The Bully Cycle and the Vulnerable
Intuitively it makes sense. Those with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their general education peers; however, a recent study published in the Journal of School Psychology found that those with disabilities are also more likely to be the perpetrators of bullying than their general education peers. The authors hypothesized that this cycle of bullying begins with the victimization of the student with a disability. This was especially true for students with disabilities that are easily identified. Because they are the victims, they then have a need to regain power and engage in bullying behaviors themselves. The problems are exacerbated in groups and when no bystander intervenes. This unfortunately shown through the terrible viral YouTube video of the elderly bus aide being bullied by a group of students. Unfortunately, there is no single prescription for this problem. Interventions need to take place at every systemic level. Appropriately funded state laws are a good first step. In New Jersey, we are in our first year of a new Anti-Bullying law, and though the goals are laudable, there were minimal resources put in place to fund the program; therefore, it turned into another unfunded mandate in already cash-strapped school districts. School districts must also develop strong prevention programs. The heart of a good bully prevention targets bystanders. When bystanders are empowered, it makes it very hard for a bully to usurp and abuse that power. Interventions with perpetrators of bullying as well victims are also imperative. This should include meaningful disciplinary interventions for perpetrators of bullying that are not just based on detention or suspension but include some learning or service-based activity.
For those who are chronic victims of bullying and cannot seem to find their way out of the darkness, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Victims of bullying are at higher risk of school failure, substance abuse, drop out, and suicide. This problem is not a new one, and it is not going away anytime soon. My hope is that with adequate attention and intervention, we can minimize these harmful outcomes and empower our children to lead positive and respectful lives.