5 Myths about Bullying

from Trans Lifeline for #SpiritDay

We often imagine bullying as something that only happens to children. We sometimes talk about it as being misguided or a cry for help on the part of the bully as if it has little or no consequence. The reality cannot be farther from the truth.

In a case earlier this year, a Wisconsin teacher was bullied by other teachers for 10 years. The transgender teacher was taunted, isolated, undermined, and made fun of until she was driven to suicide. After her death, it was revealed that she had appealed to her principle for support over and over again, but her pleads for help fell on deaf ears. Read more about her case here.

Teachers not only bully one another but they also bully children. According to one study published in The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, an anonymous survey of 116 teachers at seven schools found that 45 percent of teachers admitted to having bullied a student.

Bullying is a type of abuse. The reality is that the behaviors and dynamics at play with bullying in kids — targetting people perceived as weak, using force to get your way, and social isolating people — are alive and well in adult culture. Workplace harassment, catcalling, and other forms of violence are manifestations of violence taken out on women, trans people, and other groups of people perceived as weak.

Like other forms of abuse, sometime bullying is physical about more often it is psychological. When students are bullied in school and then come home to face psychologically damaging peer relationships online, cyberbullying dramatically intensifies the psychological toll because it the bullying becomes relentless and sustained. In 2013, a study found that almost 70% of young people were affected by cyberbullying, and almost 40% of young people described being experiencing cyberbullying on a ’highly frequent basis.’ Around 34% of those who were bullied said their experiences lasted for over a month.

Facebook is the leading social network used for cyberbullying. In fact, Trans Lifeline pays to boost advertisements sometimes in order to grow our audience and spread the word about our services. We used to target people who support national LGBTQ organizations, but we stopped because we would always get at least some commentary on the thread invalidating transgender identities, denouncing transgender people, and occasionally even advocating that trans people should kill themselves. One commenter wrote, “Trans suicide is a problem that fixes itself. And we are all better off.” Despite numerous appeals to Facebook, reporting people, and banning them, we have never heard that Facebook has taken any action in response to abusive behavior.

Cyberbullies go out of their way to leverage social media as a tool to intimidate, humiliate and literally destroy people they target because they are perceiving us as weak. Those kinds of comments can be the difference between life and death to trans people who are struggling suicidality and already face so many emotional, social, and economic stressors. Read more about how to respond if you are being bullied on Facebook.

Bullying has been around for a long time, but has not been taken seriously until recently. In the last few decades, media attention and research have begun examining the negative effects of bullying on victims and bullies. The cost to the person’s emotional and psychological well-being is immediate but also can be sustained throughout a person’s lifetime.

Many trans people begin are bullied for being gay as kids. Our peers sense our difference but do not have the language or nuanced understanding to name exactly how we are different. It also points to a truth — bullying is more about the bully and about playing to social norms than is is a genuine commentary on the person being bullied.

Young trans women often appear as sissies to their peers. For boy, the crime of not fulfilling the masculine expectations is punishable by intimidation, aggression, and violence. Moreover, femininity itself is punished through their lifetimes through by fathers who want to “beat it out of them,” by peers who target them with “politically incorrect” jokes to help them “man-up”, and by corrective rape. The dominant social structure of manhood in the US is a hierarchy created and maintained by one’s ability and willingness to dominate others. In male social spaces gender policing always goes hand in hand with misogyny (you throw like a girl) and homophobia (don’t be gay about it). How are trans women supposed to feel after a lifetime of taking in messages that they are weak or emotional or any of 1,000 other negative messages “like a girl”, and then they realize that they are in fact a girl?

Transgender and gender nonconforming youth face challenges at home, at school, in foster care, and in juvenile justice systems. A national survey by GLSEN has found that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who are able to persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education.

Well researched prevention and intervention strategies for victims, bullies and bystanders have lifelong benefits. What if we had the same attitude about cancer or some other disease which has been around for a long time? What if we knew we could do something to make a difference but instead did nothing? We know that we can all make a difference in preventing or reducing bullying behavior.

Only recently have we begun to understand the roots of bullying behavior. While bullying may never be eliminated, it can be significantly reduced with school and family interventions.

However, a cross-national meta-analysis of 44 evaluations identified particular characteristics of school-based bullying programs that may help reduce bullying (D.P. Farrington and M.M. Ttofi, School-based programs to reduce bullying and victimization, Campbell Systematic Reviews №6 (2009)). The study found that on average, school-based anti-bullying programs decreased bullying behavior by 20%-23% and victimization by bullies by 17%-20%. This study found the intensity and duration of a program, as well as the number of program elements, to be linked with effectiveness. Other elements found important to effectiveness were parent training, parent meetings, firm disciplinary methods, classroom rules, classroom management, and improved playground supervision. The study did not find evidence that working with peers was effective. The authors also recommended that a system of accreditation for anti-bullying programs be established to help ensure that programs being adopted by schools include the elements that have been found to be effective. Another study pointed out the importance of addressing peer norms in anti-bullying programs. In peer groups where bullying is the norm, the authors of the study argue that “Until these peer norms are modified, it is likely that bullying behaviors will remain intractable in our schools.”

A Congressional Report entitled, Student Bullying: Overview of Research, Federal Initiatives, and Legal Issues

Research report and recommendations from the Educational Research Association on the Best Anti-bullying Practices in Schools, Colleges, and Universities.

Bullying victims tend to share a set of characteristics or behaviors such as having lower peer acceptance, being different in some way, being physically weak, or having an unusual home life (neglectful or overprotective). While these behaviors are a part of understanding the social phenomena of bullying we cannot ascribe to or perpetuate the idea that victims are to blame for the bullying. Bully like an other form of abuse, and we need intervene with the bully.

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