Peter could perhaps be described as your ‘typical nerd’–he stood at least a head below the other boys in our year, wore his shorts far higher than was socially acceptable, and his pale skin reflected the amount of time he spent inside the library. When he wasn’t studying, Peter could be found watching David Attenborough documentaries, which, despite growing up in Australian suburbia, had given him a slight English accent.
I never really spoke to Peter, though I knew of him well. Everyone did. It was hard to ignore the crowd of students that would gather at lunch to watch as Peter was humiliated by those considered ‘cool.’ It seemed to the bystanders, who gathered in the circle, that the torture of Peter was some kind of show. They would munch on an apple, stuff their faces with chips or sip on a coke, as if they were simply watching TV, unable to interfere in the cruelty right in front of their eyes.
Although I never watched Peter’s torment, I was no better than those who did. As the bell rang for lunch, Peter would push past me, his back hunched defensively, as he rushed to the refuge of the library before his tormentors caught up to him. I could have turned around and told the bullies to leave him alone, I could have even just sat with Peter so that he wasn’t alone. But I didn’t.
My self-conscious teenage self thought, at best, my efforts would be useless, and at worst, I would be chucked in the same boat as Peter, finding myself in the center of that vicious circle.
Almost ten years on, I know now that my inaction was wrong. Even a small effort on my part, or any other of my classmates, could have saved Peter from much pain.
The Stats We All Need to Know
It has now been shown that if a bystander intervenes when they witness bullying, the bully stops within 10 seconds, 57 percent of the time. Take a second to think about that–one small act can put an almost instantaneous stop to cruelty, over half the time.
While bullying occurs at all ages and stages of life (we’ll get to that), it often begins in childhood. According to a U.S. poll, 48 percent of kids aged 9–13 said they’ve been bullied, while 86 percent reported seeing someone else being bullied.
Other studies show that bullying occurs in school playgrounds every seven minutes and once every 25 minutes in class. While every month in Canada, 13 percent of students report electronic bullying.
The impacts of bullying are also extremely concerning. In the U.S., 10 percent of students who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying, and over 30,000 children stay home every day due to the fear of being bullied. It has also been shown that social rejection leads to cognitive impairment–this means bullying increasingly erodes a victim’s ability to deal with life’s day-to-day demands.
But perhaps even worse is the suicide rate.
A study by Yale University found that those who have been victims of bullying are between seven and nine percent more likely to consider suicide. Meanwhile, British studies show over half of youth suicides are related to bullying.
Uncovering accurate statistics on bullying is difficult, as many who are being bullied are often too ashamed or afraid to admit to it. While the numbers mentioned above are highly concerning, the reality of the problem is likely much worse.
Beyond the Numbers
We’ve all heard the stories. They’ve been making headlines for a while now: the kids who die from bullying. Yet, how quickly do we forget about these victims, move on from the morning news and get on with our day? It seems while bullying is getting more publicity, it isn’t nearly as engaging as a murder in your local neighborhood. Yet, your kids, your nieces, nephews, or neighbors, could be the next victims.
The self-proclaimed World Authority on Bullying, NoBullying.Com, lists a number of concerning cases. This is one of many examples of how we have failed as a society to protect those in need:
A 15 year old Connecticut boy, Bart Palosz, took his life by shooting himself. His death is linked with many years of bullying at school and on social networks. He was a quiet boy that related better to adults than his peers. He was 6 feet 3 inches tall and had a Polish accent, which made him a target for bullying. Incidents include boys in town calling him names, pushing him into bushes, and destroying his cell phone.
Although his parents claim they asked the school for help, nothing was done. He also posted comments about suicide on social media.
A similar case shows how, much like with sexual harassment and assault, the onus is placed on the victim to fix the situation:
On January 12, 2012, Amanda Diane Cummings, a 15 year-old Staten Island youth, jumped in front of a bus. She carried a note on her that stated classmates were constantly teasing her and stole her personal possessions. While she recovered in the hospital, classmates posted cruel comments on her Facebook page. Bullying is not considered a serious crime by many. Kids that report incidents are told to toughen up or fight back. Sometimes authorities tell children no one likes a tattletale, so they do not get the help they need.
It is also important to note that although bullying is often associated with youth, it isn’t just something that happens to kids. As mentioned earlier, it is a phenomenon that is found at all ages; whether it is in the workplace, within a family or relationship, or in a social setting.
Haven’t we all, at some stage, seen or experienced a boss intimidate an employee, a mother shamed for her parenting choices, or someone’s outfit mocked?
Adult bullying victims do not get the full media coverage that child bullying victims do. They wouldn’t find too much sympathy with their plight because they are adults. They would be bluntly told by friends and family members to ‘tough it out.’ – NoBullying.Com
The Cruelty of Adults
We hear of the ‘cruelty of children,’ but we often turn a blind eye to such behaviour in adults. So why would full grown adults still be bullying and what does it look like? Unlike children who are often motivated by peer pressure, attention-seeking or immaturity, the goal of an adult bully is to gain power over the other person, become dominant and ‘show them who is boss’. BullyingStatistics has outlined the five different types of adult bullies.
- Narcissistic Adult Bully: This type of adult bully is self-centered and does not share empathy with others. Additionally, there is little anxiety about consequences. He or she seems to feel good about him or herself, but in reality has a brittle narcissism that requires putting others down.
- Impulsive Adult Bully: Adult bullies in this category are more spontaneous and plan their bullying out less. Even if consequences are likely, this adult bully has a hard time restraining his or her behavior. In some cases, this type of bullying may be unintentional, resulting in periods of stress, or when the bully is actually upset or concerned about something unconnected with the victim.
- Physical Bully: While adult bullying rarely turns to physical confrontation, there are, nonetheless, bullies that use physicality. In some cases, the adult bully may not actually physically harm the victim, but may use the threat of harm, or physical domination through looming. Additionally, a physical bully may damage or steal a victim’s property, rather than physically confronting the victim.
- Verbal Adult Bully: Words can be quite damaging. Adult bullies who use this type of tactic may start rumors about the victim, or use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate or humiliate another person. This subtle type of bullying also has the advantage–to the bully–of being difficult to document. However, the emotional and psychological impacts of verbal bullying can be felt quite keenly and can result in reduced job performance and even depression.
- Secondary Adult Bully: This is someone who does not initiate the bullying, but joins in so that he or she does not actually become a victim down the road. Secondary bullies may feel bad about what they are doing, but are more concerned about protecting themselves.
What You Can Do
One of the outcomes of the recent #MeToo outbreak on social media was the need to stop placing the onus on victims to solve the problem of sexual harassment and assault. After all, they have suffered enough, why should they have to be responsible for fixing society’s problem? The same could be said for the victims of bullying. If you witness harassment of any kind, it is your responsibility to take action.
While obviously directly confronting the bully is usually best, it is often not that easy. But there are more indirect ways you can help if you witness someone, whether adult or child, being tormented.
Dr Laura Martocci, author of the acclaimed book Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self, outlines 10 concrete ways you can help:
- Make eye contact with the victim or some other gesture to show solidarity.
- Distract and/or redirect the attention of aggressors.
- Connect to other bystanders through body language, and support those looking to be proactive.
- Avoid being a gossip-monger: The less you contribute to re-hashing the incident, the faster chatter will move on to other topics.
- Curtail gossip or turn the conversation in a sympathetic direction.
- Make eye contact with the victim beyond the immediate spectacle of shaming.
- Risk telling an aggressor to ‘chill,’ or to just ‘walk away’.
- Be prepared to be a pro-active witness: Film the interaction, or, in the case of cyberbullying, take screenshots. Either might be needed by victims.
- Anonymously get word to a sympathetic supervisor or authority figure.
- Turn laughter back on itself, defusing the situation: Say “Why are you still bothering with this drama (laugh)?” or “Seriously? Dude, that’s pathetic.”
What happened to Peter? He continued to be bullied on a daily basis for the rest of our school years. Not once did I see anyone come to his aid–adult or student. While I often wonder where Peter is now, and how I could have made his life easier during our school years, there are many more cases that happen every day in all kinds of settings. Imagine the difference we could make if we all took these simple steps to end bullying, once and for all.