bullied students are more reluctant to attend school, refuse to leave their homes or spend time in nurses’ office at school. Students spend less time in lessons consequently affecting their grades. Twenty two percent of middle school students from fourth to eighth grade said they experience academic difficulties due to bullying (Beane, 1999). These conditions along with emotions and vengeful feelings from bullying may lead them to make violent actions like shooting their perpetrators in defense (Burcum, 2003). Therefore it is important for teachers and counselors to implement prevention and intervention programs that will mitigate bullying aspects.
Bullying statistics in California compared to other States
CaliforniaState holds more than 6.2 million students which is two million more than Texas. It is among the most ethnically and racially diverse state but is currently experiencing rapid population change. The state consequently has an abundance of linguistically isolated households and English learners. Child poverty is most rampant where in about one out of five children live in a Californian family that has an income below the established federal poverty thresholds. This has simultaneously resulted in high poverty neighborhoods that display worsening trends that have contributed to bullying at schools and even neighborhoods. Besides the State dealing with these complexities, California educators are also dealing with bullying challenges in the school systems. Academic instructions at schools occur in the classroom where students depend on a supportive learning environment. Students cannot achieve their full potential if there are constant fear or safety concerns in the learning environment. Effects of long term bullying, bias, cruelty or hate motivated behaviors have tremendous impacts in success of students both for perpetrators and the victims. California’s urgent challenge is creating effective schools which invariably translate to safe schools in order to increase student achievements and gain confidence from the school community.
The ever expanding and societal changes have increased diversity but also brought accompanied intolerable behaviors which have demonstrated hate, biasness and bullying in schools. The Journal of the American Medical association (2001) noted almost 30% of 15,686 public school students that were surveyed reported frequent to occasional incidences of bullying, either as a victim or bully. California public schools have the highest record in bullying statistics followed by Florida and GeorgiaStates. Bullying Statistics in California indicate that 6 out of ten public middle school students witness bullying once a day in the least. Approximately five percent of students who avoided specific places or skipped school was attributed to fears of bullies at school.
Twenty nine percent of public schools had reported cases of bullying that occurred on a weekly or daily basis. More statistics show that the playing grounds are major places of bully perpetrators where only 4% contributed to adult intervention, 11% peer intervention and 85 % no intervention. Bullying and harassment has been linked to seventy five percent of alleged school shooting incidences, which include ColumbineHigh School fatal shootings near Littleton, Colorado and in Santee, SantanaHigh School in California (US Secret Service Report, 2002). Cranston Public Schools in Rhode Island have been putting efforts and strategic approaches to mitigate the vice by recognizing each student, teacher, staff member or administrator right to a conducive, secure and safe learning environment which is free from actual or implied emotional or physical harm.
Counselor’s role to help victim and bully in curbing bullying
A counselor plays an important role in assessing and advising both the victim and the bully on issues affecting them and how to deal with them. Bullies might be experiencing rejection from peers thus resulting to overt behaviors in bullying his or her peers. The counselor should evaluate the bully’s family background because abusive or violent parents contribute to the child’s mental state and perception of anger or violence as acceptable norm for dealing with conflicts. Understanding the bully can lead to a great deal of healing and reduce aggressive behaviors by giving the right counsel and involving the parents as well. Family problems, lack of constant disciplining, guidance and monitoring, lack of warmth, poverty among others need to be addressed in order to prevent bullying. Victims of bullying and other students can be given the opportunity to be responsible during bullying episodes and use simple intervention tactics like assertiveness in asking a bully to stop, notify adults, and ask friends for help if bullying continues (Salmivalli, 2001).
Intervention programs to combat bullying in middle schools
Some of the intervention programs that can be used in middle schools include school-wide intervention plans, guest speakers in a faculty workshop, school-wide assemblies or programs that will entail words of wisdom and project respect. Guidance lessons in classroom development, students as mediators, parent education, community involvement, and staff monitoring of unstructured areas is also important. Introducing anti-bullying policies in effect to students while they are on the school grounds, using school transportation or attending school activities will also be an intervention mechanism. The anti-bullying implementation plan can be established in an environment which is collaborative in order to identify the desired outcomes. The role of peers, adults and school wide activities has to be integrated into a school’s intervention program. The intervention model developed by Olweus (1993) can be implemented which includes classroom-level intervention, school-wide intervention and individual level interventions.
Effective intervention programs
Effective intervention programs in schools can be implemented through supporting awareness of bullying campaign with the approach of discussing and publicizing the phenomenon amongst teachers, students, school administrators and parents. Creating rules in classrooms against bullies, classroom discussions and role playing activities will also go a long way in curbing and mitigating the vice. Improving the overall environment at school in providing safe, secure and conducive learning environment for students will be effective in the overall intervention program employed in the school. Also empowering students via assertiveness training, conflict resolution programs and peer counseling is a vital factor academic performance of students. Indirect bullying can be addressed best by incorporating conflict resolution programs into classroom curriculum, integrating open discussion based on the social dynamics of a class and collaborative efforts through other teachers in developing effective anti bullying approaches and strategies. An effective intervention program moreover will involve all guardians and parents for both bullies and victims to work in conjunction alongside the school community.
Bullying is a global phenomenon which has been long in existence. Counselors, clinicians, teachers and school administrations should recognize that school children being bullies or being bullied, are signs and symptoms of increased anti social behaviors and depression among adolescents which can have detrimental and potentially dangerous outcomes such as suicides or fatal shootings acutely on the rise in American schools. Children should be involved in activities or forums that can help victims and bullies altogether. School administrations should implement necessary intervention mechanisms when need to treat depression after assessments are done concerning both parties. Counselors should also identify cross disciplinary approaches which are essential to factor out intervention programs to mitigate bullying acts in the school environment which simultaneously will help lower depression instances and reduce risks of overt social behaviors that lead to suicides or fatal shootings.
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