We all remember the kid in elementary school who used to lord over the playground like a pint-sized fascist dictator. Perhaps he was an early bloomer who ruled by sheer size, or she had an older sister who taught her the power of peer pressure. It only got worse once hormones entered the picture.
In a 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Education, 14 percent of American students between the ages of twelve and eighteen reported being victims of bullying. Other surveys suggest that statistics could be as high as 50 percent, a number so disturbing, it almost makes Mean Girls look like a documentary.
You’d like to think once the jocks become insurance agents and the cheerleaders become PTA moms, bullying would lose its appeal, but harassment doesn’t always end in high school. The issue of adult bullying grabbed national headlines last year when Lori Drew, a middle-aged Missouri mother, was indicted (and later cleared) of Internet fraud for creating a fake MySpace identity with which she so mercilessly harassed a thirteen-year-old former friend of her daughter’s that the teen committed suicide. It was an extreme case, but adult bullying is alarmingly common, especially in the workplace. A national study by the Workplace Bullying Institute showed over one third of American workers have been the target of bullying on the job, 57 percent of them women.
Why People Bully
The American Medical Association defines bullying as “a pattern of repeated aggression” with “deliberate intent to harm or disturb a victim despite apparent victim distress” and characterized by a “real or perceived imbalance of power.” Bullying can be physical, involving violence or destruction or theft of personal property; relational, involving exclusion or rejection from a social group; and verbal, including teasing, name-calling, berating, or threatening, in person or over other forms of communication, like the Internet.
Bullying is about control and often starts in childhood. Studies have shown that bullies frequently come from homes with either overly permissive or overly harsh discipline styles.