Bullying; it’s an all-too-familiar age-old term that has been unfortunately firmly entrenched in our society. Whether it is at school, the park, the basketball court, the locker room, or on social media, bullies seemingly know no boundaries as to who their victims are.
Sadly, bullying has become so prevalent in our everyday lives that people have become accustomed to it as almost being an expected everyday occurrence.
“It has gotten so out of control,” said one concerned parent. “Bullying is just a terrible, unacceptable behavior. It’s unfortunate that anybody has to be bullied. I can’t even imagine how frustrating and heartbreaking it is for parents to have their children deal with that.”
Another parent, Antioch resident Michelle Deleon added, “Some kids are just mean and unfortunately, are not taught about being nice to one another, or just have absent parents. Unfortunately, a lot of kids have to go through this at some point in their lives. I just like to live by the motto, ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’.”
Society and pop culture, in the form of television shows, movies, music, sports, and video games, are at times shown to highlight and glorify bullying as being funny, acceptable, and cool. Terms like “paying dues”, “trash talking”, and “initiation” often times get blurred and confused with activities like hazing or bullying, as many humiliating and demeaning acts take place all seemingly for the sake of people desperately trying to fit in or to be accepted and liked. Many times, these acts get overlooked and ignored, especially when these acts are committed by people they might feel close to, such as friends or family.
According to Psychotherapist and Crisis Specialist Elsa Ng, bullying can be rooted from three different things; insecurity, low self-esteem, and peer pressure.
“I see bullying cases all the time,” said Ng. “The goal is for bullies to empower themselves, while making victims feel powerless. People who bully may be victims themselves of abuse and neglect at home. If someone is being abused at home, they feel helpless and powerless, so there is a lot of anger and low self-esteem. So they let it out on someone else who they think is weaker or more insecure.”
Widespread research and statistics on bullying paint a harrowing picture. According to the National Education Association (www.NEA.org), 30% of all kids are bullied in school every year, with other studies showing that at least one out of three or four students experience some type of bullying. Additionally, it is estimated that approximately 160,000 kids skip class due to bullying daily. Alarmingly, data from Bullying Statistics (www.bullyingstatistics.org) shows that bullying victims are also two to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than people who are not bullied.
Ng also believes there is a connection between bullying and empathy, and if people can empathize more with each other, then the less people would feel the need to bully.
“If we show empathy, it’s hard to bully others,” said Ng. “Because you feel the impact of violence on someone. So if you are an empathetic person, you will feel the pain of your victims.”
While there are endless tales and stories of bullying victims and the types of bullying they endure, certain questions must be asked; why do people feel the need to bully in the first place? What do they gain from it? Is it a sense of gratification, empowerment, or to fill a void within oneself?
“I’m ashamed to say that in elementary school, after I was bullied, I turned around and became a bully once myself,” admitted Deleon. “At the time, I felt empowered, and it felt good, especially because ‘the shoe was on the other foot’. I forced a classmate to give me her lunch money, and she did. That was my first and last time. I went home and I told my oldest sister. Afterwards, I had to give the girl back her money, and just felt pretty stupid. More so now, I feel embarrassed for even doing it.”
One Antioch resident admitted candidly, “I bullied because I was getting physical abuse from my dad, so I took my anger out on the kids at school,” admits the woman, now in her 50’s. “Looking back, I feel bad; you can say kids that bully usually are either from a dysfunctional home, unloved, wanting attention, or other issues.”
Superintendents from the Brentwood and Oakley School Districts state that all schools within their districts have very specific rules regarding bullying, including having multiple assemblies during the year, with its primary focus on educating students about bullying, the importance of being kind to one another, and treating each other with respect.
“This is something that is a part of school safety and our schools take very seriously,” said Oakley Union Elementary School District Superintendent Greg Hetrick. “I believe that bullying will always be somewhat of a problem because if even one student is bullied, that is a problem.”
Brentwood Police Officer Mitch Brouillette, who serves as a Resource Officer for Heritage High School in Brentwood, observed that it is easier for kids to bully nowadays due to many modern day technologies. Computers, cell phones, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and other third party apps make it difficult for adults to fully monitor their children, and may often be seen as a mystery to parents.
Often times, these instances of bullying do not get reported, which only furthers the problem.
“They can do it behind the safety of the screen of a phone or a computer,” said Brouillette, who helps educate kids on the proper use of social media. “When they bully somebody through social media, it’s not out in front of people, so it is a little bit more hidden. It is a different type of bullying. It used to be more physical, but this type of bullying through social media, name calling, it doesn’t stop. Kids can’t get away from it.”
Dr. Dana Eaton, Superintendent for the Brentwood Union School District, believes that bullying is more of an issue for students now than it has ever been before.
“In my day, if a student was bullied by someone at the park, at school or somewhere else in the community, they could go home and feel safe,” said Eaton. “That same student today is continually connected to hundreds of students via their phone and social media. They can be continually bombarded by negative messages and there is no escape for them.”
Eaton said that trying to reduce bullying on school campuses is something that they continually strive to improve, mentioning numerous programs and resources available for students at all campuses, which focus on character development with strong anti-bullying components, such as safety assemblies and tutorials on how to teach students how to properly interact online and in person.
“We take any report of bullying seriously and issue consequences followed by working individually with students to stop the bullying behaviors,” said Eaton. “We employ counselors at every campus that support students dealing with social and emotional challenges. We have caring adults who work to build relationships with students so that children feel they have a trusted adult to confide in.”
While bullying has long been associated with children, schoolyard, playgrounds, and more recently with the Internet and social media, interestingly, bullying victims are not just limited to school-aged kids.
“Almost one in three adults say they have been bullied,” said Health and Wellness Coach Dr. Sameera Rana. “And it seems most of this happens in the workplace. Anecdotally, many adults I spoke to feel that workplace bullying has increased recently. Why? It’s hard to tell. On the flip side, there is much more awareness of adult bullying, which is a sign in the right direction.”
While many schools feel they have made progress in ongoing attempts to curtail bullying and educate children on the effects of it, many parents feel that it is simply not enough, and that schools need to do more. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (www.nasponline.org), school teachers or officials intervene in only 4% of all bullying situations.
“If I could say something to any would-be helpers in the education field, it would be to remember how it feels to be a kid,” said Cindy James, a mother of two from Grass Valley. You are basically at the mercy of any adults around you. But when you’re not around or simply nonexistent, who helps a kid, then? My one appeal would be simply, listen to kids. Most of them are pretty honest until they learn how not to be.”
“It’s an issue that’s never going away,” added Deleon, who stressed that all schools should make the topic of bullying one of their top priorities. “Encourage kids to report any bullying they witness by means of anonymity; a phone line or other form. Emphasize that bullying will NOT be tolerated and punishment can result in expulsion. Zero tolerance zone!”
Another concerned parent exclaimed, “It’s very heartbreaking and frustrating, and I feel the schools need to step up and be SERIOUS about zero tolerance on bullying,” exclaimed the parent, whose children have been victims of bullying. “Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even when there is evidence or proof, nothing is done.”
Tom Black, a resident of Antioch, suggested that a community barbecue could be beneficial to help kids, parents, and school officials get to know and understand each other better.
“I think in order to stop bullying, it is imperative that we open communication between the faculty, parents, and students,” said Black, a father of three. “As parents, we need to get more involved. We need to let our children know we love them, and they can tell us anything. Organizing an annual ’Stop Bullying Day’ would also be a big step forward.”
Eaton stressed that if parents and/or students ever feel dissatisfied with the schools’ handling of any bullying situation or feel that not enough action has been taken, then they are always welcome to elevate their concern and talk to any school officials, while highlighting the importance of ensuring parents get in touch with the school right away.
“School principals do not want bullying to take place on their campuses,” said Eaton. “If a parent feels like a school is not listening, they absolutely should ask to meet with the administrator to discuss what is taking place. If a parent meets with a vice principal and is not satisfied with the outcome, they should ask to meet with the principal. If after meeting with the principal they are not satisfied, they should ask to meet with the district administrator in charge of discipline, and then the superintendent.”
Having established potential avenues and directions to take in the event of a bullying situation, what is the best advice for children if they feel that they are being bullied in any way, shape, or form, or who have even witnessed bullying going forward?
“My advice for both witnesses and victims is to speak up,” said Hetrick. “When we speak up and stand together, we have a strong voice. Too often, things go unspoken and if the adults or those in charge are not aware of an issue, they cannot address the issue. When everyone joins together and says ‘bullying will not be tolerated’, there is a greater chance that it will stop.”
Fellow Superintendent Eaton added that while bullying victims may be understandably reluctant to share and disclose all of the details of their experiences, it is extremely important to come forward and for all parties to operate with the same information, so proper action can be taken and results can ensue. Eaton has also stressed that while victims are encouraged to stand up for themselves verbally, victims resorting to defending themselves physically should always be considered a last option.
“Teaching students to assertively say, ‘leave me alone, you can’t treat me this way’ is an important first step,” said Eaton. “If that does not work, it is important to seek out an adult who can help. We have multiple caring adults on each campus that want to help. Our administrators and teachers find themselves dealing with more and more bullying incidents that start off campus, but have a dramatic impact on the ability of students to feel safe at school. Students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe. We will help any child, regardless of where the bullying started. Many times when the victim is fearful of coming forward, it takes the actions of a heroic friend to come forward on their behalf.”
Officer Brouillette mentioned that different things can be done to address bullying, such as kids signing “non-harassment agreements” to leave others alone, or through the social media platform “#ICANHELP”.
Founded by teachers Kim Karr and Matthew Soeth, #ICANHELP is aimed at combating and eliminating cyber issues dealing with harassment and online bullying, while also educating and empowering students to support bullying victims, and to stand up to bullies. To date, #ICANHELP has worked to eliminate over 800 pages dealing with bullying, impersonation, and harassment-related issues.
“Kids have got to step up for one another,” said Brouillette. “Try to get the kids to stand up for the underdog. If you see someone being bullied, stand up for that person.”
Added Eaton, “We as adults have a responsibility to model how people should be treated. If we as adults see bullying behavior, we are responsible to call it out and put a stop to it. If we ignore bullying behavior, online or in person, because we don’t want to get involved, our children are watching and learning from us.”
More information on the #ICANHELP campaign can be found at www.icanhelpdeletenegativity.org.
Further information and statistics on bullying can be found at www.bullyingstatistics.org.
An avid bay area sports fan, Sean’s favorite teams include the 49ers, Giants, Sharks, and Warriors.