Last month during an assembly, the students at Rippowam Cisqua School explored that very question — are you a bully? We wanted to increase awareness in the community, engage students in a discussion around personal responsibility, and offer support and suggestions for how to tackle the issue.
First, the students were shown a video asking the same question. Next, we then challenged them to pay more attention to their own behavior toward one another. Then, we asked them five essential questions that centered around the part they play in their interactions with their peers.
- When have you teased someone, or talked about someone behind their back?
- Have you ever have excluded a friend from your friend group?
- Have you ever spread gossip or rumors on social media or in a group chat?
- When and if you engaged in these actions, was it repetitive?
- How did you feel about yourself and what did your gut tell you?
The point was to demonstrate that actions have consequences, and therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you behave.
Types of Bullying
Bullying has become an overused word. We throw it around and use at will to describe lots of behavior, but what does it really mean?
- Bullying can be physical or overly verbal. This includes name-calling, harassing, or threatening another person.
- Bullying can be insidious. Picture girls whispering about someone in plain sight of that person, and when the subject of that conversation turns to see, the girls stop talking and politely smile.
- Bullying can be psychological. This can happen when one student spreads rumors about another. This happens in social media outlets like SnapChat or Instagram, or in group chats, when one person repeatedly tags a whole friend group in a picture and leaves one person out, with the intent to cause emotional harm.
- Bullying can be exclusionary. It can happen in a group chat, when one person in the friend group is purposefully left out of the conversation, or “added by mistake” only to read hurtful things someone has said about them. Other forms of bullying or “social exclusion” can be even harder to identify, and some students may not be aware that this is considered bullying.
Signs of Bullying
What is clear, are the effects repeated bullying behavior has on students whether they are the bully or being bullied. The kids I see in my counseling practice are those who feel victimized in this way. Here are signs to look for in your child:
- They may become more isolative and withdraw from family and friends.
- Their grades may drop.
- They may be easily tearful.
- They may become anxious about being in social situations.
- They may be increasingly irritable.
- They may have difficulty sleeping.
- They may engage in superficial self-harm.
Why Kids Don’t Tell
Let’s face it, as adults, this can be hard to talk about. It’s not easy for young adults to acknowledge anything might be “wrong” and are also fearful of drawing any unwanted attention from adults to themselves. They also don’t want to be seen as a “snitch,” or a tattletale. As a society, we tend to pathologize needing any kind of emotional help. Therefore, few teenagers want to take the risk of putting themselves out there. But when a child doesn’t ask for help or acknowledge they are struggling, it can have upsetting consequences.
As a community, we have the ability and responsibility to care for one another. We need to ask the hard questions and recognize the signs so that we can take action. Bullying has long been a problem in our society, but when schools and parents partner together to stem the tide, we can teach students important skills around social discourse, respect, and citizenship. It all starts with a provocative question and open rapport. Are you a bully certainly got RippKids talking.
About the Author: Holly Melville is the Upper Campus School Counselor at Rippowam Cisqua School with over 15 years of experience as a licensed social worker. At RCS, Holly provides social and emotional counseling, education, and support for students and helps them effectively communicate and advocate for themselves so they feel comfortable in their own skin. She also works at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, NY, providing crisis intervention and referral to adolescents and adults. In addition, she has a private practice in Rye, New York where she provides counseling for adults, adolescents, and families on a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.