President Barack Obama’s recent video “It Gets Better” was targeted at breaking the silence and identifying resources to help gay, and lesbian teens deal with bullies. The recent gay and lesbian suicides were directly attributed to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness after being the victims of bullies.
Issues of bullying and violence are also rampant in the schoolyards of both rural and urban areas. Last year, a Federal Task force on bullying met to address the issue which resulted in a website www.bullyinginfo.org
It is estimated the almost one-third of our nation’s schoolchildren between the grades of 6th to 10th were directly involved with bullying either as a perpetrator, victim or victim-perpetrator. Dr. Bruce Perry, an expert in empathy (the capacity to care for others) and author of Born For Love, talks about emotional safety within schools is crucial for learning and attendance. One of the biggest reasons that kids play sick at school is to avoid being bullied.
Bullying has been associated with other forms of youth violence, substance use, emotional disturbances and the development of physical health problems. The role of the family and the dynamics of family relationships are also key. Families that are violent, have low or inconsistent parenting practices with low parental warmth or cohesion can led to the creation of bullies.
A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health (September 2007) suggested that black adolescent students are less likely to be a victim of bullies than white or Hispanic students. The likelihood of being a bully appears to be related more closely to peer relationship and family communications for white, black and Hispanic adolescents than race alone.
Living a healthy lifestyle including a maintaining healthy choices, nutrition and regular exercise are thought to be early practices beginning in childhood can lead to less bullying.
The capacity of empathy, the feeling of “that person is just like me or similar to me” can help prevent bullying. Being able to feel the pain of others and read emotion on their faces can improve interpersonal connections. Instead of excluding, beating down or simply terrorizing others because of differences in ethnicity or sexual preference, the possibility of reaching out, saying, “I understand” or “Can I help you?” could be a powerful antidote to bullying.
Research has suggested that there is also a connection between empathy and race. Joan Chaio, a assistant professor at Northwestern University stated that “African-Americans showed greater empathic response to other African-Americans in emotional pain” and adds that “our ability to identify with another person dramatically changes how much we can feel the pain of another and how much we’re willing to help them.”
Perhaps we would have less bullying if folks were able to do what’s right and refuse to take part in bullying. In other words, go from zero (just watching) to hero (taking advantage of an opportunity and intervening). Dr. Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford University has research that shows that blacks are eight times more likely to have engaged in a heroic act in their life than whites.
Whether it’s opportunity or just an everyday act of heroism, we all must get involved to eliminate bullying in our households and communities and ensure that things really do get better.