(flickr user Woodley Wonderworks)
Statistics indicate that roughly 160,000 students skip school every year to avoid being bullied. And to make matters worse, social media has enabled bullying to extend beyond school hours and to all areas of life. Plus, more and more research indicates that bullying is a major problem that can give rise to extensive consequences.
Who are the victims?
We tend to visualize the victims of bullies as timid, isolated kids who don’t “fit in,” but a new study suggests that this isn’t always the case –particularly where cyber bullying is concerned. The study examined social groups in schools and found that cyber-aggression was most frequently targeted at relatively popular kids, as opposed to their less social peers. Cyber bullies were also less likely to target strangers and would instead lash out at former friends, which allows them to hurt the target on a more personal level. The study also revealed that whether or not they were close to their peers, non-heterosexual students were more likely to be victimized. The most frequent cyber bullying methods included sharing humiliating photos, disseminating harmful rumors, posting homophobic remarks about someone, and pretending to befriend a lonely “outsider” with cruel intentions.
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Who are the bullies?
A recent study from UCLA found that kids who were considered the coolest were also the most aggressive - physically and psychologically. Basically, bullies are often the “cool kids.” This presents a unique challenge in combating bullying in schools, because kids are less likely to listen to adults’ warnings about bullying if it’s perceived to increase social status and peer respect.
When should schools interfere?
Although most American adults agree that bullying is a serious issue, a recent poll revealed varying opinions about which bullying behaviors should prompt school involvement. An analysis from the University of Michigan found that 95 percent of adults believe a school should intervene if a child’s physical safety is threatened, 81 percent said schools should take charge if a student humiliates or embarrasses a peer, and 56 percent agreed that schools should intervene if someone is socially isolated. Ultimately, people don’t agree about the severity of certain bullying behaviors and that makes it difficult for schools to act appropriately. Matthew M. Davis M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan, warns, “This is concerning because isolating a student socially is considered to be a form of bullying, and a dangerous one. Isolating a student socially may be linked to episodes of school violence and also teen suicide.” Backing up this assertion is the fact that 12 out of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s involved shooters who had a history of being bullied.