Behind Bullying


Dylan Heimert

With social media becoming increasingly popular over the past decade, cyberbullying has become one of the most common forms of bullying.

The connection between a bully and their victim is like no other. It is filled with hateful, hurtful and harmful behavior that makes people feel powerless. Bullying goes beyond the surface of what some may see or hear in the hallways or what they scroll through on social media; it is damaging mentally and emotionally.

Defining Bullying and its History

Mr. Greg Loika, a social worker at LHS, described bullying as a “power-based interaction where someone’s doing something that causes harm to someone else” or “something that impacts someone else’s world in a way that there’s a power difference between them physically, socially, age-wise, whatever that one person is discerning over another.”

Principal Dr. Tom Koulentes had a similar position. He stated, in an email, that, “There are many definitions, but I use the one taught to me by national expert Barbara Coloroso.  According to her, bullying is not about anger; it is an act of aggression targeting someone considered to be inferior in some way. A relationship is considered bullying when there is an imbalance of social or physical power between two people and when the more powerful person uses this power to physically, mentally or emotionally harm or terrorize the weaker person.”

Bullying has taken many forms over the years. There are numerous references of bullying and violence in old literature and history. Examples include the capture and subsequent enslavement of several groups of people in the Bible and Gilgamesh’s oppressiveness in Epic of Gilgamesh.

The abundance of persecution and oppression of various peoples can be seen in history and modern times as well. Jews, among other minority groups, suffered unimaginable pains in the Holocaust; gay marriage still isn’t legal in several countries; and just last year, gay men were tortured and beaten in concentration camps in Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia, as reported by several news outlets, including BBC News, The New York Times and The Huffington Post.

On an individual level, many may picture the classic big, strong bully beating up the weak underdog in a back alley, or may imagine teenagers gossiping and spreading rumors, or think about a bully knocking someone’s books to the ground with people mocking in the background. However, more recently, this stereotypical bullying has evolved into cyberbullying and passive-aggressive comments online. This could be subtweeting, leaving rude comments on a person’s post or taking pictures or videos without permission and sharing them with people.

“I think something that really plays a factor [in bullying] is just the pressure of social media and bullying online. Maybe it’s not [directly] calling names, but just the competition of, ‘I need to have the best Instagram feed’ or ‘If I post this picture is someone going to judge me?’ I feel a lot of times it doesn’t let people be themselves and express who they really want to be,” said senior Lauren Kavathas, an active member of the club Random Acts of Kindness

Students may think that just because they don’t see bullying happening often in the hallways, it doesn’t exist. But modern-day bullying happens in more invisible ways, like on social media or harassment over text messages.

Social media has played a critical role in this new generation of bullying. People can hide behind their screens and cause just as much harm, if not more, as they could in person.

Keyboard cowards are everywhere and sitting behind a screen at home gives the online bullies the feeling of safety as they keystroke their way toward making someone feel bullied,” said Assistant Principal Mr. Eric Maroscher in an email.


Effects of Bullying

LHS is just as susceptible to bullying as any other school, suggested Dr. Brenda Nelson, the prevention and wellness coordinator.

“I don’t think that LHS is significantly different, better or worse, than other places,” she said.

Statistics from the Illinois Youth Survey in 2016 show that 14 percent of respondents at LHS — 229 total students — reported that they have been bullied, harassed, or had rumors spread about them on the internet or through text message. This same survey showed that nearly 25 percent of students have seen or been a part of bullying.

This bullying, even when it doesn’t happen in person, can create an environment that makes both students and teachers uncomfortable in a place where they should feel secure and safe.

“I think anytime someone doesn’t feel good or safe in an environment, whatever that is, in this case, school, an academic environment, [it] impacts learning, impacts the environment in which other people are learning [and] the environment in which teachers are teaching in,” said Mr. Loika.

While the extent of the effects of bullying will obviously vary, there are always repercussions. After talking to multiple students of different genders and grades in the cafeteria to get their thoughts on this subject, some said bullying made them “cry at night,” “made [them] feel really put down” or “made [them] feel less than [they] actually [were].” There are other students who believe that “if anything, it just made [them] stronger.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who experience bullying can suffer from anxiety, depression and sleep difficulties. Also, people who get bullied or are a bully are more likely to develop mental health and behavioral problems.

There is a strong connection between bullying and suicide, although the majority of people who are bullied do not become suicidal, according to a bullying prevention website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The site added, however, that being bullied can lead to feelings of rejection, isolation and exclusion, which can make people have suicidal thoughts or actions.

“Bullying can have long-lasting effects, which can lead to changes in brain functioning. It can lead to cognitive and emotional deficits.  Bullying can alter levels of stress hormones and research in animals and people shows how this can affect brain function,” said Dr. Marisa Kunz, a local therapist from Grand Oaks Behavioral Health in Libertyville. “Studies have shown that those who are victims of being bullied have shown abnormal levels of cortisol (a hormone related to stress) compared to their non-bullied peers.”

In addition, “The brain of the actual bully has been studied and shown that the centers of the brain that are associated with reward and pleasure are activated when the individual engages in aggressive behavior or acts aggressively towards others,” said Dr. Kunz.


Prevention Efforts at LHS

Despite the hidden nature of bullying in today’s society, there are ways to prevent further bullying.

LHS has a bully report system through its website for students to report bullying they been a witness to or a victim of. The individual making the report may remain anonymous if they choose. The report, filed through a Google Form, features a series of questions relating to the incident, like when and where it happened.

The most commonly reported issues are actually peer conflict issues, which are somewhat different than a bullying issue.  So that as an aside, the most common types of bullying reports we get are students, in general terms, being mean to other students,” said Mr. Maroscher, who sees the submissions along with other building administrators.

In addition to the option through the LHS website, one potential way of preventing bullying is for students to tell someone in their LST what they saw or experienced. Prevention efforts can also be as confrontational as being verbal to the bully and telling them to stop.

“Take your role as bystander seriously. I think sometimes people only think, ‘I’m one person,’ like, ‘What do I really matter? How can I really help this problem?’ [But they] are very significant. What it takes [to stand up to bullying] is for people to say, in a moment, ‘Hey, that’s not ok,’” said Dr. Nelson.

Dr. Koulentes added that “students can be allies to students who are being targeted by bullies, helping those students find comfort, support and the guidance of caring adults.”

We say that ‘Hate has no home at LHS.’ We are saying that hate speech, bullying and overt or subtle actions of violence and intimidation towards individuals or groups of people will not be tolerated or accepted at our school,” he said.

Starting next year, every student will be exposed to a new program called Green Dot. Green Dot is a schoolwide movement to teach about bullying and how to be an effective bystander. In the past couple of months, teachers have begun training and learning about this new movement. Next fall, students will begin class modules to learn more about the program in order to become effective bystanders.