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Bullying and Suicide - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bullying and Suicide

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

Channel 11/TXA 21, March 31, 2010

A teenager in Joshua, TX committed suicide over the weekend after many years of bullying by peers. Thirteen-year-old Jon Carmichael reportedly took his own life due to a longstanding pattern of being bullied by classmates leaving North Texans asking how this could happen.

Here are the specifics of bullying:

Bullying is most definitely increasing with up to 30% of students reporting that they are involved with bullying in some way (either as the bully, the victim or bystander). As we see in this tragedy, the devastating consequences of bullying can be deadly. In addition, two out of three school shooters report being chronically bullied in school.

Here are the characteristics of bullying:

Intentional Harm: Bullying in childhood is an aggressive form of intimidation that marginalizes the best of children while deeply scarring them psychologically. It is a repeated attempt to harm and to emphasize a humiliating imbalance of power and influence.

Bullying Begins Early: Research reports that almost 34% of students that reported being frequently bullied were in elementary school.

Middle School Peaks: Bullying increases during transition periods such as moving from elementary to middle school.

Group Bullying: Bullying is usually a group activity. Studies show that a single child does not usually victimize kids. Bullying involves both active and passive participation by a group. The kids adopt a mob mentality as they team together to ridicule or emotionally torture another child.

The question everyone is asking is why a child would begin bullying others in the first place:

Modeling their Parents: They are often victims of physical and emotional bullying at home and have parents who have problems with anger and self control. They identify with the aggressor and inflict pain to establish internal self-control.

Intimidation and Revenge Justified by Parents: Parents who lack a moral compass and inflict pain deliberately on others in any way (including bullying in business, in social settings, at the mall, etc.) are more likely to have children who view bullying as a justified behavior. Family values that include rudeness, intimidation of others, revenge, character assault of others or deliberate treachery create children who are much more likely to engage in bullying.

Self-Centered Kids: Lots of kids have difficult parents and don’t go out in the world hurting others. Many bullies are choosing their heinous behavior out of their own self-centeredness and delight in hurting others. They literally lack a conscience and are in deep psychological trouble.

Bullies Know Difference Between Right and Wrong: The research about bullies reveals that most of the time they know exactly what they are doing. They understand the differences between right and wrong and commit the act anyway. They will lie, cheat and steal to avoid punishment and are deceptive with others. Although some studies suggest that around 40% of them have some mild empathy, another 40% are indifferent to the suffering of their victims and 20% actively enjoy the intimidation and control.

Now we are seeing a new trend with the advent of social media and the age of the internet: cyber bullying.

Anonymous Bullies: The common denominator of all bullying is the intentional act to inflict pain on another person. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet is ideal for such vicious behavior. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, one third of students are targets at some point.

Cyber Bullying Turns Dangerous: Most of the time, cyber bullying involves gossip and rude comments that do not express direct intent to harm. Around 50% of online bullies report that they inflict such cruelty “for fun” and to “teach the target a lesson.” However, a study published in 2006 reported that 12% of teens were physically threatened online and 5% actually feared for their physical safety.

What about the long-term effects of bullying?

All Kids Are Harmed by Bullying: The long-term effects of bullying for each participant can be severe with protracted trauma, depression and resentment stretching into the adult years.

Three Victims: Words are weapons and psychological harm can be as severe or worse than physical wounds. Bullying involves three victims—the bully, the recipient of the bullying and the witnesses to such cruelty.

The Victim, The Bully and The Bystander:

Victims Develop Serious Depression and Helplessness: Victims report more internal problems such as depression and anxiety. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found a significant connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in a review of 37 studies from 13 countries. Bullying victims were much more likely to think about suicide.

Bullies and a Lifelong Pattern of Oppositional Behavior: Bullies have more conduct problems, anger and develop alienation from school and the community. Chronic oppositional behavior is typical of such children leading to a lifetime of hardship.

Bystanders Grow Apathetic and Uncaring: Witnesses become desensitized to the suffering of others and do not take responsibility for allowing such cruelty to occur.

Parents, here’s what you can do about bullying:

Stop Denying: Many adults prefer to view bullying as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please educate yourself about this pattern of trauma and train yourself to recognize it when you see it.

Bystanders Are Key: Research now argues that the bystanders of bullying are one of the vital keys to decreasing this growing problem. Teaching non-bullied kids to speak up, to refuse to be an audience, to label bullying publicly and to go and get help when the situation is out of control are essential steps for parents and teachers.

Believe Your Child’s Perception: Believe your child about bullying. Do not dismiss his perceptions. Adults lose credibility quickly when the child’s perception is rejected or minimized. There are millions of victims who no longer believe that adults are going to protect them and they suffer in silence.

Move from Victim to Survivor: Victims are renowned for responding ineffectively through withdrawal, denial, silence and passivity. Such behaviors “feed” the bully’s control. We need to develop the victim’s talents, social skills, physical coordination and assertive abilities. He needs to be reassured that adults will take his complaints seriously and that he must report harassment. These are teachable skills and they increase self-confidence exponentially.

For More information about Dr. Sylvia, please go to


American Academy of Pediatrics

Bullying and Teasing: Social Power in Children’s Groups, Gayle Macklem, Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003.

Cowie and Wallace (2006)

Patchin, J.W., and Hinduja, S (2006) Bullies move beyond the schoolyard: A preliminary look at cyber bullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4, 148-169.

Swearer, S., Espeleage, D. Napolitano, S. Bullying: Prevention and Intervention, 2009

Vossekuil, B., Fein, R.A., Reddy, M., Borum, R and Modzeleski, W (2002) The final report and findings of the safe school initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Washington, D.C: U.S. Secret Services and U.S. Department of Education

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