I hope everyone takes a moment to read my post today, as I attempt to do my part to speak out against bullying, as part of Spread <3, Not Hate, an anti-bullying campaign, spearheaded by authors K.M. Parr and K.C. Neal.
Why is this topic even important? Because unfortunately, bullying is a topic that often goes unnoticed, despite it's prevalence. Because at some point in our lives, we have all been victim to bullies, whether it's through physical or emotional harassment, either as children or adults.
And with the advent of technology, bullying has evolved right along side it. We are now introduced with the concept of 'cyber bullying'. In many instances, cyber bullying is far more sinister. Whereas before, victims could escape their tormentors within the confines of their home. Now, bullies have invaded cell phones, social media, email, etc. Victims are no longer free from harassment...it's everywhere.
What prompts individuals to display acts of hostile aggressive behavior? Psychologists feel that these portrayals of aggression is often a socially learned behavior, through parent's or peer groups. Operant conditioning can also explain bullying behavior, in which bully's receive some form of positive reinforcement from their actions.
Sometimes the positive reinforcement is as simple as acceptance. Not all bullies exert aggression behavior because they are bad. Some instigate aggressive behavior for a sense of belonging and acceptance, or rather to compensate for what is lacking in their lives (e.g. self-esteem). Simply put, it makes them feel better about themselves.
Now, remember the cult classic Heathers? Here we had a group of popular girls who embraced their role as tormenters of their school. One character, Martha Dumptruck, felt compelled to commit suicide (unsuccessfully) after being harassed by the Heathers and alienation by the entire student body. Not to mention Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and Jason Dean (Christian Slater) resorting to a form of bullying of their own, by killing off one of the Heathers and other such bullies in the popular set.
Which brings us to the victims of bullying. Often bullies pursue victims that are passive and are likely not to retaliate when confronted with aggression. However, while there are some victims who resort to suicide to escape the abuse, other victim's resort to violence. Let's revisit operant conditioning. One method of avoiding conflict (i.e. being bullied) is by fighting back, which represents a prime example of negative reinforcement.
Huh? Let's look at one of my all time favorite books/movies: Carrie.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) was an outcast. In the beginning of the movie, we see her being tormented and bullied by her classmates (this is the scene where she gets teased and harassed by having tampons thrown at her). Now, let's jump to the final scene final scene where a prank (which can be defined as an indirect physical act of aggression), where Carrie is the target of a bucket of pig's blood poured on her after being crowned queen (another joke). What do you think happen's next? She kills the entire student body with her telekinetic power!
Does this sound familiar? It should. Many school shootings are a byproduct of bullying. One of the hallmarks of school shooters is their feeling of isolation and alienation by their peers. This is not to say that all victims of bullying will resort to violence, but it is something to consider.
In Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we find Jonathan (Danny Strong), up in the bell tower of Sunnydale High School, about to commit suicide after feelings of isolation and humiliation have gotten the better of him. Thinking Jonathan is out to kill his fellow classmates, Buffy reveals to him that everyone is in as much pain as he is and have their own problems. He is ultimately suspended and ordered to receive counseling.
So what do we do? As adults and parents, we can make an effort to incorporate early intervention in the home and in schools to prevent bullying. By the same token, efforts can be made to reach out to those victim's to provide the necessary support that is needed.
But teens aren't the only ones that perpetrate or fall victim to bullying. Those that engage in hostile aggressive behavior can continue the behavior into adulthood. We see it occur in the workplace and within social circles. This can affect victims with high levels of stress, reduced self-esteem, and a whole host of issues related to adult bullying.
So again, I ask, what can we do? Take bullying seriously. Often times we tend to look the other way when we see people fall victim to bullies. But together, we can make a difference by taking a stand against bullying by spreading the word, educating our children and peers, and offer our support to those who have fallen victim to bullying.
For more information on bullying, there are many resources available:
Claudia Lefeve, M.A., M.C.J.
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