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Fighting Back Against an Invisible Epidemic: Bullying in Schools and Workplaces

Bullying can occur across the lifespan

Bullying in schools, ranging from elementary to high school, has reached epidemic proportions. But bullying doesn't stop there. Bullying in college, in the workplace, and against minority group members of all ages is rampant. The 2010 suicide of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, after his roommate Internet streamed video of his romantic encounter with another man, demonstrates the tragic outcomes of bullying (the roommate was convicted of a hate crime yesterday).

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article reported that over 40 percent of teenagers have been cyberbullied, but that a majority of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) youth report being bullied (and it's believed that this is underreported). It doesn't get any better in college, as a majority of students, particularly those joining clubs, sports teams, and student organizations, report being hazed (9 Youngstown State University students were indicted yesterday for fraternity hazing).

I've written before on workplace bullying, which also occurs in epidemic proportions (in one survey 37% of workers - 54 million Americans - report that they have been the target of bullying at work). So bullying doesn't stop in the teen years, but can continue throughout the lifespan.

What is being done about the bullying epidemic, and what can be done?

Awareness. Most people are surprised by the huge incidence of bullying in schools and workplaces. Many people try to rationalize it by arguing that "trivial" instances of teasing are labeled "bullying," but that only minimizes the problem. Bullying is a real problem that can ruin people's well-being, their lives, and can lead to suicide. It is important that we make this invisible epidemic visible.

Policies & Practices. High-profile cases of bullied teens' suicides, and now the instances of college bullying and hazing, are leading many schools to develop anti-bullying policies. I've reported elsewhere that many countries have legislated against workplace bullying, and the US may be on that trajectory, albeit slowly. Schools and organizations need to clearly state that when it comes to bullying there is zero tolerance.

Change Our Mindset. We need to rethink our attitudes toward bullying, and incivility in general. As parents, we need to ensure that we are not encouraging teasing and bullying behavior in our children. We need to support anti-bullying programs in our schools and workplaces. We simply need to be more respectful and tolerant of others, and of others' differences. I find it ironic that the time, money, and energy spent on trying to stop gay marriage, is many times greater than the resources devoted to protecting LGBT persons from bullying.



Gary Namie & Ruth Namie (2009). The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (2nd ed.), Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.


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