Sticks and Stones


Disgusted glances meant to ostracize point daggers towards the socially awkward student, stopping her greeting mid-sentence. The kid who quit the football team hears slightly too loud conversation about him, amidst adjectives of ‘loser’ and ‘quitter’. The girl who is into vampire novels is mocked with hisses and taped-together pencil crosses, while she tries to ignore them. To them, this is what bullying looks like.
The question of how to define bullying has always been a difficult one—however, a poll conducted by Probability and Statistics classes seems to have crafted a good definition. Bullying was described as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Does this sound familiar?
It should, as 9% of students polled actually avoided going to school because of harassment by a bully. Even more shocking, 1 in 10 Robinson students reported they have even contemplated suicide because of a bully. This is not a problem that doesn’t exist at this school. It is not just another trending topic making its way around social circles. It cannot simply be addressed by downsizing classes, reducing number of students, or adding faculty members. It is not because of crowded, noisy hallways or the size of the building; it’s not about criticizing schools themselves.
Bullying needs to be talked about in order to help the victimized, rehabilitate the bullies, and determine how it is possible to stop the social epidemic that seems to be spreading into every facet of students’ lives.
Students facing abuse from their peers is far from a new phenomenon, although it is discussed like one. Victimization has always varied: from being shoved into a locker or called a ‘nerd’ to being absolutely terrorized and fearing attending school. However, the main difference between then and now is that typically, when students went home, they could escape any conflict they had, no matter how brutal.
Today, cyberbullying adds another platform for bullying and may be the reason that bullying is discussed as though it were a novel problem. Going home was once an escape for students…not anymore. Now anyone go online and find mocking insults on their statuses, degrading comments on their posts, and malicious retweets circling around their ‘friends.’
“I think that the internet in general dehumanizes people. You’re less likely to go up to somebody’s face and call them a bunch of names or say things that are really derogatory because it’s human to human,” school psychologist Diane Ross said. “Things happen quicker and they can be more intense [with cyberbullying]. That’s the biggest thing with cyberbullying—kids feel protected to say what they want to say without any threat of real consequences.”
There’s no way to escape it unless the student unplugs. This is much harder than most people believe–those who are ignored or abused in their school or home environments have the chance to garner kinship with others online. Leaving these social media sites could cut off the only lifeline they have, as the Internet often provides tight-knit virtual communities for students. Even when not online, friends can help to prevent bullying from occurring altogether.
“Past bullying experiences have shown me that if you’re alone, you’re more likely to be bullied than if you’re in a large group,” a Freshman girl said. “I stay around my close friends more, and I haven’t had a problem since.”
Of course, not every student has the privilege of stating that they have loyal friends; simply telling students to ‘find friends’ is a band aid solution. Although bullying is frowned upon at the school, the statistics produced by the poll suggest that more needs to be done to educate students on what bullying is and how to prevent and fix issues. While posters saying “Stop Bullying” and “Bullying Stops Here” imply the school monitors and discourages bullying, very little is actually done.
“In the locker bay in 7th grade, I was trying to get behind this these girls, and when I asked them to move they shoved me and called me names I’d rather not repeat,” a Junior girl said. “One of the counselors from the 7th grade sub school saw, but didn’t do anything, even though this group of girls harassed me throughout the year.”
Students typically ‘just deal with’ this abuse, but low self-esteem and high amounts of stress can lower the resilience that students normally have to face not only bullying, but everyday life. Although the school has implemented a new drop-off program that allows students to relax and talk about stress, 40% of students polled think that the administration does not provide adequate assistance to prevent bullying. However, these drop-off meetings could provide a release for students that are bullied or stressed in general.
“When students come to me, they’re pretty beat down and worn out. I think they’re under a lot of stress, so they’re more vulnerable,” Ross said. “By the time students unfortunately get help, they’ve already endured a significant amount of emotional pain. They’re at a point where they’re considering self-harm, or they just can’t take it anymore.”
While stopping or prevent bullying may seem like a hopeless endeavor, there are many ways that a student can take action. Although typical responses from unsympathetic adults are mainly to ‘just ignore it’, research has shown that ignoring bullying allows it to continue. Using witty humor to make the bully look bad could work, and of course, there’s always telling an adult. This can resolve conflict without causing further harm to the victim. If a student feels as though they are without an adult to trust or go to, surrounding oneself with supportive peers helps–as the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers.
“I think that there’s no magic formula [to stop bullying], but if kids have an array of tactics in their back pocket to use in different situations, then that would be most effective,” Ross said.
Bullying is far from a problem that can be ignored or put to rest after a policy change. There are many long term psychological effects of bullying: research has shown people who had been bullied had lowered cognitive functioning, and increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide. The importance of prevention of bullying is overwhelming–and changes are usually brought on by students. Defending a victim or being a supportive friend to a stranger is a small change that can completely alter the bullying culture of a school, which, as the statistics and research suggests, could even save a life.