In last week’s column, I wrote about my first encounter with a bully, “Linda” in seventh grade. 

Bigger than almost anyone of us in P.E. class, she was just so imposing. It wasn’t until I joked about how loud she was that she punched my arm, and I made a mental note to never do it again.

I’ve pondered the subject a great deal lately as I see and hear the antibullying messages. Moreover, each time an individual is moved to unconscionable action, as a bully or as a victim, I think about how things could have turned out differently.

“Is bullying more pervasive these days than in the past?” I questioned. It is. “Are there strategies that bullies, victims, bystanders, schools and parents can undertake to thwart bullying?” There are.

I also wondered how significant the long-term effects of bullying are, and I believe the findings of Dr. James Alan Fox bear repeating. Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Boston’s Northeastern University and authored a report titled “Bullying Prevention Is Crime Prevention.” 

He noted that, “Bullied boys are four times more likely to be suicidal; bullied girls are eight times more likely to be suicidal. Nearly 60 percent of boys who researchers classified as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24. Even more dramatic, 40 percent of them had three or more convictions by age 24.”

One need only conduct an internet search on bullying to find a litany of suggestions to stop the practice. From the website “Child Abuse Prevention Services-Long Island,” the organization lists behaviors of bullies that are consistent with numerous like sources across the Web. Bullies want to have power and control over others, thinking they should always win and should always get what they want. They lack empathy, are very comfortable with their behavior and feel pretty good about themselves. Their intent is to humiliate others.

Victims are typically those who “get upset easily or who have trouble sticking up for themselves,” according to KidsHealth.org. Getting a big reaction out of someone can make bullies feel like they have the power they want.

KidsHealth.org offers specifics for those subjected to bullying – tactics that are indicative of similar ideas from many websites. This is a case of engaging in behaviors to de-escalate potential bullying. Specifically, one should avoid the bully by dodging a bully’s hangout (take a new route home from school, for example); stand tall against the bully, which is sometimes all that’s needed to get the bullying to stop.

Try not to be alone; get a buddy (or “be a buddy”). The old adage is true: There is safety in numbers. Stay calm; find an adult. After telling the bully to stop, refuse to engage the bully any further; don’t retaliate. We can elect to simply walk away.

Finally, bystanders should become “upstanders,” a name coined by numerous writers I read. These are the individuals who don’t ignore the situation, but step in to diffuse a tense bullying situation. Stopbullying.gov suggests that upstanders need to intervene immediately, separate the kids involved, stay calm, and model respectful behavior.

Read more at Stopbullying.gov.

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