Just The Facts

Unfortunately, bullying has reached epidemic proportions. Bullying is rampant, and its terrible consequences can, at times, be catastrophic or even lethal. Bullying occurs practically everywhere, in schools, in parks, and often inside the home. Can online therapy help when the facts may seem to be stranger than fiction?

Consider the following (in the U.S.):

  1. 28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying

  2. Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied

  3. More than 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly

  4. Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying

  5. 64% of students who are bullied do not report it (according to a study conducted by Petrosina, Guckenburg, DeVoe, and Hanson, 2010)

Bullying Defined

When we talk about bullying, what do we mean? How do we define it? When a child says he/she has been bullied, is this perhaps being too dramatic or hypersensitive? Maybe the term is overused and not appropriate in every situation. Is bullying subjective, or is there some objective definition?

It is essential to distinguish between a child being mean to another child and bullying that child. An unintended consequence of defining bullying too liberally is that the term gradually loses its meaning. Kids and parents sometimes call mean behavior bullying when, in fact, it is not.

Whereas bullying certainly involves mean behavior, not all mean behavior constitutes bullying. When a child doesn’t like someone and is mean, or lashes out in anger or frustration, this isn’t bullying. Bullying is characterized by certain features that move the mean behavior to a different place. To be considered bullying, mean behavior must be intentional, repetitive, and harmful.

Bullying is characterized as an intentional and aggressive targeting of a particular victim. When a child is bullying, he/she is hurting another child both deliberately and methodically. Bullying involves a plan and devotion to its implementation. The experts define bullying as using force or coercion to either intimidate or abuse another.

Some of the more common bullying methods include:

  1. Mercilessly tormenting or threatening

  2. Harassing another, either verbally or physically

  3. Spreading malicious rumors or gossip

  4. Outing (publicly displaying another’s confidential messages)

  5. Intentionally excluding or expelling the child from a peer group

Cyberbullying

There is nothing new about bullying. It’s been around as long as people have had an interest in hurting someone else. But bullying has evolved, and some of its forms have changed. Until recently, bullying was limited to face-to-face or in school. Experts now refer to this as “Traditional” or “Schoolyard Bullying.”

But the phenomenon of bullying continues to evolve and assume different forms. Today we find physical bullying, verbal bullying, social/relational aggression, and the one that is growing by leaps and bounds, cyberbullying.

The explosion of technology that has made both texting and the hours spent on social media so integral to most kids’ lives has paved the way for bullying to continue unabated around the clock. If so desired, there will be no respite for the bully, and no escape for the victim either!

Cyberbullying is the deliberate and repeated harm that is inflicted through electronic devices. This genre of bullying is much easier than traditional bullying in that it eliminates the face-to-face interaction.

Without needing to face the victim, the bully becomes wholly desensitized to the victim’s pain. By dehumanizing the experience, the bully can now easily say or do things that could be much more difficult had it been face-to-face.

Aside from technology making it much easier to bully, there is another often-overlooked consequence facilitated by texting. With just a few clicks, a child or teen can quickly spread a rumor to many friends at once and, without even realizing it, the damage is spread far and wide and is sometimes irrevocable.

The arena of cyberbullying is usually on social platforms. This not only allows other teens to see the hurtful words but frequently gives them a license to throw in their two cents. What ensues is not merely more bullying, but now the victim has more to worry about than just the bullying. His/her reputation can very likely be damaged in the process.

And this collateral damage is often done without the bully or others even being fully aware of what they are doing. Study after study shows that most teens involved in cyberbullying think that the whole attack was just a joke. They don’t realize when it has gone too far. This makes it that much more challenging to put an end to the behavior.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

CBT is quite effective in addressing the emotional pain caused by bullying. Bullying has been shown to cause anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and in more severe cases, leads to substance abuse or even suicide. And now, with online therapy available, many more bully victims can benefit from CBT.

It is only natural for a victim of bullying to internalize feelings of shame from the experience. CBT delivered via online therapy can help the child to better understand his/her negative thoughts and feelings that were perpetrated by the situation. Comprehending those thoughts and feelings, helps the child to better understand what is driving his/her behavior.

Because bullying can often be traumatic, it is only natural for children to be less than fully aware of their self-destructive thoughts and harmful behaviors formulated as a result. An excellent CBT therapist can help cultivate awareness of maladaptive coping mechanisms so that they can be replaced with more positive ones.

Many teens who are victims of bullying struggle with confidence and self-esteem. Negative thoughts about themselves will have a direct bearing on how they interpret situations and magnify their insecurities. This can become a downward spiral as their beliefs lead to negative self-talk and consequently decreased self-worth.

CBT whether face-to-face or online therapy is beneficial in confronting these self-created distortions and destructive thinking patterns. As a result, the wall of self-doubt can be knocked down, and the victim can gradually regain the lost confidence and sense of control over his/her life.