According to Wikipedia and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Justifications and rationalizations for such behavior sometimes include differences of class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, appearance, behavior, body language personality, reputation, lineage, strength, size or ability. If bullying is done by a group, it is called “mobbing”.”Targets” of bullying are also sometimes referred to as “victims” of bullying.
Bullying can be defined in many different ways. The UK currently has no legal definition of bullying, while some U.S. states have laws against it. Bullying consists of four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical, and cyber. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation.
Bullying ranges from simple one-on-one bullying to more complex bullying in which the bully may have one or more “lieutenants” who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities. Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as peer abuse. Robert W. Fuller has analyzed bullying in the context of rankism.
A bullying culture can develop in any context in which human beings interact with each other. This includes school, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. In a 2012 study of male adolescent football players, “the strongest predictor was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player’s life would approve of the bullying behavior”.
Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker or who they think is weaker. Sometimes it involves direct attacks such as hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting. Sometimes it is indirect, such as spreading rumors or trying to make others reject someone.
Often people dismiss bullying among kids as a normal part of growing up. But bullying is harmful. It can lead children and teenagers to feel tense and afraid. It may lead them to avoid school. In severe cases, teens who are bullied may feel they need to take drastic measures or react violently. Others even consider suicide. For some, the effects of bullying last a lifetime.
While bullying occurs across the entire spectrum of age groups, the fastest growing sector is among youth, primarily teens. The teen years are normally a tumultuous time during which identities are sought, self-doubt is rearing its head and the struggle to fit in is fought. An often chosen strategy to combat all this is bullying (often a leaned action from older role models). Other strategies include alcohol, smoking, drugs and gang involvement.
What is being done to to help the youth during their complex teen years? In Altoona, Pa., St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has teamed up with The Beacon. The faith-based Beacon’s mission, as stated on its web site, http://www.thebeaconpa.org/, is to seek to provide an alternative place for youth in a safe environment with structured activities, where positive adult role models can build relationships with “at-risk” youth and encourage them to make beneficial decisions in their lives.
Per The Beacon’s website, The Beacon has provided a safe place for teens to meet on Friday nights since November of 2007. They aim to create a culture of respect for participants, property and staff. For many of the participants the Beacon is like a family.
On Friday nights they have several options of activities available for teens to choose from. For the more athletic teens they have dodge ball. For those who choose a less energetic activity, they have a game room available. It has a variety of choices such as: air hockey, ping pong, foosball and a Wii. They also have a room set up with craft materials. The teens are allowed to go from activity to activity if they choose or they can sit and visit with each other or go to a viewing area where they can watch dodge ball. Meals and lessons are provided each Friday and often have guest speakers who teach valuable life skills and share about resources available for youth in the community.
All this sounds wonderful on paper, but how does it work in reality? According to Jerry Rice, executive board member of The Beacon, the 501(c) non-profit hosts about 80-100 youths every Friday night. That number varies from week to week. The only admission requirement is that the individual be aged between 12 and 20 years of age. This large range in age limits, according to Mr. Rice, is to allow and 2nd chance high-schoolers access. By 2nd chance high-schoolers, he is referring to those individuals who perhaps dropped out of school for whatever reasons and need positive social interaction along with witnessing positive role-models (staff). The only requirement of those attending The Beacon is to respect staff, each other and property (St. Luke’s Episcopal Church is the owner of the property where The Beacon operates). If any unacceptable behavior comes to the attention of the staff (8 staff members on duty on a typical night) the issue is addressed one-on-one with the individual, not publicly. This method is believed to difuse the situation, teach what is acceptable or not, and also, puts the staff in a positive role-model position. If the behavior continues, the individual is asked to leave The Beacon until the following Friday. On rare occasions, the suspension of visiting priveleges may be expanded to a few weeks, according to Mr. Rice. It was explained to me that the building is divided into sections based on various activities and each area has as least one staff member supervising. They are also cognizant of any outside activity, such as groups gathering and/or any unacceptable behavior anywhere on the Church property. If things get out-of-control, the local police are summoned. The Beacon has not incurred and liability claims to-date.
I had the opportunity to chat with 2 teens about their experiences at The Beacon, a 13-year old male and a 14 year-old female. Both agreed that they like to have a place to meet their friends. They also pointed out that it is a gathering place where cliques join up. At times, these cliques partake in bullying tactics, making fun of those outside their clique for various reasons. This usually goes on unrestrained. This bullying, at times, takes on a physical form in addition to the emotional belittling. The male teen experienced a broken collarbone in one such altercation and the female was physically accosted with a cell phone. Neither incident led to police involvement despite meeting physical assault descriptions and apparently no insurance liability claims resulted. Both instances involved older teens being the aggressors to the younger ones.
The Beacon is applauded for their well-intended efforts. Some fine-tuning of the program may be needed, such as closing that 12-20 year old age range (maybe 2 separate nights to break the ages up?) While the program looks better on paper than in reality, more organizations need to take such a proactive initiative to involve youth in their mission statements. More importantly, values must be taught and reinforced at home with positive parental role models. If not this type of behavior will just perpetuate from generation to generation. It cannot be learned solely by reading or hearing about. It must be witnessed and it must be on an every day basis. It is not just “their” problem, it is our problem and obligation to change as a society.