Bullying in schools has become a prominent issue in education over the last decade. This essay will consider this issue from a personal, theoretical and analytical perspective. Firstly, I will scrutinize over the difficulty of arriving at a common definition of bullying. I will look at ways in which lines are blurred for academic theorists to decide on a clear, universal definition of the social phenomenon of bullying and then continue on by reviewing my personal experiences of bullying through my education. Secondly, I would like to consider bullying as a social and educational issue brought to light by constant media coverage indicating the way the media can add ‘fuel to the fire’ by constructing images of ‘sameness’ and the ‘other’ in the youth of today. I will then address gender issues regarding bullying identifying how males and females engage in these injustices differently. I will also look at the new forms of bullying that have emerged within schools and more importantly, the forms of bullying that have emerged out of school as a result of new and constantly changing technologies. Finally, I will engage in an analysis of different forms of bullying prevention and conclude by looking at the parents’ role in the bullying cycle.
Humiliation, taunting, threats, social ostracism by classmates- these are common experiences encountered around the world. There has been a strong focus in the acdemic community regarding the need for a clear definition of the social occurance of bullying, and the instruments used for measuring these types of behaviours. Luis and Justicia (2006) suggest that without having a common reference point, researchers are unable to verify that they are discussing the same phenomenon. Evidently, this makes it difficult to compare data analysis in different countries. Research regarding the influence of variables such as age and gender are argued as a necessary progression towards a common definition, which is quite elusive. This problem is identified as being closely related to a lack of studies on bullying during early childhood (Luis and Justicia, 2006). The National Education Association reported that almost one hundred and sixty thousand students miss school daily because of bulliyng. Additionally, a typical student has a twenty-five percent chance of being bullied or being involved in bulling (Sheras & Tippings, 2002 ). In light of these alarming figures, it is apparent that bullying is an important and ever-increasing issue in comptemporay society. Ultimately, bullying can be related to any situation where somebody is purposely attacking another person in order to hurt or make them feel uncomfortable and inferior. Many researchers use Olweus’s definition of bullying, which states “…a student is being bullied or victimized when he is exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more students” (Olweus, 1993, p. 9). Accordingly, it is argued that bullying is a term used to describe people knowingly using their sense of power and dominance against other students in order to psychologically, physically and or mentally manipulate or harass them. Bulling occurs when a person or group of people take advantage of the power they have to hurt or reject someone else. There are common types of bullying: verbal and written, physical, and social/relationships (Sheras & Tippings, 2002). Bullying can certainly take on many forms such as physical assault, direct and indirect verbal harassment and even stalking. It is important to note, it is not only students who are victimized by the actions of other students. Teachers also experience a wide variety of indignities in schools ranging from rare but serious offences, such as rape or serious assault, to frequent and pervasive experiences of verbal abuse (Gottfredson, 1985). Evidently, no one in the school environment is safe or exempt from bullying. I attended the same school from year three to year twelve. Despite gaining a private school education in a wealthy area of Adelaide, bullying was a prominent part of my school life from an early age. My first memory of bulling was in year four when one of the senior students began to harass my friend on a daily basis. The bully would hold him up against the lockers with his tie and threaten to beat up all of us if we told a teacher. I remember feeling a distinct feeling of helplessness and anger that this was happening to one of my closest friends. I wanted to do something about it but I felt I would also be attacked if I told a teacher. Eventually, we collectively decided to report the issue to a teacher. Rather than stopping the problem, this only created more tension between the parties involved. The bully obviously got a slap on the wrist from his year level co-ordinator and probably one hour of detention. Quite clearly this type of punishment is not going to deter bullies from intimidating other students and only adds fuel to the fire. In retrospect, I now that realise these types of issues must be taken very seriously; there must be measures in placed that can address these problems effectively and efficiently.
By the time I reached senior school, bulling was becoming more physical and much more psychological. Individuals identified as ‘geeks’ were teased and victimized regularly. The ‘geeky’ girls were psychologically harassed by the dominant males who would abuse and swear at them. In a most serious case, I recall a girl in my year level who left my school because she was being harassed so badly by male students. We later heard that she tried to commit suicide. These are only a handful of my experiences at school but when you reflect on these events you realise how prevalent bullying is in schools, regardless whether you come from a well-off or socially disadvantaged educational orientation. Over the past years, the issue of bullying in schools has been brought to the nation’s attention by the media, who have admittedly served as a powerful tool in addressing these problems within schools (AAP, 2007). Last October, a bulling incident at a prominent Melbourne school was filmed on a mobile phone. The film was distributed by students and briefly uploaded to YouTube, a video sharing website (AAP, 2007). The incident involved the victim being placed into a bin and repeatedly pushed and kicked by other students until it flipped over. This attack is apparently known as “the wheelie bin of terror.” Five students had been suspended over the incident which was described by the school as “a prank that got out of hand.” New footage from mid-2005 was subsequently revealed regarding another bulling incident, which is believed to include the same student involved in “the wheelie bin of terror.” This incident included a group of boys circling and pushing singled out boys to fight (Metlikovec, 2007). The video showed students cheering “fight him” and “fight, fight!” The group of about one hundred boys from different schools had singled out two boys to either fight or be beaten up. The victimised boy in both bulling instances was believed to have been selected because of his size and inability to defend himself. The bulling and resulting fights had occurred about three times a term. Teachers turned a blind eye to the highly organised fights believed to be initiated by ‘footbal jocks.’ The media article which addressed this incident can be seen as uncovering a dark side of student life and proving undoubtedly that this does occur constantly within schools. The message expressed by the media outlets singles out two schools yet also reflects the nationwide situation. Therefore, bullying is now seen as something that cannot simply be swept under the rug because “it didn’t happen to my child,” but an issue which sways deeply on the national consciousness. As a result of these portrayals of bullies in the media, schools and governments are now progressively questioned about their need to continually revisit and update their anti-bulling policies (Wadham, Pudsey & Boyd, 2007). Ironically, in this instance, the media, although also seeking a personal gain for stories like these, are serving as a powerful mechanism for presenting the issue of bulling to the national arena. Conversely, it could be argued that the media serve as a commercial machine that corrupt social understandings and perceptions especially of young people. They can do this by manufacturing a strong sense of ‘difference’ and the ‘other’ in society by making people believe they have to be critical of themselves and others (Wadham, Pudsey & Boyd, 2007). Therefore, the mass media also helps to create negative representations of individuals and minorites thus creating expectations and uninformed opinions in youth sub-consciously. Television shows endorse popularity and good looks within prime time slots with shows like ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Home and Away’ that reflects poorly on those who are not considered ‘beautiful’ at school or ‘popular.’ Programs like ‘Big Brothe’r which are watched religiously by many youths promote sexist behaviour and bullying of minority groups, and also gossiping and ‘slagging off’ behind peoples’ backs. This presents a reality of culture that is not only present in the education systems of Australia , but the broader reaches of adult society. Smith and Sharp (1994) report that, for both primary and secondary schools in the ‘Smithfield Project,’ the bullying experiences of boys and girls were different. Girls are more known to bully in groups, often using indirect bullying which can in many cases be much harder for teachers to detect. Boys are more likely to use more direct, physical forms of bullying. Sullivan (2000) states, that seventy-six percent of bullying incidents in the Australian context have been found to be perpetrated by boys. Generally speaking, these types of findings reflect that boys tend to bully and be bullied more than girls, especially in lower secondary school. It is argued by Owens (1996), with the focus on boys’ physical aggression, in many cases indirect aggression by girls gets overlooked, for reasons that it is considered subtle and there is no real visible outward sign of damage. He argues on the contrary, that it is as harmful to girls’ as it is to boys’, and therefore a greater deal of attention needs to be paid to it. In an Australian study of one thousand and fifty–five female primary students from various backgrounds, it was found that most of the girls’ responded to bullying with sadness, rather than that of boys’, with anger (Rigby, 1996). It was also revealed that in a situation where a student was being bullied, girls were much more likely to ‘dob’ on the bully than boys. Rigby suggests that even in more extreme cases, the strength and also national stereotype of the Australian macho culture prevents a large majority of males from reporting incidents of bullying. It was also found that girls are more willing to co-operate with adults to find suitable solutions to their problems and are also more likely to defend peers that are being bullied (Rigby, 1996). Sullivan states that in many cases boys are happy to involve themselves in the bullying of other peers and also form groups of bullying ‘squads’ even when they have nothing against the victim. This was found not to be as true in girls. In a study in an Australian school, very few boys were prepared to become defenders of those being bullied or singled out, while five times as many girls were. This makes a strong statement about the group mentality that can easily be formed in young boys, and is something that I certainly witnessed throughout my education. Particularly in the schoolyard, previously bullying commonly involved physically hurting or indirectly and directly verbally abusing other students whom they perceived to be inferior to themselves. However in light of new technological advances, bullying is continually taking on new forms. Nowadays bullies are utilising technological advances such as the internet and mobile phones to further torment their victims (Brown, Cassidy & Jackson, 2006). Previously the majority of schoolyard bullying occurred during school hours and on school property or in the transition between school and the victims’ residence. However, now bullies are taking it that one step further and with the help of technology. Bullies can continue to harass their victims outside of school hours, amplifying the damage and torment victims are experiencing. This can also be done anonomosly as I even recall in my high school days when students would purchase mobile phones with different numbers to harrass students without revealing their identities. The impact of these new forms of bullying are proving to be more damaging than ever before as the victims feel as though they’re unable to escape from the taunting and abuse. UK studies are showing that each year at least sixteen students fall subject to suicide as a result of schoolyard bullying (Andersen, 2003). There have also been several accounts of deaths resulting from actions of victims perpetrators. For example, Reena Virk was brutally beaten and then drowned by a group of other young teenagers (CBC News, 2004). Bullies are becoming more cunning as they devise new ways to affect their victims, including the use of graffitti in public place and vandelism to victims property and even houses. Less serious, yet equally important cases show that continuous taunting and bullying can lead to serious psychological damage to any victim. Many victims experience self esteem, body image and social issues that can later affect the functioning of their everyday lives (Bond University, 2002). Although considerably fewer students are estimated to experience repeated or severe victimization at school, there is no question that peer harassment is a problem shared by children and adolescents across cultures (Juvonen & Graham, 2001). There is now a clear moral imperative on teachers and educators to act to reduce bullying in schools, and a moral imperative on researchers to try to give the most informed advice in this respect. The most tragic outcome of victimization is suicide. It was the suicide, within a short interval, of three boys in Norway in 1983 that led to the first major anti-bullying intervention by schools, at a national level (Smith, Rigby & Pepler, 2004). The potentail for using peer groups to solve bullying problems is seen as enormous. Sullivan (2000) argues, although teachers, adults and parents may have the best intentions in the world, the power of the peer group, from a very early age is great. This power is admittedly a cause of bullying, but it can also be used to find solutions. This is directly related to the fact that most bullying is not reported to adults, partly because of the fear of retaliation and also the belief that nothing will be done. There are however, counters to this peer group pressure. Pikas (1989) argues that while the peer group is not comfortable watching bullying, it feels helpless to do anything about it. Accordinly, if students are provided with a way of stopping the bullying, then they are likely to respond positively. One of the ways in which a school can create a safe culture is through the adoption of peer support strategies. These strategies such as peer partnering, peer mentoring, peer conselling and peer mediation, are among schools’ best weapon for addressing and combating bullying (Sullivan, 2000). Peers themselves are encouraged to tackle bully and victims’ problems. This involves students taking social skills training with students who are not actively involved with bullying (Stevens, Van Oost & Bourdeaudhuij, 1998). These issues start as whole school anti-bullying policies (Glover, Cartwright & Gleeson, 1998). They include formalized documents, appropriate curriculum materials and support structures such as self-help and counselling procedures. The policies may vary from school to school but are usually consist of practical written applications for strategies to deal with bullying and its consequences. Countering-bullying evidently requires a whole school approach in which the elements and initiatives in the program are carefully co-ordinated. Co-ordinated action generally refers to three different levels of action- namely the school, the classroom, and the individual student (Rigby, Smith &Pepler, 2004). How these different levels are done are typically incorporated in a school anti-bullying policy that puts focus on the procedures and actions that are being taken in its implementation. Studies have found that one of the problems with these polices is that the most variation of anti-bullying programs occurs when working with students who have been identified as bullies. The consequences of breaking the schools’ policies on this issue can vary drastically from non-physical penalties or sanctions up to extreme cases were students are suspended, or even expelled from school (Rigby, Smith & Pepler, 2004). Therefore, it appears difficult to devise clear lines of what extreme and low-grade levels of bullying are and how to deal with them accordingly. This suggests to me as training educator that with such variation in consequences towards the actions of bullies, in many instances the victim would perhaps neglect to take action because there are unclear lines of what will happen to the student involved. If the bully receives a slap on the wrist, the victim will realise his actions were futile and become even more discouraged. However, a miscarriage of justice resulting in resentment in part of the bully may lead to more extreme efforts to continue bullying in less detectable but equally damaging ways. In education, the role of the parents is largely increasing and they can be considered a vital element for implementation of change within the school community. Collaboration between teachers and parents can help greatly in reducing bullying. Generally, in talking with parents of bullies it is important to be firm and clearly identify the offensive behaviour without completely condemning the offending child (Juvonen & Graham, 2001). The parents must take a positive approach to helping their child by suggesting different ways of dealing with the aggressive behaviour of the child, especially when it occurs within the home. The aim should be considering ways in which the behaviour can be stopped, in the interest of the child. This involves creating a support network for the child. It is important for the schools to understand that the parent of the victim likely to be under a good deal of stress and therefore may feel some anger towards the school for not preventing the victimisation. Juvonen (2001) states without the parents being completely informed on what is happening to their child, they are unable to work out preventative methods or solutions to the problems. It is important as a teacher to listen to the parents’ ideas on what might be done and develop a readiness to develop a joint plan with the parent to overcome the problem (Juvonen & Graham, 2001). This suggests that parents must become active participants in their child’s daily lives and work within their family and social structures to formulate measures and support networks to prevent problems like this occuring. Bullying behaviour can affect pupils in a number of ways. It is a form of aggressive behaviour which is hurtful and deliberate; it is often persistent, sometimes continuing for weeks, months or years and it is difficult for those being bullied to defend themselves. This essay has stated that although there are unclear lines to an actual universal definition of the phenomenon, bullying is essentailly an abuse of power and a desire to intimidate and dominate. The analysis of my experiences with bullying throughout my education has helped me to realise how prevalent an issue bullying is in today’s society. Although it has been made clear the media can be a powerful tool for alerting Australians to the realities of bullying on a wide scale, they can also be blamed for creating corrupt perceptions in the young imaginations about ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’. In this essay, I have also looked at gender issues involved in bullying which has indicated that although there is greater focus on boys andtheir use of physical aggression, indirect aggression by girls is continually overlooked. Therefore, a greater deal of of attention needs to be paid to female bullying and the effects their actions have on tbeir victims. In a constanly changing and highly advanced world bullying is continually taking on new forms and with the introduction of new technologies, victims are now being taunted out of school grounds and into their homes. These emerging forms of bullying must be identified and controlled through the integration of school anti-bullying policies. With an ever increasing force of bullying incidents happening around Australia there is now a much greater moral imperative for shools, teachers and parents to decrease the level of bullying activity within and around their schools. This is being tackled through anti-bulling policies and intervention programs that encourage peer support. However, there are problems with how these policies are enforced, which suggests a need for a clearer definition of the consequences of bullies’ actions. Finally, it was established that collaboration between teachers and parents can help greatly in reducing bullying activity within and outside the school grounds and as a result of this, parents are rapidly becoming stronger advocates for social change within their school communities.
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