A colleague of mine who is a licensed psychotherapist was discussing his 13-year-old client with me. The parents brought the boy to therapy because his grades suddenly dropped, and he had become withdrawn and anxious.
The parents suspected that their usually well-adjusted son had started abusing drugs. The therapist assessed the boy and determined he was the victim of bullying. The overlap between bullying and mental health conditions is alarming. Research indicates that children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, health complaints and poor grades. Bullying is also a risk factor for teen suicide.
If two people of similar physical or psychological strength are quarreling or physically fighting, this is not considered bullying. Bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power between a perpetrator and a victim and there are repeated harmful acts, such as name calling, rumor spreading, ostracism, intimidation, hazing, tripping, demanding money, destruction of property, theft, destruction of another’s work, sexual harassment, and assault.
Nationally, about 21% of students, ages 12-18, have experienced bullying. Unfortunately, the Kern River Valley (KRV) is no stranger to this entrenched epidemic, but it has initiated activities to curb this pervasive problem.
For every child who is bullied in the KRV by either a youth or adult, there are as many advocates fighting to put an end to bullying. Brian Polston, a KRV elementary school principal, is one of them. Polston understands that there is no off-the-shelf, copy-and-paste solution that will address bullying.
“We don’t have a bully problem,” Polston said. “We have a cultural problem.”
According to Polston, bullying is a symptom of the larger issue of hopelessness that has long plagued the valley. A 2017 economic report shows that Lake Isabella is one of the most distressed communities in the nation. When residents face continual stress and adversity — due to work burn-out, poverty, financial strain, or lack of job opportunities — a sense of hopelessness can emerge. This climate of despondency can contribute to bullying if people have not learned coping strategies.
To address this, Polston is implementing a process at his schools called “The Leader in Me.” The process gets to the root of bullying by instilling key leadership habits that can help students learn to deal effectively with life.
“We can change the valley if we change its future leaders,” Polston said.
As a local therapist who has witnessed children being harmed by institutionalized bullying that continues today, I find the work by Polston promising. He understands that systemic reform is needed to quell this problem.
Addressing bullying will take a community effort — a total reboot. Pointing the finger at one kid, one parent, one individual will not make bullying go away.
I invite you to be a part of the solution, so let me know how bullying has impacted you and your family. What are the reasons driving people to bully, and how do you propose we stop or prevent it? Leave your comments below.
Resources on Bullying
Below are additional resources from educational and governmental experts. Click on these resources to learn: