It’s been many years since Greg [names have been changed] was in junior high school, but he can still vividly remember how it felt when his tormentors would chase him as he tried to walk home from the school bus. If they caught him, sometimes they would grab his trombone case and throw it into the snow, or they would toss his homework into the pond by his house. Other times they would become more violent, pushing and hitting him, even knocking him to the ground.
“I felt powerless and scared,” he says now. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Bullying has received a lot of media attention in recent years, but it continues to be a serious problem for many teenagers. What exactly is bullying? If you see someone being picked on, what can you do? And what if you’re the one being bullied?
What Is Bullying?
Some people say being bullied is just a normal part of growing up. “Kids will be kids,” they say. “They’ll get over it.” Most teenagers like to joke around and tease each other, but when does teasing cross the line and become bullying, a behavior that can have serious long-term effects?
Matt Watson, a therapist with LDS Family Services, says a behavior can be called bullying “when there’s fear and intimidation or when someone says ‘Stop,’ but the behavior continues. There’s no acknowledgment of the victim’s feelings.” Bullying can make people feel worthless, friendless, and alone.
Most experts agree that bullying is different among boys and girls. Boys tend to be more physically aggressive, while girls are more likely to use insults, to exclude other girls, or to spread rumors about them. 1
Emily was bullied for several years while in middle school. “I got pushed into lockers and had spitballs thrown at me,” she says. “But mostly it was emotional—the girls would exclude me or call me names.”
The effects of bullying can be devastating. According to Brother Watson, some kids who have been bullied have nightmares and feel helpless and anxious. Not only that, but they may have trouble relating to other people, and they often have feelings of low self-worth and depression—challenges that may follow them into adulthood.
What Others Can Do
If you see someone being bullied, it may be tempting to walk away, hoping the situation will take care of itself. But Bob Wiley, also a therapist with LDS Family Services, says bullying rarely stops unless someone else gets involved. “If you see someone being bullied and you do nothing, in some ways you’re contributing to the bullying,” he says.
So what can you do to help?
Say something. If you are in a position to do so, say something like “Hey, knock it off” or “Leave him alone.” 2 Of course, you must always look out for your own personal safety.
Tell an adult. If you say something but the bullying continues, or if you feel that telling a bully to stop might endanger your own safety, tell a responsible adult: a parent, teacher, principal, school counselor, or anyone else in a position of authority.
Brother Watson explains that telling someone in authority is not the same thing as tattling: “Tattling is to get someone in trouble. Telling is trying to get some help or to solve a problem.”
Reach out. Brother Watson points to the example of the good Samaritan, who cared for a man who had been beaten (see Luke 10:30–37). “He wasn’t in a position to confront the attackers, but he certainly dealt with the aftermath,” he says.
Similarly, we can reach out in kindness to those who are bullied. “Usually the bully picks on someone who’s alone and isolated,” says Brother Wiley. “If you see someone in that situation, try to be a friend.” Not only do friends decrease a teen’s chances of being bullied, but they likely will help the teen feel better about himself or herself.
If You’re Being Bullied
What should you do if you are the one being picked on?
Try to appear calm and confident. Try not to react, because a reaction is what most bullies are hoping for. First try to simply walk away. “To walk away from trouble is not a sign of weakness,” says Brother Wiley.
Stay calm and act confident, even if you don’t feel confident. Stand up straight, and make eye contact. Firmly tell the bully to stop. And don’t lash out physically unless absolutely necessary to protect yourself. “Retaliating physically may make a bully feel justified in his or her behavior,” says Brother Watson.
Tell an adult. Many kids who are bullied feel that they should handle the situation by themselves. But bullying often does not stop until an authority figure gets involved. A trusted adult can help you plan a way to avoid being bullied and help provide support along the way. Keep telling until the situation improves. If the bullying is severe, it may be appropriate to inform the police. 3
Avoid being alone. Bullies are more likely to pick on people who are by themselves, so try to stick with friends as much as possible. If you feel threatened and friends are not nearby, follow a group, even if you don’t know them. 4
Don’t blame yourself. No one deserves to be bullied. “Because you are a victim of bullying does not mean you are a bad person,” says Brother Wiley. “The person who has the problem is the bully, not the one being bullied.”
Forgive. Forgiving a bully does not mean thinking that what he or she did was okay. Nor does it mean you shouldn’t stick up for yourself or that you should pretend the bullying never happened. Forgiving does mean letting go of feelings of bitterness and anger—feelings that will damage you far more than they will affect the bully. The Lord said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).
Rely on the Savior. His love, and the knowledge that you are a child of Heavenly Father, is your greatest source of self-worth. The Savior knows what it’s like to be beaten and spit upon, but He never forgot who He is—the Son of God. Because of the Atonement, He understands perfectly the hurt you feel, and He can heal you.
Emily says that gaining a greater understanding of the Atonement helped her heal from the effects of the bullying. She found comfort in Alma’s words:
“And [Jesus] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“… And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor [help] his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).
Today, both Greg and Emily agree that the damage caused by bullying doesn’t have to last forever. Both have gone on to have successful careers and families of their own. And while neither would wish for such a painful experience again, they agree that in some ways they are better people as a result: they are more understanding of those who are struggling and are more anxious to reach out and help. And they know that their worth does not depend on what others think of them, for the worth of every soul “is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).
The Adversary’s Tactics
“It should come as no surprise that one of the adversary’s tactics in the latter days is stirring up hatred among the children of men. He loves to see us criticize each other, make fun or take advantage of our neighbor’s known flaws, and generally pick on each other. …
“When we truly become converted to Jesus Christ, committed to Him, an interesting thing happens: our attention turns to the welfare of our fellowman, and the way we treat others becomes increasingly filled with patience, kindness, a gentle acceptance, and a desire to play a positive role in their lives.” —Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915–94), of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign , May 1992, 19, 20.
The Hazards of Hazing
Hazing is what older or more experienced kids sometimes do to initiate new kids into a group. You might not think of hazing as a form of bullying—after all, even the most popular teenagers can be victims of hazing. And some people claim that hazing is “fun” and is a “bonding experience.” But, like traditional bullying, hazing is an act of control over others; can result in feelings of humiliation, fear, and distrust; and is sometimes physically dangerous. 1
Hazing activities include making people wear embarrassing clothing in public, perform dangerous or ridiculous stunts, or participate in other activities that are degrading or humiliating. An activity is probably hazing if the answer to any of the following questions 2 is yes:
Will more experienced members of the group refuse to do what the new members are being asked to do?
Does the activity involve physical or emotional abuse?
Could the activity be considered unsafe or dangerous?
Would you be embarrassed to describe the activity to a parent or teacher?
Would you not want the activity to be featured in your school newspaper or on the local news?
Is alcohol involved?
Is the activity illegal?
If you are a member of a group that is going to initiate new members, suggest planning positive alternatives to hazing such as a fun social or athletic event that will help old and new members of the group get to know each other.
If you fear you or a friend might be hazed, or if you have already been hazed, contact an adult—either a parent or school official. Hazing can have serious effects. Saying nothing could mean the activity continues—and someone might get hurt.
See Kevin Bushweller, “Brutal Rituals, Dangerous Rites,” American School Board Journal, Aug. 2000, www.asbj.com/2000/08/0800coverstory.html.
Questions adapted from Death by Hazing (pamphlet), Sigma Alpha Epsilon (1988), cited on www.stophazing.org.
See Barry E. McNamara and Francine J. McNamara, Keys to Dealing with Bullies (1997), 24, 37–38; Michael Thompson, Lawrence J. Cohen, and Catherine O’Neill Grace, Mom, They’re Teasing Me (2002), 128–29.
See SuEllen Fried and Paula Fried, Bullies and Victims (1996), 122.
See National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, Internet, www.safeyouth.org.
See “You Can Beat Bullying—A Guide for Young People,” Kidscape, Internet, http://ericcass.uncg.edu/virtuallib/bullying/1063.html.