It was disheartening to hear it said: "We all bully someone at some time in our lives" when I attended the first two presentations of a medical grand rounds forum called The Bullying Stops Here: the bottom line from neuroscience, psychiatry and education at The Montreal Children's Hospital last week. What does this say about us as humans? An empowering forum it was! It opened with psychologist Dr. Tracy Valiquette, imminent expert in the field of bullying, and then continued with Maureen Baron of The English Montreal School Board, who fully addressed the hot topic of cyber-bullying.
Bullying is any threatening or overtly harmful and repetitive action one takes toward another. It ranges from simple put-downs, manipulation, control and verbal abuse, to physical violence, which occur along a continuum of varying degrees of psychological, emotional, financial, sexual and physical abuse.
Dr. Valiquette's presentation set the tone as she made a connection between bullying as a cause of poor physical and mental health. She did this by explaining how our very real need as humans to affiliate with our peer groups (and families) and belong are what put as at the greatest risk when these same human social interactions hurt us. She explained how we are wired to belong and deferred to Harlow's study of monkeys where monkeys with no peer attachment was critical in terms of the monkeys' later "odd" behavior. She suggested the way our bodies' chemistry is affected by bullying as it seems that physical pain is often short-lived whereas social pain can last a lifetime. Both of these types of pain share neurophysical structures, a biology, and the effects are sustained and devastating, resulting in poor self-esteem and a myriad of chronic health conditions.
We often think of the bully as a school yard kid ready to pull a punch, but bullying happens everywhere. Today's technology enables cyber-bullying using a multitude of online and technological ways to intimidate, control, manipulate, victimize and revictimize people. Baron explained that the targets are often students by other students, but that it also happens to teachers by students and between teachers. Her job at the school board is to investigate allegations and directly deal with the perpetrators. She elaborated that what makes cyber-bullying particularly potent is that it is 24/7, can be done any time and anywhere, and allows the bully a certain anonymity (Keep in mind that IP addresses can be traced) while reaching a huge audience at great speed. She finished her excellent presentation with the importance of giving children ethical boundaries around technology with the analogy of just like we do not give a child the keys to our car without driver's education, so we must explain to our child, the rules about conducting oneself using technology. Her final advice was to the person being cyber-bullied: "Stop, Close, Tell."
Remember that the school yard bully grows up and goes into the workplace and forms families, as do those who are bullied. Bullying begets bullying. It's a cycle that continues if left unchecked. And it hurts and harms in ways that are not always visible to the eye.
Bullying must be stopped! It is not okay to continually pummel, degrade, humiliate and harm another person in any way. And as a child, you must tell someone. As an adult hearing this, you must act. As anyone of any age experiencing bullying at the hands of another, you must say "No!" and remove yourself from the situation. No one deserves maltreatment. No one.
We need to start with ourselves and take a long look at how we contribute to this growing problem. We need to take a stand and stand up to the bullies. We need to make our world a bully free zone.