While bullying tends to be viewed as an issue which primarily affects middle and high school students, it is likely that young adults continue to face these problems even into their college years.
Elaine Johannes, associate professor of family studies and human services, said recent research conducted with incoming college freshmen showed bullying behaviors often carry through past high school graduation.
“Our data shows bullying is alive and well at university campuses across the nation,” Johannes said. “While we do usually see bullying level off in high school, if a bully has found their behavior has been beneficial to them because they’ve been able to control people, in all likelihood, they’ll continue that behavior.”
So what exactly constitutes “bullying behavior?” According to Johannes, the definition of bullying is tri-fold.
“The first part is an intent to do harm,” Johannes said. “Next is a power differential, meaning that the bully and the target have different power bases, such as more articulate or threatening verbal skills or access to resources.”
The third part, she said, is consistency and repetition over time – the issue must be reoccurring, rather than a singular or isolated event. Although these three elements were once the sole defining factors of bullying, increased access to technology over the past several decades has further complicated the topic through the introduction of cyberbullying.
“‘Cyberbullying’ is the repeated attack on someone with the use of technology,” said Brandon Hutton, senior unit director at the Boys and Girls Club of Manhattan. “While normal bullying usually happens during school time in a one-on-one or small group setting, cyberbullying creates a forum or audience about it, which is really the difference between bullying and cyberbullying.”
Hutton, who began at the Boys and Girls Club as the NetSmartz coordinator to educate youth on safe Internet and technology practices, said the introduction of anonymous posting sites and mobile applications, such as ask.fm and Yik Yak, is cause for concern due to the increased ability for bullies to go unidentified.
“Sometimes, people will just say what they want because they’re trying to get a rise out of someone, but that anonymous factor really changes things,” Hutton said. “If you’re posting on these sites, you need to expect that people are going to say bad things just to say bad things, because they’re protected behind a computer screen.”
The effects of cyberbullying often manifest themselves in the target’s avoidance of the bullying mediums. I.e., if an individual is being cyberbullied, he or she will likely seldom check their cell phone, email accounts or social networking profiles.
Additionally, bullying behaviors can have deep-seeded negative effects on all those involved, both mentally and emotionally.
“The effects of bullying can be very detrimental to the person targeted,” Johannes said. “Just in short term, they might experience depression or lack of motivation. Then, it becomes more pervasive. People just stop trying to make friends, their social networks are limited and this can carry over into adulthood.”
But, the bullied are not the only victims of the scenario. Bullies also experience adverse effects, such as a lowered likelihood of graduating, difficulty maintaining a career or relationships and even a higher likelihood of incarceration over time.
Johannes said the third person in the equation, the bystander to the activity, can also be affected, as observing bullying behavior often creates a sense of distrust or hopelessness in this individual.
“The whole phenomena affects everybody,” she said. “It’s a community issue and it’s a public health issue.”
Those who are targeted by bullies can lower these risks by seeking assistance from counseling services or other trusted individuals.
“I just encourage students to talk to somebody,” said Matthew Reiser, assessment coordinator and licensed psychologist at K-State Counseling Services. “It could be a friend, a roommate, a faculty member or even a counselor here. Often, those who experience bullying believe it’s something wrong with them and that’s where counseling comes in.”
Reiser added if the bullying is happening in a classroom setting and is affecting the student’s academic experience, it’s best to bring up the issue with the professor in order to most effectively address and resolve the problem.
While it is possible to help those who are targeted after they have these experiences, Johannes said the real issue is one which needs to be corrected before it ever happens.
“As a society, we haven’t taken a hold of the real issue, which is that some people don’t learn positive behavior from really young on up,” she said. “Bullying is learned behavior. It’s almost like patchwork when you try to correct the behavior in middle school or high school.”
The answer to the problem, then, begins with the community taking action when bullying occurs by building confidence in the targets, as well as turning off bullies when they demonstrate this behavior.
“It’s not a friendly, happy, glorious solution,” Johannes said. “It’s difficult, but it’s worthwhile.”