We all know someone who has suffered bullying or who’s currently being bullied. With about one out of every four students in the United States saying that they’ve been bullied, the problem isn’t going away.
But the costs are high—emotionally, educationally and even monetarily. These are some of the reasons why community leaders, including the Maricopa County Attorney, are stepping up to bullying, as should all of us!
“Why we care, why the Maricopa County Attorney’s Offi ce is involved with bullying is because statistics show us that 13 million (young people) are being bullied each year nationally. One in every four kids experiences bullying. Every 7 minutes a child is bullied!” explains Martin Nowakowski, community affairs coordinator for the Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery.
While many of us have witnessed bullying or experienced it, many don’t know exactly what it is. In fact, not all people being mean or lashing out at someone are bullying. Nowakowski describes what bullying is and why it can be so hard to take. “There’s rudeness. Being mean, when someone is intentionally hurtful. Bullying is when someone is being hurtful over time,” he says. “It’sone of the hardest things for a student to ENDURE because it’s repeated meanness. And it’s occurring from other kids, and the person being targeted feels powerless to stop it!” He points out that there are three key elements involved—“One: unwanted and aggressive behavior. Two: it’s repeated. Three: there’s an imbalance of power.”
Kinds of Bullying
Unfortunately, bullying has PERSISTED over generations, but those trying to prevent it in more recent times hope the numbers continue to drop. Most bullying still happens at school or nearby. And state laws call for schools to have bullying policies and procedures in place including keeping reports of bullying on fi le. Often school bullying happens in the hallway or stairwell, in a classroom, the cafeteria, a bathroom or locker room, or out in the schoolyard or on the bus.
Bullying often involves put downs—name-calling, making fun of or insulting a person or even spreading rumors about them. Sometimes the bullying gets physical—pushing and shoving, tripping, spitting or hitting a person. Other times the bullying is indirect and involves excluding someone from activities on purpose, like making them eat alone or preventing them from having fun with classmates on the playground.
That kind of bullying would usually end shortly after school lets out. But there is a less common, but growing means of bullying that never seems to stop.
Smart phones, tablets and laptops are being misused by bullies to hurt, threaten or HARASS victims. Maybe it’s on social media, through instant messaging, email or in a chat room. “In the past, bullying stopped at school when the last bell rang in the day,” points out Nowakowski. “Now a person can be by themselves and when they hear the digital device ring, they can be bullied when they’re alone in their bedroom. Bullying is now 24/7,” he says.
More often than not, the person being cyberbullied doesn’t even know who the bully is! “Online you can be anonymous—it could be that the person being bullied during the day can be the cyberbully at night. It can be difficult to trace the source, and it (the post) can last forever.”
The Cost of Bullying
It’s not uncommon for someone being bullied at school to start skipping class. Nowakowski says that 165,000 students each day in the United States miss school due to bullying. And while it’s a reality, he’s points out that getting a good education needs to come fi rst—don’t drop out of school! “Bullying can hurt your self-esteem, hurt your social influence,” he continues. It can lead to a person feeling isolated or rejected, depressed or anxious. Such feelings can even lead tosuicidal thoughts.
Costs are high for the bully as well. Young people who bully tend to get into serious trouble. In fact, most of them end up being convicted of a felony by age 24. Some types of bullying and cyberbullying crosses the line into criminal activity, Nowakowski warns. For example, hitting someone can be an assault. If somebody threatens to hurt you or threatens your life. Or if the bully does something to hurt you because of your ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation—that can be a hate crime! Nowakowski and his Community Affairs team for the County Attorney Bill Montgomery do a lot of outreach on safety, including bullying. The team offers a variety of free Project Safe Kids presentations at schools and for youth-based organizations. It also offers its “Stand Up to Put Downs” bullying awareness presentations for parents in collaboration with schools or other youth organizations.
“Bullying is absolutely hurtful,” he says, “and we will never stop advocating to reduce the number of young people being hurt from bullying.”
When Bullying Happens…
If you’re being bullied, “get away from the bullying situation—walk away. You can tell the bully to stop. If you see somebody being bullied, be a friend so they don’t feel alone. And the most important thing someone can do for someone being bullied is to get help from a trusted adult,” Nowakowski says. “Away from school, it could be a parent, an older sibling or an uncle. But at school, it could be a teacher, a school counselor or a coach.”When you need a special kind of help, your school counselor can be a good choice.
More people who see bullying need to act. Kids stand up for the victim only 11 percent of the time. Shockingly, that number is even lower, 4 percent, when parents witness bullying. Nowakowski encourages, “Bystanders can take the power away from the bully. Doing nothing empowers the bully.”
“The County Attorney reminds students that you can combat bullying by speaking up, reaching out to (those) being bullied or being a friend whenever you see bullying happening,” he says.