The definition of bullying can take on a variety of meanings. The term bullying refers to many destructive behaviors ranging from taunting to more serious behavior such as abuse or assault. A bully can be one single individual or it may be a group of people that is doing the bullying. We are all familiar with the phrase “sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us”. Taunting, teasing and threats are the most common form of bullying and although they are not physically harmful they can be much more dangerous in terms of the effects on the bullied child.
It is estimated that 50% of school-age children have been bullied in school. Most often the bullied child is physically small for their age, highly sensitive, quiet, and well liked by adults. The “target child” typically does not have a lot of friends and most often others are not likely to come to their rescue. Bullies tend to target children that are physically less strong than they are. This allows the bully to exhibit control over the target child by using threats of physical abuse. Contributing to this problem is that most parents often deny that their child is a bully. Because the bully is not held accountable for his or her actions their behavior tends to become more dangerous over time.
For the victim bullying can leave deep emotional scars that last throughout adulthood. Adults who were bullied as children are seven times more likely to attempt suicide. Twenty percent of adults bullied as children admitted to trying to kill themselves at some point in their lives. For children bullying can be so traumatic that they want to die in order to escape the ridicule and abuse that has become part of their daily lives. The term for one that takes their own life to escape the devastating torment of bullying is known as bullycide.
Steven Shepherd’s Story
Steven Shepherd was an intelligent, scrawny, 11-year-old boy with glasses and a slight limp. Coming from a broken home, Steven lived with his grandmother in a poverty-stricken part of town. Steven was an easy target for the bullies in his school; the type of child that jokes were made from. Upon hearing the school bell one day Steven rushes in from the playing field to find that his classmates had urinated in his walking shoes. Draping his pee-soaked shoes around his neck he proceeds to walk home alone. Hearing the taunts and teasing from behind he begins to pick up his pace. His tiny heart racing in fear, he does not move fast enough and he is quickly surrounded.
Panic stricken, he feels his glasses being violently snatched from his face. Falling to the ground below he wails in pain as the kicks and punches continue to bruise his tiny body. Lying helpless the torment finally ceases and as he reaches for his glasses he discovers that he is unable to move his arm, as it is broken. Lifting himself from the ground the events of the day are quickly forgotten as they merge with the other daily bully attacks that for him have become a way of life.
Of all the days he can recall the only happy day he ever experienced was the day he helped pick strawberries in a field. It was a day where he did not have to worry about being abused by his tormentors. The one and only day in his life that he could recall when he was not scared. He returned to this happy place on a cold evening in January 1967. Tossing up his hands he shouts, “Why do I have to live like this? If I do I must kill myself.” Laying his little body face down in a drainage ditch his nightmares finally ceased and he was happy once again knowing that the torment had come to an end. Fifty-one days later his body was found.
The story of Steven Shepherd is Britain’s first recorded account of bullycide.
Who is responsible? We all are. As adults, parents, and educators we all have a responsibility to do something to prevent this type of behavior. We also have a responsibility to protect children from being bullied. The important thing to remember is that it is not necessarily the actions of the bully but how these actions can affect the bullied child.
What Can Children Do?
- Let bully know they are not intimidated and are determined to make them stop
- Discuss subject in class
- Tell teachers, counselors, and parents what is going on
- Do not use violence
- Refuse to respond to bully’s taunting
- Understand their right not to be bullied or abused
- Realize that bully’s criticisms have no validity
- Call local helpline
What Can Parents Do?
- Work with teachers to make schools safe
- Support child and help them cope with bullying
- Research – Knowledge is Power
- Talk to child about bullying and agree on course of action
- Recognize signs that child is being bullied
- Take legal action if necessary
What Can Schools Do?
- Update and enforce anti-bullying policy
- Be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with bullying
- Conduct surveys to understand how much bullying is in school
- Campaign against bullying and regard it as unacceptable behavior
- Create supportive environment where children can discuss the issue
- Teach students assertiveness