Even when we used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” I’m not sure we really meant it. And today, bullying is spiraling almost out of control. Some national school surveys report that almost 90 percent of students in grades four through eight have been bullied.
Nowadays, bullying among youth comes in many different forms. Bullying is a form of abuse. As the internet has grown and as more young people access, bullying among teenagers has moved to internet bullying through emails and social networking.
A lot of damage can result from Internet bullying, especially with social networking, as it is a growing form of communication and particularly popular amongst teenagers.
New generations are increasingly exposed to the turmoil of other’s insecurities. Young girls are common targets for verbal abuse and bullying.
A recent collaboration by the Society of Prevention Research and Jeremy Luk of University of Washington found a correlating link between bullying and alcohol abuse along with depression resulting from bullying. Luk analyzed a study conducted by the U.S. Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC), of 1,495 10th graders focusing on bullying, depression and alcohol abuse.
The research showed a high correlation of those who were bullied became depressed or showed signs of depression. Of the adolescents suffering from depression, many used drugs and abused alcohol. Many drug and alcohol addicts start using at a young age, generally 12 to 18 years old. From that point, it is generally the jumping off point for a long binge of substance abuse and addiction. Many adolescents suffering from depression find risk taking behavior such as violence, sex and substance use a reprieve from their depression.
The research went on to reveal that these issues impacted young girls especially. Teenage girls’ perception of what is being said about them can have an immense effect on their self-esteem. Generally, they will carry this into their adulthood. Low self-esteem fuels depression, and depression can fuel alcohol abuse.
The survey by Luk made clear that the depression those students felt had a heavy influence on their desire to use drugs and alcohol. Depression seems to be the link between bullying and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers is a nationwide concern. Today’s youth are continuously being exposed to abuse of prescription pills, stimulants, club drugs, marijuana and cocaine. Additionally bullying is increasing and taking on new forms with advancing technology. Bullying can’t always be prevented but it can be resolved.
One thing we can do to resolve bullying is to recognize and acknowledge that bullying is a serious issue that must not be considered “playground games.” The outcomes of bullying can include drug and alcohol abuse, crime, depression and, in the most severe case, suicide. Some parents think their youth would never use drugs but, with bullying and peer pressure, youth are pushed to try drugs. Kids want to be accepted by others and when their peers tell them they need to join in the “fun,” youth don’t want to be left out or alienated.
Many times you can see bullying between siblings in the home. Siblings often bully each other, and it takes a careful eye to catch and see it. When you see your children bullying, stop it immediately. Teach them how their actions are harming their sibling.
Also, make sure you aren’t a model for bullying. Do you incessantly tease your child or others? Do you point out your child’s weaknesses, foibles, and physical imperfections in front of others? Do you put others down? Are you in a group that isolates others? Do you yell at coaches and players during sporting events? These are actions that model bullying for young people.
Another thing we can do is to teach children to stand up for themselves without fighting back. Personal confidence often disarms bullies. One of the most important ways to build confidence in your children is to regularly show that they have the support and love of their parent.
Making time to really listen to your kids is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to communicate your love. Really make time, though. No cell phones, no fitting it in while they are in the car with you. And make time after work and school to sit down and talk with them. It makes all the difference in the world. For young kids, get down on their level. There’s nothing more fun for little ones than sitting on the floor and playing trucks or tea party with mom or dad. The secret is in giving your child your full attention. No T.V., phones or to-do lists allowed!
Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.