Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 15, 2014

Bullying takes many forms

By Amanda Browning Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG – The second installment of the Daily News’ series on bullying covers six different kinds of bullying and how to recognize the signs that one is a victim of mistreatment.

One of the most recognizable kinds of bullying is physical. There are many different types of negative physical interactions that may occur between young people. Although bullying often takes a mental and emotional toll, when it turns physical, it can quickly become dangerous.

Physical bullying includes hitting, kicking, tripping, pinching, pushing or otherwise physically harming another person. Physical intimidation may also include damaging or stealing another person’s property.

While any of these actions is reprehensible in themselves, they are not considered physical bullying unless the same victim is targeted repeatedly, with the intention to hurt, embarrass or intimidate. It may also be considered bullying if the situation involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. For example, the bully may be stronger or have a higher social standing than the victim, causing the bullied student to feel helpless and unable to remove themselves from the situation.

Common warning signs of physical harassment may include unexplained injuries the child is reluctant to discuss or explain; lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry; anxiety or fear of going to school; being depressed or teary when arriving home; low self-esteem and frequent complaints about stomach aches, headaches or other physical ailments, especially prior to school. The affected student may try to avoid riding the bus or taking a certain way to and from school, experience mood swings or talk about harming themselves or others. Bullied children may experience all these signs, or none of them. There is no set formula for how one will react to repeated mistreatment.

Verbal bullying is harder to recognize because no physical harm takes place and if the incident isn’t witnessed, it can be difficult to prove. Words have the power to cause serious, often permanent, harm. True verbal abuse goes so much further than just uttering hurtful words. Saying pointlessly cruel things to another person is mean, but with verbal bullying, the goal is to demean and degrade the victim to make the bully appear powerful and dominant.

In many cases, girls who bully choose to do it via verbal abuse. According to Bullying Statistics, girls tend to be more subtle than boys regarding bullying. In addition to social-exclusion, girls use verbal bullying more often to dominate and demonstrate power, rather than physical bullying. That is not to say, however, boys do not use the more covert forms of bullying. Often, boys prefer to dominate through verbal abuse to avoid the trouble that can accompany physical bullying.

The effects of verbal bullying often last longer than physical injuries. Often, tangible physical effects result from verbal abuse. In addition to affecting one’s self image, verbal bullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression and other problems. In some cases, victims might turn to substance abuse or, in extreme cases, suicide. Ultimately, words have power and verbal abuse can have significant physical consequences, even if victims are never touched.

Covert bullying is another common type of bullying. Often categorized as emotional bullying or relational aggression, this kind of mistreatment can be harder to recognize because victims aren’t always aware it’s happening. Covert bullying is intended to harm someone’s reputation and social standing, as well as cause humiliation.

A wide variety of actions can be defined as covert bullying: lying and spreading rumors; playing mean-spirited, humiliating jokes; unkind mimicking or encouraging others to socially exclude the victim.

According to bullying expert Ben Leichtling, Ph.D., covert bullies often exert tremendous effort to damage the victim in the eyes of others, allowing the abusive behavior to be excused by other members of the group. Depending on the age and relationships involved in the group, this can be a betrayal on many levels. With covert bullying, the ultimate goal is to isolate victims, making them feel helpless and alone.

Covert bullying is often harder to recognize and prove than verbal bullying because the victim doesn’t need be aware of it. Also, many people dismiss small slights and subtle signs as paranoia. However, if the situation goes overlooked, the process may be well underway before it’s noticed, making it hard to reverse.

Cyberbullying is another type of repeated abuse being reported more often. This kind of mistreatment involves the use of digital technologies, such as social media and mobile phones, to harass, embarrass or damage the victim’s reputation and social standing.

Behaviors that fall under the cyberbullying category are as widely varied as the different types of digital technology. A phone call, email or text can be used to harass, threaten, demean, humiliate or target an individual. In addition, cyber bullies may post hurtful pictures, make online threats, set up defamatory websites or deliberately exclude the target.

Because people today are so “plugged in,” cyberbullying is becoming more frequent. Cyberbullies can harass with less risk of being caught.

Cyberbullies frequently say things they lack courage to say to the victim’s face. Technology can make these bullies feel anonymous and detached from the situation and their actions. Consequently, cyberbullying is often extensively cruel because the perpetrator often feels little responsibility.

Targets of cyberbullying frequently feel the abuse is invasive and never ending because they can be attacked anytime and anywhere. Cyberbullying has many significant effects, all of which can lead to feelings of helplessness, isolation and a sense of being trapped in an impossible-to-escape situation.

Schools are beginning to address cyberbullying and students can face repercussions at school even for cyberbullying activities occurring outside of school hours and off school grounds. Schools are working proactively to protect students; in today’s world, that means addressing cyberbullying issues.

Sexual and prejudicial bullying are the final two most common types of bullying. Sexual bullying involves repeated harmful and humiliating actions that target a person sexually. Sexual name-calling, crude comments, vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositioning and pornographic materials can all be involved in sexual bullying. This is not to be confused with bullying based on one’s sexual orientation, which falls under the category of prejudicial bullying.

Prejudicial bullying is based a perpetrator’s prejudices toward people of different races, religions or sexual orientation. Prejudicial abuse can encompass all other types of bullying as well. This type of bullying occurs when one person is targeted for being different. Prejudicial bullying is often severe and can be a stepping stone toward hate crimes. Because prejudicial bullying often targets groups with protected government status, there are additional protections for these victims and additional punishments for perpetrators.

Bullying was once considered a simple rite of passage that didn’t cause lasting harm. However, today’s research shows that bullying can have significant short- and long-term effects, impacting the victim’s education, physical and emotional health, and safety. According to an Oct. 2013 article in “Business Insider,” nearly one in three American schoolchildren in grades six through ten are affected by bullying. The article states that 40 percent of boys identified as bullies in school had three or more arrests by age 30.

Nearly 70 percent of students believe schools handle bullying situations badly, but how much responsibility do schools bear? With such high numbers and long-lasting effects, surely dealing with bullying should fall to both parents and schools. The kind of personality traits that lead to bullying can’t be solely addressed at school.

While schools are implementing new programs to address bullying, the best thing parents can do is teach children compassion and kindness. Parents can lead by example, too, showing children from a young age that cruelty and bullying are reprehensible behaviors that won’t be tolerated – not at school, work or elsewhere.

Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004; amanda.browning@greensburgdailynews.com