By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. According to Stopbullying.gov, bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior among individuals that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time. Bullying subjects the victim to repeated, negative behavior intended to harm or intimidate. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. There are many myths about bullying that need to be addressed.
Myth #1: Bullying Only Occurs With Youth
To the contrary, there are increasing cases of bullying in both youth and adults. These cases are often found in the classroom, in the workplace and in the online environment. In fact, an online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted in October, found 31% of Americans have been bullied as an adult and 43% say the behavior has become more accepted this past year.
Myth #2: Bullying Is Physical
In many cases bullying is the use of words that can cause detrimental effects. The use of harsh words can be in-person or virtual; the latter is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying means using online technology to hurt someone on purpose. Cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. Reports of cyberbullying are the highest among middle school students and high school students and 20% of these students stated they have been cyberbullied.
Myth #3: Bullying Is A Short-Term Problem
The act of bullying can last for years, and the effects of bullying can last even longer. Bullying doesn’t always end with high school. Some bullies grow up to become office bullies. Workplace bullying can make life quite miserable and difficult. Supervisors should be made aware of adult bullies, since they can disrupt productivity, create a hostile work environment (opening the company to the risk of a lawsuit) and reduce morale. If you see or experience bullying, report it immediately. Documenting activities can lead to corrective action and can be used if legal action is needed.
Myth #4: Bullying Is Easily Identifiable
According to the Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, bullying can be passive or aggressive. For example, forms of bullying that may be hard to detect can include the silent treatment or ignoring the victim. In addition, spreading rumors and calling a person names can lead to emotional and social challenges.
Myth #5: Bullying Is the Same as Harassment
Bullying and harassment are similar. Both instances lack remorse from the perpetrator. The differences are subtle, yet impactful. Bullies seek power or control, which they get from demeaning, ridiculing, or putting their victims down. The difference is that harassment is based in unwanted advancements and negative interactions.
Myth #6: There Is Only One Type of Bully
Sadly, bullying can take many forms according to bullyingstatistics.org:
- Narcissistic/Impulsive Bully: Bullies tend to be self-centered and lack empathy with others. Bullies can be impulsive and unintentionally lash out based on an internal stress or problem.
- Physical Bully: The bully may physically harm or dominate the victim or in some cases, damage or steal physical property.
- Verbal Bully: Verbal bullying can include negative or sarcastic statements. Degrading, defaming, demeaning or humiliating words can have emotional and psychological impacts.
- Secondary Bully: These are individuals that do not initiate the bullying but join in with the initial bully to amplify the negative actions.
Myth #7: Bullying Only Happens To Shy or Timid People
Bullying can happen to anyone including students, activists, and celebrities. Greta Thunberg, climate activist, has been open about being bullied in school and then being cyberbullied. She stated, “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science, when they could do something good instead.” In addition, Greta’s 13-year-old sister and close relatives were subjected to bullying, threats and harassment simply by being related to Greta.
Myth #8: Bullying Is Not A Big Deal
According to stopbullying.org, the short- and long-term consequences of bullying and cyberbullying can be detrimental:
- One in five students from K-12 are either a bully or a victim of bullying.
- One out of every 10 students who drop out of school do so because of repeated bullying.
- A bully is five times more likely to have a serious criminal record when he/she grows up.
- A bully is six times more likely to be incarcerated by the age of 24.
Bullying and Online Learning
Bullying can affect the online learning environment as well. Educators should monitor the online learning environment and use tools to create a safe, supportive learning environment. Pay attention to the following signals:
- Are there group projects in the course? If so, how do you ensure there is equal participation by all members? Providing expectations of equity and inclusion at the beginning of any group project is important and using 360 feedback and evaluation can help instructors monitor the contributions of all team members.
- Avoid using titles, rank and certifications in the online classroom. While these signify experience, power and prestige in the outside world, the online environment should be a level playing field to learn about a specific topic.
- Avoid making jokes in the online classroom. Words matter, so encourage students to stick to the facts and avoid adjectives that may be perceived in a negative way.
- Encourage all students to be an upstander, which is defined as someone who takes action when they witness bullying. This is different from a bystander, who is someone who witnesses a bullying event.
- Look for recurring disagreements in discussions and find ways to curtail escalations. De-escalation is essential to conversations.
- Identify discussions that give the appearance of yelling, shouting, and screaming by using all caps, bold or underlined text, or excessive use of exclamation points.
- Look for the use of put-downs, insults, and excessively harsh criticism or someone making offensive comments.
Addressing bullying means having conversations to identify what bullying is and how to stop it. Each of us can be an upstander to stop bullying at the onset.