Toilet bowl swirlies.
Name-calling on the playground.
And the infamous phrase, “Give us your lunch money!”
These are just a few stereotypes attached to a “schoolyard bully.” But with the rise in technology and social media, teens and experts say bullying has become so much more than that.
“I would actually go home and cry almost every night because of what all those mean girls would say,” said Jordan Lujan, a senior at St. Michael’s High School, recalling bullying she experienced for her weight and for being an “outcast” throughout elementary and middle school.
What’s frightening nowadays, she said, is that “kids can hide behind a screen and say the things that they would never in a million years say to someone’s face.”
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 1 in 5 students reported being bullied — either verbally or physically. But what causes someone to behave like a bully?
Bailey Huston, a coordinator with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, said bullying happens for all kinds of reasons.
“Some kids bully because they don’t know how much it’s really hurting the other person, or because they think it makes them look cool,” she wrote in an email. “Others believe that some kids deserve to be bullied because they think they’re weak or unpopular. Sometimes the kid who’s bullying is trying to gain control over someone else because there are other things going on in their life that they can’t control.”
Often, she said, kids who bully also are being bullied.
This cycle has created both child and teenage bullies for years, but recent studies show the methods used to belittle others in 2019 are primarily done behind a screen. According to PACER’s national bullying statistics, the percentage of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetimes has nearly doubled, 18 percent to 34 percent, from 2007 to 2016.
“I think that bullying has gotten different nowadays just because of all the technology that we have in our pockets or hands,” said Britney Lovato, a senior at Santa Fe Indian School.
Bullies have the new ability to, very literally, hide behind a screen. A study from PACER found that only 40 percent to 50 percent of cyberbullying targets are aware of the identity of the perpetrator.
“[People] probably don’t even remember that what they say [online] is extremely hurtful,” Lujan said. “[There is] a human being with feelings probably crying at that same comment on the other side of the screen.”
Still, 90 percent of teens who report being cyberbullied also have been bullied offline, according to PACER. So where online bullying is, offline bullying often follows.
This bullying can trigger self-harm, depression and sometimes even suicide. Students who bully others, are bullied or witness bullying are more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behavior than students who report no involvement in bullying, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Preventing bullying needs to be more important because we need our classmates to not take their own life due to something someone has said or done to them,” Lovato said, noting that suicide rates among teens have increased.
Earlier this year, The New Mexican reported that an 11-year-old girl who had moved from Farmington to Connecticut committed suicide after years of being bullied for being Hispanic. This tragedy brings light to the severity of teenage suicide while proving that bullying is “no light matter,” Lovato said.
While October is National Bullying Prevention Month, Huston said it’s important that schools make an effort to address bullying year-round.
“There is still work to be done so that all students feel safe and supported,” she wrote.
Amber Marbourg, another student at St. Michael’s, said teachers need to handle bullying with serious punishment.
“This is not a small disciplinary matter,” she said. “Students can get serious mental trauma from bullying, so if a teacher sees it, punishment should be a lot worse than a simple detention. Counselors try to ‘talk it out’ with faculty forcing stuff upon them, when in reality that does not work.”
For Lujan, who said she hates to “see people get shot down again and again for just being themselves,” her advice to prevent long-term bullying is to raise awareness on the mental, physical and emotional damage it does: “If the person who is the bully sees what they could have done to somebody, it could deter them from doing it again.”
“What I think is important now is that we be the generation to make an even bigger change in bullying. To be the generation that makes it disappear,” Marbourg said.
Sofia Ortiz is a senior at St. Michael’s High School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.