The evolution of the school bully

The school bully has adapted to our modern world. With advances in technology making us ‘more connected’ to one another, bullies now have better access to their victims than ever before. Social media and online forums allow cowardly bullies to do their dirty work from behind the safety of their screen, even anonymously if they so wish.

A recent study found one in four Australian students aged 10-15 are being bullied at school at least once every few weeks. This same study found that more than 80% of these bullied students were being additionally bullied online, an issue known as cyberbullying. Unfortunately, it has been reported that nearly half of all teenagers have been victimised by cyberbullying at some stage. A common example of cyberbullying is when someone says something humiliating about another person on Facebook, or when someone spreads hurtful rumors about a person through Twitter.

When a child or adolescent is being bullied the most common and influential psychological effects are low self-esteem, bad mood, and a feeling of loss of control. Sadly, victims of bullying are more likely to experience mental health issues in adulthood and are at a higher risk of later drug abuse and physical health problems. Children and adolescents who are being bullied often feel guilty, believing it is somehow their fault. They typically feel powerless and trapped in their situation, unaware of their options to change the situation. Tragically, there are also cases of children taking their lives due to being bullied. The public case of primary school student Ryan Halligan in the United States raised awareness of this issue when he took his life in 2003.

Ryan was 10 years old when he was picked on by schoolmates. He initially tried to ignore the harassment, but had little success. On and off he was harassed for the next two years. He was afraid if he told the school principal about the bullying it would only make things worse. Finding it difficult to cope, Ryan took up kick boxing to learn how to defend himself. He trained every night for at least two hours. He fought back and they stopped for a while. However, Ryan spent a lot of time online and was also being cyberbullied, unknown to his parents. He was being constantly abused online about being gay and not being liked. There was one girl Ryan really liked and he opened up to her about this. However she later called him “a loser” and shared their private messages amongst all his school mates to embarrass him. When Ryan threatened to kill himself someone even wrote that “it’s about time”. Tragically, Ryan hung himself.

To protect yourself and others from cyberbullies the following rules apply:

  • Don’t share private information with unknown people

  • Block, delete or report anyone who is promoting harassing behavior

  • Keep a record of harmful or hurtful messages

  • Set up privacy settings in a safe and comfortable manner

Should you wish to seek professional support from one of our psychologists please contact 9028 4180. We are a small team dedicated to providing excellent psychological treatment and welcome new clients. There are also many useful government services that can assist with problems related to bullying such as Headspace, Beyond Blue or Kids helpline. If you require urgent support, or are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Tom Morley