Niceness is Priceless: A Study on Bullying in Schools

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Teens. Our future presidents, shop owners, celebrities, farmers, the new American society. They have great potential, but at what cost do they succeed? With mental health risks and the possibility of losing friends or loved ones to overwhelming sadness and depression, teens are 15% more likely to suffer from mental health issues than any other age group (Center for Discovery, 2016).

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Ask any teen and they will confirm it: verbal abuse is a fact of teen life. A majority of stress thrust upon students is due to the anxiety of what happens to them at school. Everyday, more than 160,000 students skip school out of fear of being bullied (Olweus, 2001). I witnessed it this morning; a student making a snarky remark about the clothes that another student is wearing, and while it was not the cruelest thing that he could have said, the other student was obviously hurt but the comment. This one comment could have a permanent effect on him. Students who are affected by bullying may experience mental illnesses and fall behind in their schoolwork, and those who bully others need be punished for their actions accordingly; however, the legal ramifications in place today are not enough to deter a bully from carrying out the dreadful act.

Background of Bullying: A Brief History

Bullying is defined as “a willful, conscious desire to hurt another or put nim/her under stress” (Olweus 2001). According to Olweus (2001) common elements of behavior include “harsh teasing, constant criticisms, insults, gossips, and unreasonable demands.” Victims face injury with repeated attacks that they are unable to defend themselves against. Throughout time, technology has increased, and with this evolution of technology comes an easier and more efficient way to harass others (Olweus, 2001). Almost everybody has a smart phone these days, with this new technology, comes a new power that teens are still growing accustomed to. The well known Spider-man quote got it right; “With great power comes great responsibility.” This technology and power that can be used to stay in touch with family and friends is also being used to communicate cruel messages to other people (Hunter, 2012).

The question then becomes; why would somebody do this? According to Ken Rigby in his book Stop the Bullying: A handbook for schools, bullying is fueled by the desire to hurt others or cause them overwhelming stress. One factor that contribute to bullying immensely is the distribution of power. This means that those who bully have a greater amount of power than the victims. This is including, but not limited to physical excellence, verbal skill, manipulation, social status, and supposed hierarchical authority. This supposed hierarchical authority is the thought that being a senior in high school gives a person authority over someone who is in a lower grade (Rigby, 2014). In the book “Bullying Under Attack”, a series of short true stories written by bullies, victims, and bystanders, Michael Ortiz examines middle schools and how he became feared and respected by his peers. He says;

I like to say that, knowing the mind of a bully, there are actually three kinds: the bully who doesn’t know what he’s doing, the bully who knows and cant stop it, and the bully who knows and doesn’t want to stop it. I was the third one; I didn’t want to stop ridiculing my peers because of the power. It’s intoxicating to have so many people fear and respect you. The more people I bullied, the more grandiose I seemed to become. Granted, I hated myself. I always had issues with my identity, I felt self-conscious about my appearance, and I worried constantly about problems at home. It’s a paradox really. Bullies truly hate themselves. And it’s this hate that makes the power of bullying so alluring, because in a twisted way, instilling fear in others replaces the hate for oneself. (Meyer, Meyer, Sperber, & Alexander, 2013)

Bullying in Schools

Codes of Conduct

In the First Colonial High School code of conduct, bullying and harassment are mentioned 2 times: “The following acts are prohibited; two or more bodies striking against each other for the purpose of causing bodily harm, threatening, posturing to fight, incitement/instigation, physical abuse, gang activity, bullying and cyberbullying.” and “A student will not harass or discriminate against another person based upon that person’s race, color, sex, disability, national origin, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.” Although these things are listed in the student code of conduct, the code is not very specific in defining what the punishment for these things is. It simply states that a student shall not do it. According to Ken Rigby in his book Stop the Bullying: A handbook for schools, an effective code of conduct must include a strong statement on the schools stance on bullying in schools, a succinct definition of bullying, a declaration of the right of students and teachers to not be bullied and to be provided help if bullied, and a general description of intended punishments for those who partake in bullying (Rigby, 2014).

Behavior Outside of School

Bullying is not limited to that of physical and verbal abuse while inside the schools corridors. It can also occur through various forms of cyberbullying, abuse at local restaurants or meeting places, or fights and altercations on school buses or walking home from schools. More stuff from books from TCC.

Punishment. The punishment for behavior outside of schools can often be lenient because schools must provide evidence that the behavior outside the school is affecting a student’s performance in school. This issue is still being battled in courts today and many cases have differing opinions on the solution. While some cases decide that anything that occurs between 2 students in the same school or school district in or outside of schools is grounds for punishment, other cases decisions are quite the opposite, stating that altercations that occur outside of school between 2 students are not the responsibility of the school and therefore unpunishable.

Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools. A case that was very important in deciding the fate of students who bully others outside of school or online was Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools. This case involves Kara Kowalski, who created a MySpace page called S.A.S.H. Kara testified that the acronym stood for Students Against Sluts Herpes, but another student said it meant Students Against Shay’s Herpes. This page was dedicated to sharing many edited pictures of another student named Shay. She was edited with red dots on her face and a sign around her pelvic region that read “Enter at your own risk.” Shay’s parents were very upset by this, and after contacting Kowalski’s parents and confronting them to no avail, they went to the school to get Kowalski punished. The school agreed with the parents and in turn suspended Kowalski for 10 days, with an additional 90 days of social suspension, preventing her from attending after-school activities and school events (Hanks, 2012).

Kowalski then claimed that the school violated her First Amendment right to free speech and her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. The court eventually ruled in favor of the schools, citing the schools code of conduct, which specifically laid out the rules and intended punishments for these offenses (Hanks, 2012).

Effect of Bullying

Bullying can have permanent effects on a teens mental health that last throughout high school and for the rest of their lives. Crippling mental disabilities can come into play due to overwhelming fear, anxiety, and overall sadness. Bullying, however, does not only affect the students in the direct altercation. It can lead to school violence and mass shootings due to an overall hatred of the student population and the overwhelming urge to make the other students feel how they feel. It can also affect a victim’s family. If the pain gets too much for a victim to handle, they may result to self-harm and eventually suicide, leading the family into despair that could eventually lead to depression of their own.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression is defined as “a common mental disorder that presents with a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self esteem, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.” While some people may experience one or more of these things from time to time; it takes a medical professional to actually diagnose someone with depression. It does not happen quickly either. Depression must be diagnosed over a two week period, in which the patient is observed for signs of depression such as; a depressed mood for most of the day, weight loss or weight gain, changes in appetite, or increased desire to sleep everyday or almost everyday. Another major red flag would be thoughts of suicide or an actual suicide attempt.

Treatment. Most treatments for this illness must be prescribed by a medical professional, which is why it is so important to be diagnosed. Treatments can range anywhere from antidepressant medication and counseling to hospitalization. There are also some alternative routes of treatment, such as; acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and other common stress relieving activities.

Suicide

Suicide is one of the most drastic consequences of bullying in school. One instance of this would be when Gabby Cazares ended her life because of other students at her school. Gabby had a medical condition that made her lose her hair, which resulted in her wearing wigs to school. One day a rumor spread that students were going to pull her wig off. Gabby was scared and went into the bathroom crying, and was followed by a group of girls that were giggling and calling her names. After she texted her mom to come pick her up, she stormed out of the bathroom, into the hall and ripped off her wig. Now hysterically crying, she asked the small crowd that had formed “Is this what you wanted to see?” Later that month something similar happened and she asked her mom to come pick her up. This time she went home and went to bed right away. Later, Gabby’s mom went to go check on her and she was no longer in her room, however the window was open. They went outside to look from her, and found her body hanging from the tree in the backyard. When told the news of Gabby’s death, students and parents were outraged. Parents flocked to the school board meeting, begging that something be done before bullying claimed the lives of their own children. Gabby’s mother claimed that Gabby was also bullied at her old school, but when concerns were brought to the administration the bullying stopped almost immediately, however this was not the case at the current school. When Gabby’s mother went to the administration of this school, nothing was done and it resulted losing her daughter. The police department conducted an investigation, but results came back inconclusive.

School Violence

School violence is not only the act of physical fights in school but also the urgently increasing problem of school shootings. Fighting in schools is one of the most commonly misinterpreted aspects of life in high school. Movies and T.V. shows glorify them, making them seem dramatic and fun to witness; however many in-school fights root from verbal or physical abuse that has been occurring for quite some time. This is widely due to the increasing bullying epidemic and the wave of uniformity that many students feel is necessary for acceptance into teenage society. Mass shootings can also be caused by bullying in schools. The most recent example of this is the school shooting that occured in Santa Fe, Texas. The father of the teen shooter claims that the motivation for his massacre was the excruciating bullying that he endured while he was a student at the school. A woman who wanted to remain anonymous claimed that she saw the shooter at a festival just a few days before dancing and having fun. The community believed that he was a happy and healthy teenager, which leads to suspicion that something must have thrown him over the edge (Cerullo, 2018).

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