What makes you different, makes you awesome.
I’ve said this to nearly every one of the 250,000 people I’ve visited – regardless of age. I think that everyone needs to hear it, especially those who are different by certain societal standards. Why? The simple fact is that targets of bullying behavior are often singled out by what makes them stand out from everyone else. As we grow older, we (hopefully) embrace our heritage, our interests, and our uniqueness. But for kids, trying to “fit in” with their peers can make differences stand out in stark contrast. The adults in their lives have a responsibility to advocate for the different and the bullied. But who are these “at-risk” groups?
In a Journal of Pediatric Health Care article, Gail Hornor notes, “Characteristics that make individuals look different or behave differently from societal norms place them at risk of experiencing bullying.” Here are some common traits that may trigger bullying behavior from others:
- Race – a lack of diversity can cause racial and ethnic targeting
- Gifted & Talented – high ability often differentiates these individuals from their peers
- Religious/Culturally Different – differing backgrounds based on religion or culture
- Introverted/Anxious/Low Self Esteem – quiet, reserved, or shy behavior can imply weakness
- Sexual Orientation – LGBTQ students have some of the highest rates of bullying
- Few or No Friends – new students or those without a peer group are often targeted
- Disability or Illness – physical or cognitive disability or chronic illness can place children at-risk
- Unique Physical Features – obese, underweight, or other outward differentiation can be a reason for being targeted
Being able to identify bullying is an important skill for both kids and adults. For kids in at-risk groups, bullying can be particularly devastating. Many of these individuals don’t have the social capital, self-esteem, or coping mechanisms to effectively rise above being bullied.
Taking the Long View
Many times, society discounts the after-effects of bullying because it’s widely believed that such behavior is “just part of growing up.” But for individuals who are bullied as kids, the fallout can be lifelong. As adults, people who experienced bullying in their youth are more likely to:
- Develop mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression
- Have difficulty trusting others
- Cultivate a solitary existence
- View themselves as weak, sensitive, and/or unintelligent
- Be angry or bitter
- Not live up to their potential
- Be susceptible to further bullying or victimization
Young people in at-risk groups can be especially vulnerable when it comes to bullying behaviors. The long-term effects of bullying necessitate that we, as adults, do our best to be aware and offer support.
Creating an inclusive and supportive school culture can help to reduce bullying behaviors and teach students resilience in the face of adversity. Every student, regardless of their place in the social strata of a school, deserves to feel respected, safe, and supported.