Bullying is thought to be one of the most prevalent types of school violence. Bullying perpetration and victimization was brought to the attention of researchers such as Dan Olweus, who referred to bullies as “whipping boys” in the 1970s. Olweus gave the following definition of bullying that continued to be consistently used up the early 2000s: “A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (Olweus, 1993:318). It often involves an imbalance of strength and power between the bully and the target and is repetitive in nature. Children and adolescents may experience isolated acts of aggression, but children who have been bullied live with the ongoing fear of recurring abuse from the bully, which is usually more damaging than an isolated and unpredicted aggressive event.
The child who is bullying increases in power than the child who is being victimized. This power can sometimes be a physical advantage such as size or strength, but may also be a social advantage such as children with dominant social role or higher social status in peer group or through systemic power. Also the power may come from knowing another’s vulnerability such as learning disabilities, obesity, family background or sexual orientation. Researchers refer to four types of bullies. There are the physical bullies who use direct bullying behaviors, the verbal bullies who use words to hurt or abase their victims, the relational bullies who want to convince their peers to exclude certain children and the reactive bullies who tend to taunt others into fighting with them.
But who is the child that gets bullied? Usually the child who is being victimized loses in power compared to bullies. These children become increasingly weak and unable to protect themselves from this peer abuse. According to Olweus there are two different types of victims in connection with their behavior. The first type includes the provocative victims and the second type refers to passive or submissive victims. The majority of victims, about two-thirds, belong to the second type whereas the one-third of them has provocative or aggressive attitudes. The first type of high-aggressive victims includes those who are hot-tempered and disruptive and they create intensity in others and especially in bullies. The second type of low-aggressive victims includes the victims who are insecure and sensitive and they do nothing to cause the aggression and protect themselves from the bully. Many of them also may have learning difficulties or other school disabilities which may affect their ability to read or refer to social cues.
A third type of victims which was suggested by Fried and Fried in the 1990s refers to a category that does not fit into the other two and includes some pupils who are talented, bright or skilled in the school environment. This kind of victim whereas is powerful, is a threat to other pupils without personal power. Other studies refer to another type called “not involved victims”, who are neither bullies, nor exactly victims. This category includes many pupils who were bystanders at a bullying incident but did nothing to help. This may happen because they also fear to intervene.
There are some physical characteristics that are particularly painful for the disposition of children who are at risk of victimization. Victims usually have small stature, and are powerless and frail compared to bullies. So victims are often unable to defend themselves from abuse and may have "body anxiety", fear of getting hurt, and a negative attitude toward violence. Also, according to Olweus, they may be unsuccessful at sports and physical activities. When attacked, many victims burst into tears, especially those in lower school grades. Compared to most other children, victims usually keep a low profile, while they appear less confident, more guarded and sensitive, and also display higher levels of anxiety. They lack social and communicative skills. This may result to their being more reluctant to starting a conversation and thus being less forward. Victims also have low self-content, and tend to view themselves as unsuccessful individuals beeing less attractive, less intelligent or less significant than their peers. In this regard, they often believe that they deserve to be victimised. Given their lack of assertiveness and low self esteem, it is highly unlikely that they report being bullied. This could often generate further negative action targeted at them and cause bullying to occur on a regular basis.
Research has also recognized another group engaged in bullying behavior: bully-victims. Children belonging in that category tend to bully other children while being bullied themselves. These children display bullying behavior as a response to their peers’ harassment and are often more aggressive than those who act solely as bullies. Bully-victims are a particularly high-risk group for manifesting negative psychosocial behavioral characteristics that include smoking, depression, lack of self-control, poor social competence, alienation, poor school performance and low academic success. Therefore, engaging in the above mentioned situations either as the victim, or as the perpetrator, or as both, has been associated with the occurrence of future negative consequences.
A significant number of studies argue that there is no difference between bullies, victims and bully-victims in self-esteem. However, both bullying and victimization are connected with a series of damaging effects for children. Being exposed to bullying behaviors may result in loneliness, social and emotional ineptitude, academic problems, proneness to use intoxicants, and lack of close peer friendships. Moreover, bullying practices may proliferate and lead to later involvement in antisocial and hostile actions, while victimization has been connected with low self-regard, depression and high levels of anxiety. Some studies indicate that being exposed to bullying either as a victim or as a bully-victim, may translate into low academic achievement.
Victims are also more susceptible to physical and mental health problems and more likely to meditate suicide compared to non-victims. Bullied kids often suffer from stress disorders and depression, low self-esteem and report various physical and psychosomatic problems. As a furthermost reaction, victims may commit suicide. In a meta-analysis conducted by Hawker and Boulton, victimization was found to be strongly correlated with depression, moderately associated with social and overall self-esteem and less strongly related with anxiety. The suicide incidents ascribed to repeated harassment and bullying, certify the possible impact of such long-term experiences.
So, evidence indicates that victimized children tend to suffer from one of the following: prolonged absenteeism, poor academic performance, augmented apprehension, feelings of abandonment and suicidal thoughts. Since bullying most commonly takes place in the school environment, victims appear unwilling to attend school and are prone to develop psychosomatic symptoms of suffering, such as headaches or stomach pains in the morning. For instance, according to a study by Foltz-Gray seven percent of US eighth graders did not go to school at least one day per month as a result of being bullied . Other researchers reported that more than one in five junior high school students avoided school toilets because of fear of being harassed. Also, as another study estimated, about 20 percent of school children are in a state of fear during a considerable part of the day.
More particularly, bullying may exist in different types and include physical abuse (slight wounds and bruises), torn clothing, and destruction of property. As a way to disarm bullies and avoid abuse, victims may often request or steal extra money from their families. During the night, victimized kids may face trouble sleeping or suffer from nightmares. Victims are also more likely than non victims to carry weapons to school to feel protected or to reciprocate the abuse. Most of these children however, tend to interiorize their problems. It is unfortunate that some of them may attempt suicide. This makes the issue of bullying very serious and indicates that we have to take measures to prevent the worst.
Furthermore, victimized children tend to have few friends. When peers become aware that a child is being bullied, they hesitate to intervene because of the fear of being victimized themselves. They distance themselves from the victimized child and may even join in the bullying to become more accepted by those in power. Hence, many victims are kept at a distance by their classmates, have limited or no friendships, and are often by themselves during recess or at lunchtime. As many studies reported children classified as victims display weaker social and emotional adaptability, face greater problems to developing and maintaining friendships and experience greater loneliness. Also many victims seem to connect more easily with adults such as parents and teachers than their own peers.
So, it is important to be said that bulling is a relationship problem. It is definitely a problem that involves a simple dyadic interaction between a victim and a child who is bullying. This fact has a personal and social cost for children who are repeatedly victimized. A child that has been victimized at the hands of their peers may have mental health problems in the future. This begins when a child is bullied and he or she is at risk of becoming socially anxious and increasingly hesitant to socialize in activities with peers. After a small period this child may refuse to attend school in order to protect himself from bullying. Perhaps the social cost for the victim is the highest because relationships are the basis for a healthy development and well-being during over the lifespan.
The experience of being bullied during childhood may cause long-term damage to victims. Due to their regular absence from school their school performance tends to be weak, and they may not reach their academic aptitude. For example, Olweus mentioned that former victims at age 23 are more likely to have formed a negative self- image and experience mood disorders, than young adults that had not been victimized. Additionally, according to Hugh-Jones and Smith (1999) 50 percent of former victims reported that their childhood experiences had affected their interpersonal relationships as adults. Something very important which research has highlighted is the fact that males may face psychosocial problems such as inhibition with women and potential sexual dysfunction. In extreme cases, former victims have sought retaliation and performed violent acts against former bullies, including murder. When former victims become parents, they may exaggerate in their reactions towards what they interpret as bullying, maintaining an intergenerational attitude of overprotection. This may impede the elaboration of conflict resolution skills in their children, making them the potential next generation of victims. This risk may be transferred by biological affinity for a small body, by overprotective parental behavior, and by negative perceptions that children internalize.
According to the relative literature, bullying can also lead to sexual harassment, years of aggression, and may later extend to workplace harassment, as well as marital, child, and elder abuse.Since bullying affects so much of the remaining years of life, could it perhaps be associated with bullying at the workplace? Indeed, researchers say that there is a main effect of being a victim of bullying at school compared with being a victim again at the workplace. Although there is an increasing risk in victims at school to be victims at work too, many of the people who are bullied at work were not bullied at school.
The greatest question that arises is whether we could ever find a way out for victims. It is a noticeable issue as well, that some children may escape from being victims for the rest of their lives while others may continue to live as victims. What determines their future development? Perhaps escaped victims use more effective coping strategies to help themselves or they live in a different social environment with better friendships and social adjustment. Also, they may have experienced different levels or types of bullying. It is very remarkable to recite that two-thirds of escaped victims reported talking to others about an actual incident from their school years. Moreover, in escaped victims there is a trend to try to have more or different friends or be more popular. They probably use a successful strategy to escape from their victimization. On the other hand, less than half of continuing victims reported talking to others for their victimization and more often they reported trying to ignore the bullying instead.
Studying the literature we understand how negative the experience of bullying for a child can be and how it can influence and change his entire life. The research in this area has progressed considerably over the last decades. Summarising the features of the victim, it is clear that bullied children are lacking power compared to bullies or non-victimised children. They have low social status among their peers, as they have poor social and communication skills. They also suffer in matters of self-esteem because they view themselves as inferior and unsuccessful individuals. Bullying is not necessarily addressed to the “weaker” children, as many victims are talented, highly accomplished pupils. Victims frequently grow into adults who experience various mental health problems, many interfering with their interpersonal relationships, their workplace relations and perhaps even their marital life.
After studying the findings of scientific research, the next step should be to focus on effective ways to use its results, and continue from theory to practice. Recognizing how damaging bullying at school can be for the children’s normal mental, psychological and social development, the need for immediate action is intense. Teachers and school advisors should be more aware and informed to prevent and stop these occurrences. It is very important for all professionals involved in the school environment to know when a child may accept bullying and how to recognize it. A matter of considerable importance should be the child’s support when bullying fails to be prevented, so that the victim is able to “escape” and continue his life without any serious consequences. In this area, maybe research and future studies can give more emphasis.
Negative recollections may always reappear in a former victim’s mind. This usually happens when people experience emotional weakness in certain periods of their lives. But when they proceed and recover their strength, they can be in position to realise that all these past experiences can be employed for the building of a strong personality, without being an unproductive emotional burden.
Messinis Stavros, 2012
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