The definition of bullying is a simple one, says Kim Morrow-Bell, program coordinator for the Child Abuse Treatment Program (CHAT) offered by the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, Inc., in Van Nuys.
“Bullying is an intentional repeated act that is unwanted and is used to intimidate and demean,” said Morrow-Bell, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“Bullying involves power and control,” Morrow-Bell said. “Being bullied at school has a larger audience than being bullied at home or work, typically. Since a school affords a larger audience, it may be more prevalent in that setting.
“But oftentimes, the school bully is the actual victim of bullying in the home. Typically, the victim at home does not have a voice and is disrespected repeatedly while being made to feel inadequate, unwanted or possibly even unloved. That same individual can go to school and become strong by the amount of laughter that is gained by one simple insult.”
Morrow-Bell, who spoke with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol via email, said bullies in the workplace often operate from a position of power and control. But their need to be bullies may also be driven by fear — the fear of being found out that they are not as valuable as they believe they should be, she explained.
“Work bullies use intimidation, even if they are afraid of someone who is smarter, better, or more creative,” Morrow-Bell said.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a campaign founded in 2006 by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in response to the need to raise awareness. Bullying has been historically viewed as “a childhood rite of passage,” and it was believed that bullying “made kids tougher.”
The reality is that bullying has devastating effects on kids, including school avoidance, loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression.
About 20% of students ages 12-18 nationwide have experienced bullying, according to the website StopBullying.gov. Students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied said they thought those who bullied them:
— Had the ability to influence other students’ perception of them (56%);
— Had more social influence (50%);
— Were physically stronger or larger (40%) and;
— Had more money (31%).
This is not something that’s merely “trending.”
“Bullying has existed for many decades, and unfortunately will not be eradicated without a concerted effort to change the way in which society responds to bullying,” Morrow-Bell said.
“When I was a child, bullying was not something that was taken seriously. It was minimized, and the victim of bullying was told to ignore the behaviors. Unfortunately [today], children are responding differently; they are taking their own lives, engaging in other self-harming behaviors, and engaging in substances to numb the impact of bullying.”
On its website, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) says it is committed “to providing a safe and civil learning and working environment,” and that it takes “a strong position against bullying, hazing, or any behavior that infringes on the safety or well-being of students, employees, or any other persons within the District’s jurisdiction or interferes with learning or the ability to teach.”
And while the district prohibits retaliation against anyone who files a complaint or participates in the complaint investigation process, all student and personnel matters — including any disciplinary actions — are considered confidential.
Actions that can include spreading rumors of lies, threatened with harm, being left out or ostracized, or having one’s personal property destroyed is one reason why, Morrow-Bell said, it is “extremely difficult” to break the cycle of bullying in schools “because it has its own culture within the schools and most kids will not report bullying in fear of retribution or being stigmatized.”
Bullying does not have to be done “in-person” to have a devastating effect, the therapist points out.
“Cyberbullying and the use of electronic devices is the quickest way to bully an individual,” she said. “Cyberbullying is pervasive. Cyberbullying, unfortunately, affords the bully the ability to torment or have access to someone literally every second of the day without ceasing. Cyberbullying does not allow the individual to have a break from the bullying and it can reach a multitude of people by one click.”
While there may have been a dip in cyberbullying when there were no students attending schools, having students back in the classrooms again offers bullies new or more potential targets.
Prior to cyberbullying, Morrow-Bell said, victims might have a respite at home. However, by being online, the victim cannot escape the bullying. “And the average teen spends 6 to 8 hours online, and will refuse to report cyberbullying in fear of losing online access.”
Some families enroll bullied children and teens in self-defense or boxing classes. At least the victim, in theory, has a better chance to protect themselves from physical harm.
But does it get to the actual root of the problem?
“I cannot decide what works for any particular family. I think it is a personal choice,” Morrow-Bell said. “However, I am acutely aware that parents are fearful of the impact of bullying on their child. Families are losing their child or children to bullying and they are desperate.”
“Bullying will be prevented when the consequences are so severe and significant that the gains of bullying are removed,” Morrow-Bell said.
The CHAT program provides short-term trauma treatment and related services to children under 18 years of age who have been a victim of a crime, and can offer comprehensive treatment to children in the client’s preferred language, regardless of insurance and documentation status. It is open Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and appointments can be made for evenings For more information or to make an appointment, visit www.movinglivesforward.org/program/caring-for-kids-child-abuse-treatment-chat-program/
If you have been bullied or know someone who is, you can also call the center’s Bullying and School Violence Advocacy program at 1-866-BEAHERO (1-866-232-4367) for more information and assistance.
Facilities for Anti-Bullying and Mental Health Services
San Fernando Valley
Community Mental Health Center, Inc.
16360 Roscoe Blvd.,
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Valley Family Center
302 S. Brand Blvd.
San Fernando, CA 91340
San Fernando Mental Health Center
Balboa Medical Plaza
Balboa Blvd, Suite 100
Granada Hills, CA 91344
West Valley Mental Health Center
20151 Nordhoff St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
You can also seek help via the LA County 24/7 Helpline, (800) 854-7771.