For thousands of school children, bullying is part of everyday realities. The current school bullying statistics is quite gruesome. Bullying takes a variety of forms, including cyber bullying. The physical and emotional consequences of bullying are pervasive. No wonder, schools develop sophisticated strategies to tackle with the problem of bullying and prevent its negative impacts on students. Unfortunately, the current state of literature provides little information on the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies and techniques in schools. To a large extent, school administrators and counselors alone cannot cope with the growing scope of the bullying epidemic in schools. Individual prevention is not effective enough to eliminate the problem of bullying among school children. Only complex interventions aimed to re-establish the social equilibrium do have the potential to reduce the incidence of bullying and cyber bullying in schools.
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From the interview with a school principal, it is clear that school administrators and teachers are mostly aware of the bullying problem. They define bullying as any act that harms or simply scares another person. School administrators recognize that bullying is not a one-time event but a phenomenon that first emerges in primary school and reaches its peak during the middle school years. In high school, bullying is quite rare. To a large extent, these responses confirm the definition of bullying provided by Curelaru, Iacob, and Abalasei (2009), where bullying is “a repeated violent act that takes place between persons who generally have an equal status, for example school mates or work colleagues” (p.9). In this sense, the most important features of bullying include: (1) hurting the victim (physically or emotionally); (2) repeating the act of violence; and (3) growing from and further confirming a power imbalance in a personal relationship between pupils (Curelaru et al., 2009).
School principals and administrators admit that school bullying is rather common. From 30 to 50% of all school pupils have been victims of or participated in an act of bullying. Yet, measuring bullying is quite problematic, due to the fact that most acts of bullying occur in places that are difficult to observe. Very often, bullying is difficult to distinguish from normal conversations or plays, whereas children themselves are reluctant to uncover the difficulties they may be facing in their relations with other pupils. It is interesting to note that, despite the measurement difficulties reported by the school administrators, literature provides abundant information regarding the scope and magnitude of the bullying problem. Yerger and Gehret (2011) refer to one of the most recent sources of statistical information, the Web site www.how-to-stop-bullying.com, which suggests that 77 percent of all students have been bullied at least once in a lifetime. In high school, fifteen percent students report 1-3 bullying incidents one month preceding the interview (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). Curelaru et al. (2009) confirm that between 15 and 30% of school students suffer from one or another form of bullying, whereas Rigby and Smith (2011) claim that school bullying is increasing and difficult to sustain. Certainly, the process of measuring bullying in schools is associated with serious methodological difficulties, mainly because most school children do not want to talk on this sensitive topic. Many children also have problems defining and interpreting the meaning of bullying, which means that the exact prevalence of bullying in schools may be difficult to estimate. The most notable is the fact that, contrary to administrators’ beliefs, bullying remains extremely pervasive even among high school students, also the prevalence of bullying tends to decrease with age (Mitka, 2012; Yerger & Gehret, 2011). Unfortunately, not all school principals and teachers can describe the key characteristics of school bullies, as well as the effects of bullying on school children.
From the interview, school administrators describe bullies as physically strong, who perceive themselves as more powerful than their peers. Bullies are claimed to be indifferent towards others’ feelings; they often come from violent families and households. In the meantime, victims of bullying are described as shy and quiet. They do not have many friends. At times, they begin to think that they deserve physical or emotional abuse. Unfortunately, it seems that school educators do not realize the seriousness of the bullying problem and its real magnitude. Their responses do not provide any insight into the roots and far-reaching consequences of the bullying problem for victims. Really, most bullies are physically strong (Curelaru et al., 2009). However, reasons why children abuse are numerous and include problems in family life, the effects of media, and friends (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). Bullies direct their aggressiveness against those, who are perceived as weak and unlikely to retaliate (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). Bullies are more likely to display various aggressive and risky behaviors, such as drinking and smoking (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). Gender and age do play a role in the way school children cope with or engage in different forms of bullying: boys are more likely to become bullies (Curelaru et al., 2009). The leadership characteristics of bullies should not be disregarded: many bullies act as mere guides, while their followers realize their aggressive ideas and initiatives (Curelaru et al., 2009). Bullying is often associated with hyperactivity and low empathy (Farrington & Costanza, 2010).
At the same time, most victims of bullying experience the sense of insecurity and even anxiety (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). They are less popular among their peers and less confident in themselves (Yerger & Gehret, 2011). School administrators are correct when they speak about power imbalances in the relationships between school children. Yet, they also forget that the victims of bullying are more likely to display avoidance and escape behaviors, such as skipping school (Curelaru et al., 2009). These students experience difficulties adapting themselves to the challenging conditions of school life (Curelaru et al., 2009). Gifted children are particularly susceptible to the risks of bullying, because their peers perceive them as too bossy or too smart (Hargrove, 2010). The scope of various psychological and physiological effects of bullying on students’ health can hardly be overstated (Farrington & Ttofi, 2009). Consequently, the main question is in what kind of support is available to students and how to prevent school bullying.
School administrators confirm that school bullying is a serious problem that needs to be solved. School policies have been implemented to alleviate the burden of the bullying problem, and the school does invite professional groups and guest speakers to communicate the devastating effects of bullying to children. School counselors are trained to bring together bullies and their victims and resolve each situation as a group. Cyber bullying is also part of the school anti-bullying policies. Children are taught to show confidence in their relations with peers. Unfortunately, most of what school administrators do against school bullying has proved to be ineffective (Merrell, Isava, Gueldner & Ross, 2008). Numerous intervention plans have been developed to assist school counselors in their work, but individual and local school strategies against school bullying do not lead to the desired outcomes (Curelaru et al., 2009). Despite the huge costs of antibullying interventions, they are incomparably lower than the costs of continued victimization (Smith, Ananiadou & Cowie, 2003). Only complex interventions that help to re-establish the social equilibrium can reduce the incidence of bullying and cyber bullying in schools.
The Bible offers an interesting perspective on bullies and their victims. In terms of bullies, “anyone who claims to be in the light, but hates his brother is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). The Bible warns bullies from the mistakes they can make, if they choose to use their powerful position and hurt those who are weak. Simultaneously, the Bible teaches possible victims not to lose their confidence, because fear can be as detrimental to one’s spirit as aggressiveness and violence: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25). These simple truths once again confirm the importance of collective anti-bullying methodologies, which can help to restore the power balance among school children.