My wise fifth-grade teacher once demonstrated to the class the importance of treating others with respect by using just a single piece of paper with a stick figure drawn on it. During the presentation, he stood at the center of the room and stated that the drawing represented a person being bullied, as he crumpled the image, unraveled it, and told the class to shout some compliments to the human-like sketch. Then he asked the class, what was the meaning behind his demonstration. I raised my hand and said,
“No matter how bullies treat their victims after tormenting them, their targets are left with emotional scars that never completely heal. This is reflected in the wrinkled lines that remain on the stick figure drawing after being crumpled.”
Unfortunately, the answer came easily because the subject hit home more than my teacher could have realized. Today, I imagine that the lasting effects of bullying are more like pieces of a broken vase that one can try to glue back together, but it will never be the same or completely whole again. The cracks of a shattered vase will remain like the feelings of anguish that haunt victims. That is why bullying is a common growing issue among students in the United States that is often overlooked and has long-lasting detrimental effects on both the victims and the perpetrators.
Bullying is defined as “a willful conscious desire to hurt another” with repeated, negative acts whether it is verbal, physical, or social such as taunting, hitting, isolating someone from social activities, or malicious behavior towards an individual through the use of technology (Rigby). Oftentimes, bullies do not believe that their malicious actions can have an immense impact on their victims, but there is evidence that shows otherwise. There are various degrees of bullying, but in many cases, the growing issue has lifelong effects on the victim. Studies show that people who were subjected to bullying are more likely to suffer from depression and other psychological problems including poor self-esteem and schizophrenia (Limber, Susan P.; Nation, Maury M.). As psychologist Valerie E. Besag explained in her book,
“Victims are more likely to have an external locus of control if they have been the butt of bullying for some time. Feeling helpless, they are less likely to implement effective coping strategies. These feelings of hopelessness can be instrumental in the emergence of depression” (145).
Besag rightfully states that some effects of bullying do not readily emerge. The author insightfully argues that bullying has a severe outcome on mental health, stating that there is a clear link between the two subjects. Unfortunately, no amount of painkillers can eliminate the feeling of being tormented and ostracized. Even with these staggering facts, some still belittle the suffering of their victims by placing the blame on them for being mistreated. Take Phoebe Prince’s story for instance, where some of her classmates resorted to bullying when they disapproved of the male attention that the immigrant was receiving. When she passed away, they further made horrendous comments on a Facebook Page created to bash the girl, saying she ‘deserved it’ and ‘mission accomplished’; as Boston Magazine writes, they “found a way to bully even a dead girl” (Giacobbe). Her story about being victimized, made national headlines and raised awareness to the issue of bullying among the youth in the United States and its pernicious effects in our society.
On January 14, 2010, at 4:30 pm, the lifeless body of Phoebe Prince, a fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant, was found hanging from the stairwell of her home, strung by a single scarf. Earlier that day, she was maliciously harassed by a group of malevolent teens while walking home from school; they called her obscene names and aimed trash at her, targeting her as they drove past her. As her story unfolded, it became clear that Phoebe was a victim of relentless bullying for three months before she took her own life. She had endured a pattern of abusive taunts, cyberbullying, stalking, and ongoing threats through text messages, Facebook postings, and even in person. Six students were charged in connection with Phoebe Prince’s suicide. Her death shows that bullying in schools, not only affects students emotionally, it also disrupts students from learning to the best of their ability.
Raising awareness to the issue of bullying in the United States is so important, especially after the rising deaths of victims of bullying, including Phoebe Prince whose education was made intolerable by six of her classmates. Her death rocked the nation and would be the beginning of a series of suicides committed by victims of bullying that prominently emerged since 2010. Two thirteen-year-old students reportedly took their own lives when they were bullied for their sexual orientation at school. In another case, a thirteen-year-old boy hung himself in his parents’ barn after years of being bullied by his peers for his petite frame. According to NBCNews.com and DoSomething.org, a study reveals that one in six students is frequently bullied, and perhaps more shockingly, approximately 160, 000 kids skip school each day, fearful of “physical and psychological attacks” from their classmates (Honda). Because bullying is a growing issue that occurs frequently, no wonder “one out of ten students drop out of school due to repeated bullying,” as stated on DoSomething.org. These numbers from various studies prove the detrimental, irreversible after effects of bullying, that some may not have foreseen without the results of these surveys.
Since so many lives have been lost to bullying in recent years, all states currently have anti-bullying laws and Massachusetts has one of the strictest in the nation. However, If more school funding went towards bullying prevention, then perhaps the rate of bullying would be less severe. Violencepreventionworks.org, states that evaluations that involved over 40, 000 students have shown that “the most researched and best-known bullying prevention program available today, ” the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP), has reduced bullying in schools by about fifty percent. Even though some strides have been taken in the U.S. to eliminate bullying in schools, there is no federal law that directly applies to the growing problem as StopBullying.gov has mentioned. To bullies who lack a concern for the effects that their actions have on their victims, bullying also has unexpected negative effects on perpetrators as well.
The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program states that an intensive study determined that bullies in elementary school went to school infrequently and had a higher chance of dropping out than other students. Moreover, another study conducted that involved over 500 children, “found that aggressive behavior at the age of eight, was a powerful predictor of criminality and violent behavior at the age of thirty” (Limber, Nation). Perhaps even more startling, several studies strongly suggest that bullying behavior in early childhood may be a critical risk factor for the development of future problems with violence and delinquency; according to the U.S. Juvenile Justice Bulletin, research shows that young bullies are more likely to commit antisocial acts such as vandalism and theft. The list goes on with numerous violations that bullies are more likely to commit such as”abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and adulthood as well as displaying abusive behavior towards their romantic partners and children as adults” as reported by StopBullying.gov. The consequences for both the perpetrators and victims are staggering.
When I was in elementary school, they taught us to spread kindness, not hate. I was even taught the Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”. Those words have stayed with me ever since so I knew not to resort to bullying when I had a conflict because in any case, it is never justified. Even though I was put in a situation where I might have been given a spot in the dominant group where I would no longer be bullied, I made an easy choice to remain steadfast to my beliefs, because bullying is not an ethical solution. One of my bullies even admitted years later that they would never want to go through the childhood trauma that I experienced from her. To all the bullies out there, think about the harm that you are inflicting on others; you would not want to be victimized yourself and cannot imagine the extent of pain that being bullied causes so please take a pause and be cautious of your next actions.
Our experiences of being bullied molds us into the people that we become and still hits us hard even after years have passed; we get horrifying flashbacks that fill us with anguish because we are haunted by memories that only partially fade away. When we are bullied relentlessly, we want to change our identities and grow to loathe the parts of us that we often have no control over like our height, race, or sexual orientation. Bullies, you might think that bullying was just a phase for you, but numerous studies have shown that the patterns of incessant bullying, affect your victims psychologically beyond the look of anguish that flits across their eyes that are readily seen when you target them. Furthermore, you are inadvertently causing long-lasting, detrimental effects on yourself as well in the process.
The broken vase that represents the heart of victims of bullying, is fragile beyond measure, and it stays cracked forever. One can work their entire life to fix the parts that are broken by gluing the pieces back together, but the vase will never be completely whole, as shown by the cracks that remain. To all the bullies out there, please recognize that your actions have an irrefutable, traumatic impact on your victims, as well as yourself. Bullying is never the answer; try to seek help for your inner struggles because the human heart can only endure so much anguish before it ruptures.