Eliminating Bullying from Our Schools
Our society is constantly changing, and its evolution seems to be affecting people's values and morals at every age. For example, today it is not uncommon to turn on the TV in the middle of the day and see scenes of violence or sexual content that should be reserved to adult viewers. In addition, some rap music, or even video-games, also add to the problem by promoting use of violence or sexist behaviour that in the long run tend to desensitize us. All of these factors, at various levels, contribute to the decline of moral values in modern society. In fact, they are valid examples of the lack of respect shown to our youth's normal psychological development, or to the dignity of those we call minorities because of their gender, race or sexual orientation.
Mobbing, bullying and cyber-bullying express the uneasiness of our society, and somehow they represent the negative side of our evolution in that they victimize the most vulnerable ones in extremely cruel ways. Nowadays, examples of these nasty behaviours begin during childhood, and it is becoming more and more difficult to contain and to prevent them. In fact, although school administrators, teachers and parents have tried to maximize their efforts to protect youth from physical and emotional violence, inside and outside school settings, episodes of mobbing, bullying and cyber-bullying are continuously increasing among students at all levels and affect both genders. These types of violence are among the main causes of early drop-out, anxiety, fear, and in extreme cases even suicide.
As a future teacher, I believe that it is of primary importance to find new ways of fighting this plague which is affecting societies worldwide. In this paper, I will analyze these phenomena by explaining their characteristics, their causes and possible solutions, as advocated by specialists who generally agree on the fact that the psychological effects of these actions can be truly devastating for those who have the misfortune of experiencing them.
The most popular way of damaging the psychological stability of a person is by using mobbing. In fact, this form of harassment can have devastating effects on people's lives, and it is experienced at every age during childhood and adolescence in school and in a work environment during adulthood. Mobbing affects the person as a whole and seriously undermines his/her dignity and capabilities. According to Elliot (2003), "Mobbing is ganging up on someone and making cruel jokes, spreading rumours, isolating and excluding, intimidating, threatening, treating a person like an object, harassment and cruelty [and] emotional abuse" (p.7).
Due to the fact that it interferes with many spheres of someone's life, mobbing is often referred to as a syndrome, which is a combination of factors that occur at the same time. The victim is continuously under pressure and he/she is the target of pecking, a constant harassment of a person by a number of people, which is usually not perceived as dangerous by those who perpetuate it. The reason for this is that often the problem is not the type of harassment which could be mild, but its amount that in the long run causes serious damages to the person (Elliot, 2003).
Usually there is no particular reason why a person is mobbed. Anything can start the harassment and people even forget what causes it in the first place because the motives were not relevant. However, the effects of mobbing on someone's life are real and include "feelings of confusion and anxiety, physical sicknesses, depression, lack of trust in others, and isolation" (Elliot, p.14). In very serious cases, victims can also develop "feelings of persecution or paranoia, inappropriate behaviour, destructive behaviour versus self or others, acute anxiety or post traumatic disorder, and permanent physical or emotional damage" (p.14).
Mobbing can be defeated if people become aware of it. That is, people need to understand that some words or behaviours, even if apparently innocent, become harassment when continuously perpetuated on the same person. Young people are the ones who are more easily influenced to join the group of harassers because they do not want to be marginalized. They want to be friends with those who are "cool" and have power, and they definitely do not want to be associated with those in a weaker position.
Adults can intervene to avoid these behaviours by asking children questions on their motives, how they would react in similar situations, the effect that their attitude has on others, and so on (Elliot, 2003). In school, teachers can do a lot to prevent mobbing, particularly by modeling acceptable behaviour and by demanding respect for all. In addition, Elliot also suggests intervention strategies that involve confronting the problem, not the person, promoting honesty in order to incite witnesses of mobbing to protect victims, and provide adequate consequences to unacceptable behaviour.
A more cruel way of diminishing people as human beings, by causing them mental and physical pain is bullying, an aggressive behaviour that in western society has taken the proportion of an epidemic. As cited in Henkin (2005), the Journal of the American Medical Association defines bullying as "a specific type of aggression in which (1) the behaviour is intended to harm or disturb, (2) the behaviour occurs repeatedly over time, and (3) there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one" (p.1). Thus, bullying is more harmful than mobbing and, according to Orpinas and Horn (2002) it is prevalently carried out through physical violence.
Orpinas and Horn (2002) also found that it is possible to distinguish three types of bullies as well as three types of victims and that their behaviours can be summarized as follow: "Bully: "aggressive, followers and relational; victims: passive, provocative and relational" (p.17-20). Bullies who have aggressive behaviours tend to be very physical or menacing and their attitude seems to be encouraged by the positive outcome that often results from their actions, which is the fact that they get what they want because of it. Other times, their aggressiveness is due to the flawed assumption that they themselves are the victims of aggression, and therefore, that their problem comes from the outside. Followers tend to perpetuate their aggressive behaviour only when they see that it works in the first place, whereas, relational bullies are those who victimize others by destroying their reputation or their relationship with peers (Orpinas and Horn, 2002).
Passive victims are easily marginalized by bullies because their social skills are not well developed, and temperamentally speaking, they tend towards introversion. On the other hand, provocative victims are those who instigate bullying by mocking or exasperating others until they get their reaction, because their social skills are not properly developed. These victims often have many problems with peers in class, and are susceptible of committing extreme desperate acts to harm themselves (Orpinas and Horn, 2002).
A third category of victims is the relational one that is people who are targeted by both male and female bullies. Relational victimization occurs through spoiling reputation and consequent marginalization in most of the victims' daily activities. It affects both sexes, but girls are particularly targeted especially by female bullies (Orpinas and Horn, 2002).
According to Rivers, Duncan and Besag (2007), even though this is often the case, not all bullies correspond to our idea of marginalized and dejected people with low self-esteem. On the contrary, sometimes they may be: "Socially confident, socially competent, [have] good coordination skills, good communication skills [and] positive self image" (p.16). When this is the case, the problem lies in the fact that their good qualities are headed towards negative actions, instead of more positive ones, and consequently they need to receive guidance and help to modify their behaviours for the better (Rivers, et al., 2007).
However, as the authors explain, the above characteristics are only typical of male bullies, in that females generally act differently. Girls are naturally prone to solving conflicts through discussion and reconciliation, and therefore, or through more verbal than physical means. The same thing happens with bullying; thus, contrary to males, females' aggressiveness tends to be indirect and relational as it is in the case of: "social ostracism, name-calling, abusive notes and messages to assert and abuse their power [and] they use more gossip in secret behind the back of the target than boys do" (Rivers, Duncan and Besag, 2007, p.24-25).
Bullying has devastating effects on victims. Boys are particularly at risk because they are more introverted than girls, and do not like to confide their problems to other people, especially if they deal with circumstances in which they themselves are the victims. This reserved behaviour might lead them to live very stressful situations that accumulate with time, which builds up resentment and revengeful thoughts. Unfortunately, in extreme cases these feelings have had tragic consequences. In fact, victims of bullying have thought and carried out dreadful plans that ended up in mass murdering innocent people, often in schools, such in the case of "Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999" (Orpinas and Horn, 2006, p .33).
Other times, victims of bullying simply cannot handle these hostile behaviours that according to Rivers, Duncan and Besag, (2007) make them feel "powerless, hopeless, uncertain, guilty, ashamed, fearful [and] anxious" (p.29), and confuse them to the point that they lose all confidence in themselves. As a consequence, victims become more vulnerable to depression, "experience low self-esteem, [and start] self-punishment and self- destructive behaviour, such as cutting or suicide attempts" (Roberts, 2006, p.38).
In Orpinas and Horn's (2006) point of
view, the causes of bullying have to be found in the number of risk factors more than in the lack of
societal values. That is, issues such as family problems, poverty, violence and
all kinds of excessive behaviours may play a role only if they co-occur. A
single problem like parents' divorce cannot be proved to be the cause of
someone's aggressive behaviour. On the other hand, as they point out, protective factors such as stability,
parent involvement, and a caring family can positively affect a person's
behaviour, but there is no unequivocal evidence that they constitute the only
way to prevent bullying.
Among the risk factors, Orpinas and Horn (2006) identify gender (males), school failure or low performance, dangerous behaviours, history of family violence and rejection, use of different types of addictive substances, unsafe communities and access to various sources of violence (media, weapons, friendships). Among the protective factors on the other hand, they detect gender (females), school success, involvement in one's community life, positive self-awareness and values, caring family or immediate environment, positive connection with friends, and safe community. As a consequence, they encourage parents and schools to get more involved in their children's lives and to apply preventive techniques in order to eliminate aggressive behaviour. In particular, they suggest ways in which teachers may create a positive classroom environment by demonstrating a real interest in their students, and by offering lessons that stimulate students' involvement and willingness to succeed.
Other reasons for bullying have been explained by Powell and Ladd (2010) according to Bandura's social learning theory and to attachment theory. The first theory relates the negative effect of the environment on the child's behaviour, whereas the second focuses more on the type of relationship a child has with his/her family from birth, which, if positive, can prevent the development of aggressiveness. The authors stress the importance of Bandura's theory in that it describes how families and close environment teach children violent behaviour, and how their behaviour is reinforced by the achievement of their purposes.
Powell and Ladd (2010) firmly believe the positive effects family therapy can have on the prevention of bullying. For this reason, they promote the use of "solution-focused therapy, narrative family therapy, and strategic/structural family therapy" (p.200-201), each of which has already proven to have its value. In addition, they also push for further research in the field of family therapy as a means to prevent bullying.
However, there is no general agreement on how to eliminate bullying from schools. For example, the "Zero-Tolerance policy [...] enacted to combat the seemingly overwhelming increase in school violence during the 1990s" in the U.S. (Elliot, 2003, p.126) is highly criticized because its validity has yet to be proven. On the contrary, some studies conducted by "the National Center for Education Statistics found that, after four years of implementation, zero-tolerance policies had little effect at previously unsafe schools" (p.127). Moreover, according to Elliot, the success of this policy in various communities seems to be more related to its positive acceptance by the general public than to its intrinsic value. In fact, the policy does not prevent the problem bullying, but it just removes it from schools by expelling students who present this type of aggressive behaviour.
According to O'Moore and Minton (2004), punishment without rehabilitation cannot work because, in students' perceptions, being expelled from school may either be seen as a vacation, or as an unfair treatment. They suggest that schools apply the so called "No blame philosophy approach" (p.8) since students do not understand why their behaviour is wrong, unless we make them reflect about their wrongdoings and the consequences of their acts. In addition, they recommend the involvement of the entire community, schools, teachers, parents, students, etc., to create policies against bullying that fit their specific needs.
Other possibilities that have been regarded as valuable ways to reduce bullying in school are effective class management, application of consequences to misbehaviour, and clear definitions of "what constitutes a weapon, a drug or an act of misbehaviour" (Elliot, 2003, p.129). Furthermore, Henkin (2005) also believes that it is possible to prevent bullying in school by introducing critical literacy into the classroom. That is, students analyze, discuss read and write about issues related to violence and its causes, what is appropriate behaviour, how to deal with victims or witnesses of violence and so on.
The fight against bullying and mobbing is not over yet, but it seems that human cruelty tends to follow the same trend as our life style and it is evolving at an incredible pace. Nowadays, people are increasingly victimized by new "sophisticated" types of violent behaviour that have the potential of destroying someone's life for good. Cyber-bullying is one of these terrible forms of cruelty because not only does it cause psychological pain in victims, but it also exposes them to the view of the entire web community, by perpetuating the crime over and over again.
Cyber-bullying is the new 'demon' that our schools, teachers and parents have to fight to protect children. The spreading like a wildfire of cell phones, iPods, and computers provided with video cameras and sound systems, as well as of social networking such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, has facilitated to the extreme those who want to perpetuate violence through the web.
Shariff (2009) explains that cyber-bullying which "describes forms of bullying that use technology" (p.41) has become a reason of great concern because youth use technology to harm others instead of using it for legitimate purposes. Moreover, teenagers and young adults are particularly skilled with these new media and are able to modify, publish and make available to the web community pictures, videos and nasty comments that destroy the reputation of school staff.
Shariff (2009) provides numerous examples in which teachers have been involved in cases of cyber-bullying that cost them years of trouble with the judicial system because their students had just wanted to have some fun. However, teachers and school administrators are not the only victims, in that most of the time their favourite targets are classmates or former friends. Extreme cases of cyber-bullying in recent times have involved the recording of group sexual assaults of disabled people as well as of girls who had previously been sedated with the so called rape pill, etc. Nonetheless, Shariff believes that teachers and school should not be afraid of this technology, but learn how to use it and how to protect themselves.
Finally the CEST-Jeunesse 2009 (2009)
suggests that students should be involved in discussions about issues
concerning cyber-bullying. They should be informed of the importance of one's
freedom in the use of media, but also the necessity to protect people's
privacy, the effects of cyber-bullying on people's lives, and the legal
implication of cyber-bullying. The report also suggests that parents
have become more involved in their children's life and use of internet without
being too strict, but by keeping a discreet eye on them and encourage parents
to keep computers in family rooms rather than in children's bedroom. In
addition, the report recommends that school provide programs on how to use the
internet safely, and patronage between older and younger students (p.32).
In addition, Sheriff (2008) encourages teachers to provide a friendly environment
in their classes, by acting as respectful models, because according to research
they conducted on adolescents, teen answers demonstrate that 'if they were in a
school environment where the adults were kinder to them, where they could be
kinder to others and where they were happy, there might be less bullying"
As we have seen throughout this paper, today's new types of violence among our youths have assumed unexpected level of seriousness. What was once described as simple teasing has become instead a severe form of harassment, which is not perpetuated exclusively through words, but it includes always sexual and physical types of aggression.
Mobbing, bullying and cyber-bullying
are the main expressions of these new forms of violence. Youth are in fact
influenced by number of sources such as TV, magazines, video-games, music
networking system and internet to which they have total free access. Today they
enjoy a much greater amount of freedom that was not even imaginable only twenty
years ago. Moreover, very often parental supervision is totally absent. All
these factors, besides the incapacity of schools to handle an all new
wave of problems children bring into class every day, the premature
sexualization of young girls, and the easiness with which teens can have
access to drugs, contribute to the increase of in violence and
particularly in bullying.
Nonetheless, I personally believe that changing this awful situation is still possible, but it requires the implication of society at large. We should all work to become better models for our youth, in order to transmit those values and morals that will make them better persons. We should provide them with a better school environment where they are valued and where they have access to all the resources they need, which a good school should offer. However, even though it may appear sometime hard to modify such a situation without the necessary financial resources, I think that what our society mostly needs is the conviction that change is possible through good will and a lot of work.
CEST-Jeunesse 2009.(2009). Cyber intimidation : un regard éthique proposé par des jeunes: Avis.Commission de l'éthique de la science et de la technologie, Québec, QC, CAN
- The report deals with cyber-intimidation into context, promotion of ethics, use of technologies
Elliott, G. P. (2003). School mobbing and emotional abuse :See it, stop it, prevent it, with dignity and respect. New York: Brunner- Routledge.
- This book analyzes reasons why children participate in mobbing and possible solutions
Henkin, R. (2005). Confronting bullying :Literacy as a tool for character education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- This book deals with bullying prevention through the use of literacy and offers specific examples lessons to help teachers prepare their own
O'Moore, M., & Minton, S. J. (2004). Dealing with bullying in schools :A training manual for teachers, parents and other professionals. London: Paul Chapman.
- This book is a training manual that helps teachers, parents and other professional to deal with bullying situations.
Orpinas, P., & Horne, A. M. (2006). Bullying prevention :Creating a positive school climate and developing social competence (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- This book helps teachers understand and deal with children who behavioral problems, and therefore to prevent bullying from start. It uses a holistic approach
Powell, Melissa D. and Ladd, Linda D. (2010). "Bullying: a review of the Literature and Implications for Family Therapists". American Journal of Family Therapy, Vol,38, no.3,189-206.
- Review of new findings about bullying, and investigates result of family therapy
Rivers, I., Duncan, N., & Besag, V. E. (2007). Bullying :A handbook for educators and parents. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
- This book deals with bullying in public schools and analyzes researches conducted in Europe as well as in the U.S. and Canada
Roberts, W. B. (2006). Bullying from both sides :Strategic interventions for working with bullies & victims. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
- This book helps teacher recognize students at risk in order to protect them, and also deal with female bullying
Shariff, S. (2008). Cyber-bullying :Issues and solutions for the school, the classroom and the home. London; New York: Routledge.
- This book provides ways to address cyber-bullying in a new way, and gives guidelines for teachers and school administrators
Shariff, S. (2009). Confronting cyber-bullying :What schools need to know to control misconduct and avoid legal consequences. Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press.
- This book deals with how schools can control cyber-bullying to avoid legal issues