As a mental health crisis counselor, I see more suicidal adolescent patients than the average person and here is what I have gleaned from my work as a counselor:
Bullying DOES cause suicidal thoughts and depression. It is a pattern I see very consistently in my field.
Bullying is RAMPANT, unfortunately our culture has failed our students in providing a safe environment to learn and worse, many victims of bullying lack the sense of self-worth and coping skills to know that the bully does not define who they are. The victims of bullying lack the mental maturity to see that they can be validated by other things, (ex. artwork, hobbies, a sport or activity they enjoy) not just by the external validation and approval they crave from others. Victims of bullying also do not see a way out. They lack the ability to see that although things feel terrible in the moment, they do not have to endure bullying for a lifetime. They will not be in high school forever and thankfully, the college environment is a lot more accepting of people who do not fit in at the high school level.
Long term it’s also possible that being a victim of bullying can place a child in a position where he or she is more in tune with his or her emotions and feelings as well as higher “emotional intelligence.” In the long term, these students may develop an increased capacity to empathize with others and increase their desire to help others who struggled in ways they did themselves. Some students even use their experience of being bullied to reach out and help other students in the same situation by join a campaign or start one at their school to raise awareness about bullying and what students can do to stop it.
Bullying in most cases will lead to distorted self image which can lead to depression. Depression causes lack of motivation, even anxiousness in social situations, and depressed persons often isolate themselves from others. This mean that unfortunately the same children that are already being excluded or bullied may find it even harder to interact on a social level with others. It is a cycle, bullying can lead to depression which can cause a child to isolate which will allow them to be further bullied because they have alienated themselves to the point where it becomes too socially risky for others to reach out to them.
On the plus side though, even if a child is bullied, just having one or two friends that will stick by their side, sit with them at lunch, walk with them in the hallways can distract them from the influx of negative messages they hear. Sometimes a child just needs one good friend and suddenly the bullying becomes less impactful.
Possible reasons bulling has increased:
Break down in family structure – Families spend less time together, parents may be less involved because they simply do not have the time. When you add parents work schedule to their children’s activity schedule, oftentimes the only quality time a child will have with a parent is in a car where they cannot even interact face to face. Simply put, parents do not know what is going on.
Lack of discipline – parents wanting to be their child’s buddy and not the ‘mean parent.’
Websites that protect the identity of the bully, technology allowing 24 hour anonymous access to anyone anytime.
Lack of coping skills- In an upcoming blog I will discuss a positive re-framing activity that has worked wonders for me, even as an adult!
Parents whose values are things OTHER than their children. People make time to do things that are important to them. Raising children that make the RIGHT choice should be important but in this culture business is a way of life and there are only 24 hours in a day and with more dual income families, there is less time for teaching values. Children learn what they see. The things people make time for are their values. For example, If people value material possessions more than they value time with their children then who is teaching their children healthy values? Teachers can only do so much. In my opinion as a counselor, it It is okay to be the snooping parent or the parent who sets boundaries or who disciplines. Your child will not hate you forever because they got their phone and computer taken away even though they say they will! 😉
Bullies believe that behavior was not meant to be hurtful because they were ‘just joking.’ This is perpetuated by parents who agree that their child was just meant in a joking manner. Words INCLUDING JOKES hurt others. Words have caused victims of bullying to commit suicide. Teach children to ask themselves, could anyone possibly be hurt by what I am going to say? If yes DON’T say it.
If a child already has made fun of another child or acted in a hurtful way, don’t assume the school took care of it. Bullies need to have consequences, even if it is writing an apology letter to the victim. I recently did a google search for anti-bullying images and an image came up of a child (probably in front of a school) who was forced to wear a sandwich board that said “I am a bully, honk if you hate bullies.” Quite the creative consequence I thought.
Parents are in denial about their own child’s ability to cause harm to another child. In my experience as a crisis counselor, children will be one way in a room by themselves with a therapist and then act completely different when interacting with their parents. Children will minimize and manipulate and even lie when they feel there are consequences and that they are in trouble. I’ve seen it many times. Children’s demeanor changes based on their environment.
Once a child is found to be the perpetrator of bullying behavior, resist the urge to allow them to be bullied as retaliation. As appropriate as it might feel, bullying the bully is not benefiting anyone. Children need instruction, that is how they learn. Schools AND parents need to address the bullying, give a child relevant consequences (ex. Have the bully write an apology letter as well as a statement that they will not repeat the behavior. Put the letter on display and have the bully physically apologize to the student and the student can forgive them and hopefully both will move on).
Children can change and learn from their mistakes, think about how God loves us, His children. Of course, we all make mistakes, God does not shun us from society because we made one mistake. Teach children grace and forgiveness. That is a skill that will last a lifetime and be invaluable long term.
Please post any other techniques you have found helpful. My goal is to raise awareness and empower people with knowledge to take a stand and STOP BULLYING!!