BY NICKI JURINA
This post is the first in a series on suicide and abuse prevention by Nicki Jurina, one of our newest social media interns.
There exist many childhood "sayings," and one of the most commonly known is "sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you." Many parents say this, not aware of the extreme impact that bullying, whether physical or psychological and emotional, has on an individual. Adults will often encourage children to stand up for themselves, or to be the bigger person, or even going so far as to say "they are just words" which comes from a deep ignorance of the cruelty that can exist in the minds and hearts of children. Children are internalizing these messages they hear from their peers day after day, slowly dying within themselves to just make it through a school day to receive an education. Parents drop their children off at the doors of an educational institution, expecting them to learn, socialize, and grow; unbeknownst to the parents, their child is being injured from the inside out. The physical wounds are oftentimes not visible to the naked eye; the internal wounds that fester within the human heart remain hidden from everyone, locked away in the silence of a child's tear. School officials oftentimes look beyond this and see this as normal, childhood development; everyone goes through it; it is a "rite of passage." There is an inherent tragedy in the brutality that words hold for an individual. They are not just "words"; rather, they become identities, continuously repeating themselves, internalized into the psyche of a young child, as they grow and mature.
In recent years the "bullying phenomenon" has been given a place in the forefront of concern for academia, as well as the mental health field. While not a new phenomenon, much attention has been given recently to bullying and its negative effects on children and adults. Much research has been done in the mental health field on bullying and the results all indicate similar themes. One of the most striking themes that surfaces surrounds the devastating effects of bullying from childhood into adulthood. Short-term effects can include, but are certainly not limited to: overall unhappiness, social and emotional withdrawal, difficulties with adjustment, and increases in depression and anxiety. Bullying can also be linked to the symptom criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research across the nation shows that effects of bullying can be long-term if the child does not receive the proper attention or treatment at the onset of symptoms. The long-term effects of bullying are related to low self-esteem, which can lead victims on a path of self-destructive behaviors, abusive relationships, eating disorders, and other self-esteem related issues. A study done by Yale University School of Medicine found a link between bullying in childhood and suicide, a correlation that increased when no help was initially provided at the onset of bullying. Studies conducted by clinicians who assess suicidality in children ages 9-14 give way to the astounding reality that children do not yet possess the developmental intellect needed to fully comprehend the permanency of death; in other words, they are not yet capable of grasping that death is the cessation of life. A child's understanding of suicide can be compared to pausing a video game; the developmental capacity is such that they believe it is suicide is a "restart" button, that they can pause it and start all over again.
There has been an increase in a new phenomenon entitled "cyber-bullying." Cyber-bullying can be defined as bullying through electronic media (National Crime Prevention Council [NCPC], 2001). Forms of cyber-bullying can include, but are not limited to: threatening e-mails, instant messages, or text messages; posting intimate information belonging to another person online; posing as another person online and sending slanderous, embarrassing, or demeaning messages; creating demeaning websites about another person, etc. (NCPC, 2001). Both genders practice cyber-bullying; however, males are more likely to send sexually explicit messages or images or threaten physical violence, whereas females are more likely to spread rumors, reveal secrets, or exclude others (NCPC, 2001). Factors that contribute to the increasingly negative effects include: the anonymity behind a computer screen or "pseudo-personality" created; an individual's ability to "hide" behind media; electronic media's greater reach, which allows rumors or images to spread more quickly; and the fact that cyber-bullying can take place anywhere there is access to electronic media and at any time (NCPC, 2001). According to Hinduja (2010), the increased use of social media has resulted in an increase in peer aggression due to an increase in opportunities to bully. The study done in the article showed that all forms of bullying were significantly associated with increases in suicidal ideation.
Intervention is key in situations such as bullying. Intervention is not only preventative, but a child does not have the ability to stand on their own two feet and learn to just "be a bigger person." This needs to occur in the two key environments in a child’s life: the home and the school. Consistent efforts need to be taken to recognize the signs and symptoms of bullying, which, sadly, are very similar to the symptoms of child abuse.
Dignity cannot be taken away from a human being, no matter what is done to them, without their permission; however, a child can not understand their dignity if they are not shown, if they are not nurtured, if no one is willing to stand up for them. It takes one person to make a difference, to stand up for what is true . . . which person are you?
"If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself, you need to find a better mirror, look a little closer, stare a little longer, because there is something inside you that made you keep trying despite everyone who told you to quit. You built a cast around your broken heart inside of yourself and signed it 'They were WRONG!'"