There are massive differences between the primary school bully and the high school bully and in fact the whole nature of teasing and bullying changes drastically. None of the methods which worked with the primary school bully will work here.
High School bullies are generally more verbal and less physical than their primary school counterparts but some bullies become physical within minutes of provocation. The age, and usually greater size, of these bullies means that when they do decide to become physical, they can do a lot of damage. It also doesn't help that bullies are usually not alone.
High school physical abuse moves from having the potential to injure in primary schools to having a slim but increased chance of fatality.
In male bullies, verbal abuse in high school tends to move away from the obvious physical features such as nose size or skin colour which were the target in primary school. Instead, bullying moves into more damaging psychological territory, questioning sexual orientation, intelligence and fashion sense.
That's not to suggest that physical appearance based bullying disappears. It doesn't - and in fact, it may become more intense. The difference is that bullying becomes much more targeted in the teen years and bullies seem to know exactly where their victim's self esteem weak points are.
Female verbal abuse is far worse than male abuse. Females tend to form cliques (tightly knit social groups with singular communication). The cliques effectively transform a group of taunting voices into a single, much more powerful one. Cliques also tend to last for the remaining years of school and often continue into adulthood.
Typical female categories range from appearance to sexual behaviour and while it's uncommon for physical abuse, it's not unheard of.
Arguably the worst two female bullying techniques are exclusion and rumour-mongering. In exclusion, a female is excluded from various activities, parties, sports and outings. Various excuses are given but most center around the victim's incompatibility with a specific ideal. Appearance, voice, social status and even simply the brand name of their clothing is attacked.
There's no point in rushing around trying to purchase the right brand of clothing in these instances. Once you're a target, you tend to stay a target. Even if you manage to satisfy one criteria, the bullies will quickly find another standard that you fail to measure up to.
This is a usually speciality of female abuse but one of the signs that a "new age of male sensitivity" is upon us is the increasing incidence of this amongst males. Rumour-mongering occurs when a clique makes up a particularly nasty rumour about an individual. For example; that they have slept with half of the boys in the school, that they have a particular STD or that they have some unseen deformity. The clique then ensure that the rumour reaches the widest audience possible before they begin teasing their victim.
One of the worst things about rumour-mongering is that it has the potential to turn non-bullies into bullies. When people hear strange rumours they often can't help their reaction and depending on how they internalise it, they may not look at a person in the same way again. By doing this, they become bullies whether they mean to or not.
It often starts with a week or so of "funny looks", gestures and comments from people which will make the victim feel very uncomfortable but won't provide any framework. The victim won't know why they are suddenly a target of the whole school. When the teasing really starts, it comes from all sides at once and as victim is usually the only one who is completely oblivious to their supposed actions, they are unable to defend themselves or deny the allegations.
Some of the most important lessons that parents can teach their children are;
Don't believe everything you hear
Don't pass judgement on others
Rumour-mongering is one of the worst and most destructive forms of bullying. Unfortunately, it's usually also the one kind of bullying which slips under everyone's "radar" and isn't addressed until it is too late.
The Risks of Non-Physical Abuse
One of the greatest things about physical abuse is that it leaves cuts and bruises. If your child comes home from school with physical evidence on them, you can question them about bullying. You can present that evidence to the school and you can have it dealt with.
Non-Physical abuse is so much worse simply because there are often no visible scars. You may have a "sullen child" who retreats to their room after school and doesn't talk much at the table. Unfortuantely, this doesn't distinguish them much from normal teenagers. Unless you talk to your children in depth about their day, you simply won't know that there is a problem.
As you can imagine, injuries need to be treated. You know what would happen if you didn't deal with the physical trauma which comes from bullying. Those wounds would become infected and wouldn't heal. Similarly, if you don't deal with the bullying itself, then those wounds are going to be continually re-opened with each new bout of bullying.
The same thing happens with non-physical trauma. Each instance of bullying creates a mental wound which if untreated will be continually re-opened and will eventually scar the individual for life. Non-physical abuse is far, far more dangerous than physical abuse and at its extremes it results in suicide or in major lashouts such as some of the revenge-based shooting incidents at schools in the past few years.
Even at the less extreme end of the scale, physical based abuse can turn otherwise good members of society into vengeful and angry people. It can create individuals with major self esteem problems and it can start a chain of abuse that may perpetuate itself for generations.
Non-physical abuse must be dealt with at least as severely as physical abuse.
Dealing with High School Bullying
It's much harder to deal with high-school bullying than primary school bullying because those bullies are older, are less easily intimidated and are usually more careful about hiding their involvement. The victims are also often less inclined to speak out because by then they know that the system affords them little protection.
Some of the best methods for dealing with High School Bullying include;
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Get out of the playground and the cafeteria. Spend your time in quieter, safer surroundings such as libraries. You can do this by becoming a library monitor.
- Safety in Numbers
You don't have to be super-smart to join a nerd clique. They're not always about people who love mathematics. Sometimes you just need to like Sci-Fi and sometimes all you need to do is be nice to them and hang out with them. Bullies prefer to pick on individuals and will usually ignore a nerd clique.
- Backup Friends
Have backup friends who don't go to your school. Scouts are a good example of this. If things turn ugly at school then at least you'll have a group to fall back on.
- Parental Involvement
This point is for parents. Don't go to the school to "sort the bullying out" and don't try to give your child crazy advice about making friends, sucking it up or hitting back. Instead, you need to simply try to be there for your child. Take them out alone, listen to them, treat them like adults and help them to build up their self esteem. There are times when you might just be their only friends in the world so don't let them down.
Next time I want to look at bullying outside the school and particularly online.