We can all agree bullying is cruel, and social rejection is painful. Many of us have been victims of bullying, and know firsthand how difficult dealing with bullying and social rejection can be. It is harder and painstakingly difficult as a clinician (some of us parents ourselves) when we are guiding child clients through bullying experiences, and we face vicariously reliving these buried experiences. It can leave us feeling again overwhelmed and helpless. What is also interesting (and perhaps concerning) is that there seems to be a growing trend of parents seeking assistance from clinicians and other health care providers, to fill out documents for ‘Homebound’ status from schools citing “bullying” as reasons for requests.
For those of us unfamiliar with educational Homebound status, it is a school based program where the state provides in-home tutoring by board certified teachers, 1-2 times per week on a temporary bases (typically ranging from 3-6 months and/or approximately 1 semester period) usually dedicated to medical and/or adverse behavioral circumstances. The belief perhaps by both victim and parents alike, is that the bullying would have subsided (or possibly found alternative new targets,) and the negative effects from the whole unwanted experience would have moderated by the beginning or fresh start of the next semester. Is this wishful thinking or innovative maneuvering?
While parents’ desperate attempts to finding alternative solutions to bullying problems through clinicians and services like Homebound sound a bit extreme, consider the fact that reported incidences of bullying have not only increased exponentially, but has also significantly evolved since most of our own experiences as children. Social media has serendipitously become the platform where bullies can become stronger and more empowered. Bullies have upped their ante, whereas the school systems appears to be struggling with an ineffective, outdated “Zero Tolerance” slogan, that is perhaps more comparable in deterring bullying as wearing a scarlet letter on one’s chest in today’s society. Even the scripts seem to have not changed, remember: “Some people bully because they are bullied at home, and just looking to project that anger outwardly.”
As a child these statements were not comforting to me, and saying them to another child as an adult, seems significantly undermining to their experiences. Additionally, while schools are supposedly mandated to investigate incidences of bullying when reported, attaining evidence via social media outlets becomes hampered by tools such as “Snapchat,” in which the social media thumbprint “disappears” after being viewed. To add insult to emotional injury is the fact that the education system is not the only ones who have failed to keep up with the evolving intervention times. The field and persons specifically tasked with studying and predicting human behavior, have also failed to keep up with social media bullying issues. Clinicians and other behavioral health care providers lack the tools, resources and/or adequate trainings to solve this bullying epidemic.
As a parent, I became heartbroken after reading an article in the BBC, which accounted the ordeal of a father whose daughter committed suicide after being bullied for most of her teenage years. According to the article, the girl started being bullied at thirteen years old when she confided in a friend about her sexuality. The friend then betrayed the girl’s trust by letting others in the school know about her secret. That’s when other students at the girl’s school began to bully her. The bullying got so bad the girl left her school, but she continued to interact with her classmates through social media. According to her father, his daughter ‘just wanted to be loved—she wanted to show she was a good person’. In response to his daughter’s suicide, the father of the girl responded by taking a picture of what would have been his daughter’s 18th birthday, and posting it on social media. His goal was to raise awareness on the terrible effects of bullying.
As a child, I wanted bullying to stop. As a parent, I want to see an end to bullying more than ever. As a budding clinician in the behavioral field, I believe it is our ethical responsibility and hope to ‘do more’. I greatly support the efforts to end bullying, and I am encouraged by the anti-bullying projects I now see—all of which were not around when I was a child. However, I believe we need a more comprehensive approach to combat bullying. For example, there are many messages that teach younger people why not to bully, but there should be more messages which teach younger people how to cope with bullying.
Finally, setting the example has always been the ideal path towards long-lasting change. Often times micro, passive, as well as relational social aggressions have a fixed place in our work environment. We tend to look at co-workers who have difficulty with such experiences as “weak” and stay clear of the situation, lest we be labeled or thought of as childish or immature. Grateful to be uninvolved in work conflict of any sort, we usually find solace in our apathy and inactiveness. “Bad things happen, when good people stand by and do nothing.” After all, isn’t a coworker or boss who exhibits workplace aggression, simply not a bully who has weathered the storms of times to become successful in their personal trade?
As a parent with a son entering his schooling years, I plan to teach him how to treat others with care and respect—to treat them in the same way he would like them to treat him in return. It was a lesson I greatly valued and was taught by my own parent, as a child. Unfortunately, that is all I have to offer him in this fight, for now.
BBC News Article: Bullied daughter Julia Derbyshire ‘just wanted to be loved’
Dianne Rapsey-Vanburen, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern