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Bullying A Big Deal? You Decide. By Rodger Dinwiddie, STARS Executive Director


After being bullied at school and attempting suicide, the Anchorage School District and its insurance company paid $4.5 million to settle a lawsuit with the middle school student’s family. In another news story from Kansas, education groups say more and more parents are taking school officials to court for failing to stop other youngsters from bullying their children. That’s what one teen’s parents did earlier this month when they sued school and district officials in Tonganoxie, Kan., about 30 miles west of Kansas City. The boy was just 12 years old when the taunts began. Though straight, his classmates called him gay and teased the girls who befriended him.And, in 1994 Brian Head, a 15-year-old who had been taunted for years, broke when a classmate slapped him. He shouted, “I can’t take it anymore!” pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head.

A big deal? You decide.

One of the most often asked questions is what motivates young people to bully others? Children who bully their peers are generally motivated by three things: (1) they have a strong need to dominate their peers in a negative way, (2) they have developed hostility towards their environment and they are likely to get satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering, and (3) they are “rewarded” by bullying others(gaining material rewards or prestige).

There is a lot of misinformation about the motivations of those who bully others. Our staff at Students Taking A Right Stand (STARS) works hard to help school staff address some of these misconceptions. Without addressing the myths associated with bullying, it is possible to miss critical signs which could negatively impact decisions about what to do about bullying situations. One common myth is that children who bully are loners. In fact, most do have a group of friends though as children grow older they are less liked by others if their bullying continues unchecked.

Another common myth is that children who bully others have low self esteem.  However, most children who bully have more positive attitudes toward violence than peers, are quick tempered and easily frustrated, often appear tough, and show little compassion for those that they bully. They are frequently aggressive to adults, are good at talking themselves out of sticky situations and have good or average self-esteem, are not anxious and uncertain and vary in popularity; however, their popularity does diminish somewhat as they grow older. In other words, young people who bully seem to have less empathy.

Another myth is that girls bully just as much as boys. While research indicates that this is indeed a myth, it is important to note that they certainly bully differently. In one large study conducted in the United States by Tonya Nansel et al, they found both boys and girls engage in frequent verbal bullying and girls and boys are equally likely to engage in relational bullying. However, boys are more likely to be physically bullied and girls are more likely to be bullied through social exclusion, rumor-spreading, cyber bullying, and sexual comments.

So, the question is – what’s the big deal? Bullying has and always will be an insidious issue among young people and adults. It’s important for students and adults to have accurate information about bullying. That is what STARS does in schools. We help young people and adults know what to do about bullying situations and how to appropriately respond – which is a big deal! We are on the front lines every day so call this number if you need help – 615-279-0058.

STARS is deeply committed to creating a culture and work space that centers on the power of relationships, that values diversity of perspective and experience, and that honors the dignity, worth, and contributions of all.