Bullying

Bullying is an intentional act, and its effects are devastating. Although bullying and harassment can take place at almost any age and in any career field, it most often takes place during junior high and high school years. Bullying has certain markers for it: a power imbalance (perceived or real), an intent to harm, and threat for further aggression.

Imagine a National Geographic video of a lion hunting for prey. The lion singles out one zebra and tries to separate it from the group. Sometimes the lion targets a baby or older zebra because it feels it will be more successful in separating it from the group.

One of the reasons why bullying is so prolific in junior high and high schools is because there are unique peer dynamics at these ages. Peer perception and being included are very important to most young people. They want to be perceived as popular, smart, pretty, or handsome. When someone bullies someone else, they often make excuses such as “they deserve it” or “we were only kidding” to justify their behavior. Before social media, bullying was almost always done physically; for example, pushing someone down the stairs or into lockers. However, with the internet and social media, cyberbullying can now take place 24/7 and there is no reprieve from it. Since it is no longer face-to-face, a person who bullies does not see how their actions impact someone; they do not see the face behind the screen. They can text, “I hope you die,” and remain relatively detached from the reactions and harm they cause. We know that people who hurt others were often hurt themselves.

Bullying can be done by one person or by several people. Sometimes the target of the bullying knows who the bully is, and sometimes it is done anonymously. Types of bullying can include, but are not limited to:

  • Cyber: Using the internet, social media, or technology to threaten, harass, or hurt others.
  • Verbal: Using words to bully, such as name calling, insulting or demeaning comments, taunting, threatening, or embarrassing others.
  • Social: Using social standing to indirectly bully someone, such as purposely leaving one person out of the group, turning others against them, or spreading rumors and hurtful gossip.
  • Physical: Using physical interactions to bully, such as hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking property, or making rude gestures.

The legal definition of bullying has been expanded in the following way:

  • Consists of all communication (direct, indirect, cyberbullying fake profiles, photoshopping photos, fake profiles, or photos).9
  • Includes off-campus actions and communications that that interfere with a student’s educational opportunities, or significantly disrupts the school environment.10
  • No longer has to be a pattern, can be one singular significant act.11
  • Authorities may be notified, and all students’ parents or guardians must be notified.12

Harassment

Texas recently added bullying to the harassment statute.13

The two primary elements of harassment are:

  1. The intent of the perpetrator, which means the person committing the act has the desire or goal to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend” another person.
  2. The harassing behavior itself.

Examples:

  • Requesting an obscene activity, such as sexualized pictures or video, even if the person being asked has already refused.
  • Threatening harm to another person, family members, or property.
  • Transmission of a false report of the death or bodily injury of another person.
  • Calling or sending messages in an annoying, threatening, or abusive manner.

Requirements of Schools

You should know, for your protection, that Texas Education Code 37.0832 requires school districts to adopt a policy that prohibits in school or out of school bullying, prohibits retaliation against a person who reports bullying, and establishes a procedure for students to anonymously report any incidences of bullying.

What You Can Do About It

Every person has different comfort levels in how they intervene when they witness or experience bullying. There are two types of intervention: direct intervention and indirect intervention.

Direct intervention includes things like calling out bullying when you see it occurring. For example, “Stacy, do not say that about her. It is not true. If you continue to spread rumors about her, I will be forced to tell someone.”

Indirect intervention includes things like using an anonymous reporting system, but it also includes speaking to the person being bullied and saying, “I saw what he did. I am so sorry that is happening. Do you want me to tell someone?” Other indirect interventions include sitting with the person being bullied at lunch, walking with them in the hallways, or wherever it is they are being bullied. Also helpful is telling your parent, teacher, or another trusted adult when you see bullying happening to a classmate on social media (cyberbullying).

When you do nothing, you are accepting the bullying behavior. A bystander is someone who witnesses what is happening and does nothing. Refuse to be silent and do nothing when someone is being hurt. Intervene directly, indirectly, or both. In most cases, bullying stops when someone gets involved.

The In Real Life #BeStrong video below shows what happens when online bullying is taken offline. It is a terrific campaign because it shows how to undercut a bully’s power, making it socially unacceptable to bully or harass. Bullies are social predators who lack conscience and do it to gain status. If their actions make them lose peoples’ attention, then they do not win.

Watch the video below and ask yourself:

  • What would you do if you saw this happening at a store, restaurant, or school?

Video | 2:07

Social Predators

Social predators are exploiters and users. A “predator,” by definition, refers to “someone who follows people in order to harm them or commit a crime against them”14 and as “one who injures or exploits others for personal gain or profit.”15

Are you a social predator? Do you know someone who is a social predator?

A social predator is someone who:

  • Always strives to win rather than be part of the group.
  • Is fiercely competitive at all times and who fails to understand the difference between pro-social and abusive behavior.
  • Justifies lies, conniving, smear campaigns, breaks trusts, and will say or do anything to win a desired response.
  • Uses charm and manipulation to get what they want from others, including family, friends, or co-workers.
  • Changes how he or she acts in order to stay out of trouble.
  • Belittles friends.
  • If called out for their behavior, then claims they were “just kidding,” or says that other people should not be so sensitive.

Bullying Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying or harassment, then talk with your parent, family member, teacher, counselor, or another trusted adult.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. Even though it is a suicide lifeline, they want people to reach out if they are in distress, and they also provide prevention and crisis resources.

Another resource is the Texas Youth Hotline at 800-989-6884.

If you are a parent or guardian, additional resources can be found on the Texas Education Agency’s Internet Safety page and the Office of Attorney General’s Cyber Safety page.

David’s Legacy Foundation is “a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating cyber and other bullying, of children and teens, through education, legislation, and legal action.”16

Born This Way Foundation was co-founded and led by Lady Gaga and her mother to support “the mental health of young people and works with them to create a kinder and braver world…aim[ing] to make kindness cool, validate the emotions of young people, and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health.”17

Stopbullying.gov. Although currently no federal law directly addresses bullying, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. When bullying and harassment overlap, federally-funded schools must resolve the harassment. When the situation is not adequately addressed, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division may be called in.18

There are hundreds of bullying programs - check some of them out!