Why school bullying takes place and what to do about it
It's more than just kids being kids, school bullying can have such an impact on a child they'll be left with scars that may never go away.
Does a childhood of bullying someone lead to a life of crime?
Child Psychiatrist Dr. Maher Awad with RWJ-Barnabas Healthcare and Medical Director of child services at Monmouth Medical Center, says someone usually becomes a bully because of how they've been treated at school or at home.
"A bully is generally a strong person who is trying to bully a weak person who cannot fight," Awad said.
They turn to the dark side because they seek the power others have over them.
"They want to have power over people in general and feel that they are stronger than them and can control them," Awad said.
What causes a child to become a school bully?
Dr. Awad says in many cases it's because kids are depressed or have low self-esteem because of how they've been treated or there's some form of dysfunction at home.
"In a lot of cases it's usually the father or the mother ridiculing the child because of their grades, maybe it's due to their behavior, maybe they have ADHD and they are so out of control when it comes to their behavior...they're called names," Awad said.
He says in many cases the kid tends to take those words as truth and as a result they'll tend to displace their feelings onto others by treating them the same hurtful way.
What are some of the signs a parent should look for to find out if their child is being bullied at school?
Dr. Awad suggests that if you see something out of the ordinary, try opening a line of communication with them.
"Ask why there behavior has changed, why they are refusing to go to school," Awad said. "Look for evidence...a torn book, avoiding friends, looking sad, not sleeping, being anxious, physical marks like bruises on their body or other depressive symptoms."
How often do victims snap and flip a switch?
Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni, says it's possible but not always the case.
"Is it possible? I think the answer is yes. In every occasion, is that the situation where somebody's going to snap and take out some heinous criminal act like we've seen in the news as of late? Certainly not. I don't think that's the case, but that possibility always exists," Gramiccioni said.
Dr. Awad says in the times when it does happen, it stems from continued bullying.
"Those people fight sometimes by being violent or by committing suicide," Awad said. "The violent act comes from anger because (they feel) the world is not saving them, nobody is saving them."
He says another reason a victim retaliates is because they feel they're alone and the only person in their corner.
"They see the bully and the crowds around the bully who just sit and watch," Awad said. "Watching that bully is kind of...cheering them on...it's encouraging them. Sometimes people participate in the bullying because it's a lot easier to do it in a group where there's no guilt because it's shared."
He says that's when a victim could snap and take it out on not just the bully but all those who stood there and did nothing.
Are there enough education efforts on school bullying in effect to prevent those students from throwing their life away down the road and committing major crimes?
Gramiccioni says school and law enforcement officials need to try and corral that student early so things don't spiral out of control.
It's also about giving a student who commits a non-criminal act a second chance to see the light, do the right thing and turn their life around.
"There's an inherent growth process with students, 12-18-years old, and you don't want to throw the book at them the first time around," Gramiccioni said. "You want to give them a chance to correct or rehabilitate their behavior."
He says in many cases most incidents aren't going to be criminal cases and if it's not and a student commits a bullying offense, they're likely to face internal disciplinary action.
"There's bullying, there's conduct that includes verbal or physical attacks and then there's the line that sometimes is crossed where it becomes criminal," Gramiccioni said. "Not every act of bullying is going to be considered a criminal offense. If there's a physical altercation of battery or something, then naturally there's a possibility the municipal police could be called, the municipal courts could be implicated and if it's a serious offense it could come to our office."
What are some ways we can work to help the victim, prevent the bully from committing any more acts and give courage to the bystander to speak up and say something, when they see something?
"Kids can be cruel", is a common and unfortunate phrase that follows a child being bullied in school.
It rings especially true in the mind of a victim who's afraid to ride the bus or go to school because they're afraid they're going to be called a name, made fun of for the clothes they wear, the way they speak or walk, that they wear a seat-belt, being judge for how skinny or heavy they are or something else.
But when your the victim, school bullying leaves behind a scar, emotional and sometimes physical.
Gramiccioni challenges all those kids out there bullying other students to take a good look in the mirror themselves and remember 'The Golden Rule'.
"Stand in the shoes of that person that you're saying things about or maybe behaving a certain way towards them or making fun of...would you like that to happen to you?," Gramiccioni said. "I think most of us...if not all of us...would say, 'I don't want to be placed in that situation'."
For those being bullied, he encourages you to report it.
"The only way you can cure it and help curtail it and make it go away is to bring it to light," Gramiccioni said. "Have faith in your school administrators, your parents and the parents of those who go to school with you that we can resolve this, but it takes open communications.
I appreciate that this takes a little bit of guts. Sometimes it's not easy to go in and report something that's happening that you don't think is right."
For those standing there watching:
"If this was happening to you, would you want somebody in the hallway that saw that happening, to report it on your behalf?," Gramiccioni asked. "I think most students...most people...would say, absolutely."
Here's what you need to know:
There is a law on the books in New Jersey that specifically deals with bullying.
The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights that came to be in 2002 and was amended in 2010 lists the responsibilities of all those involved in a bullying incident and the protocol to be followed in the event something happens.
To learn more about what to do or how to handle a bullying incident or report one, click here.
Parents of children being bullied or school officials who need to brush up on the language of the law, click here.
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