A New Wave of BullyingA New Wave of Bullying

Bullying, which is different from simple conflict, is characterized by an intention to harm, repeated acts of harm and an imbalance of power between the bully and victim. Bullying has changed over the past 50 years. It’s no longer as simple as getting pushed around at the playground during recess. Access to social media like Facebook, smart phones, iPads, and other advanced technology extends the parameters of bullying into a cyber space that is not only poorly monitored, but has also proven difficult to police or censor. Teenagers are so technologically connected that one word, insult, or picture can be spread to hundreds of peers in moments.

There are of course benefits to this connection, but the potential damage has intensified exponentially. The audience is broader. The impact is immediate. It requires no face-to-face engagement with the victim. Technology has made bullying both easier and more devastating.

Bullying has been connected to school shootings, teen suicide and suicide attempts, the development of mood disorders and, most relevant to our work at Center for Discovery, the development of eating disorders. Bullying impacts self-esteem, which can lead to emotional problems, feelings of incompetence, social anxieties and body dissatisfaction.

Bullying Is NOT Victim-Free

Victims of bullying often feel powerless, humiliated, ashamed, isolated, responsible and weak. These feelings make it difficult for the victim to report the bullying and so they may seek acceptance, control, or competence in other ways. Particularly for girls, acceptance, popularity and success are attributed to a particular body type and disordered eating may develop as an attempt to find the acceptance they are not experiencing with their peers. Additionally, eating disorders are often coping mechanisms for teens who find certain emotions intolerable (like powerlessness, rejection, shame). Starving their body, or controlling when food goes in and when it comes out, are ways of numbing the pain, punishment for “deserving” the unwanted attention, and an attempt to take control over when and how they feel.