The Unlikely Bully

About 77 percent of all students have experienced verbal bullying of some sort. But when asking students about bullies, has anyone ever considered looking at the least likely source: their friends?

Verbal bullying itself is a growing problem in school; the physical fighting of the past is slowly turning into the silent, stealthy, and sinister passing of words. But while many people have been condemning the atrocities of bullying, not very many people are aware that teasing between friends has slowly been breaching the fine line between joking and bullying.

As a current high school student, I can say with utmost certainty that most of the bullying I experience and encounter is from the very same people I call my friends. Recently, I attempted to count how many times either I or another person insulted a friend, whether directly or through a joke, and I ended up losing count. Barbed words are thrown around so casually between adolescents in our modern society that it would almost be impossible for us to go a day without them.

Many don’t realize how much their words can hurt. Friends are teased all the time, but only the victims can voice whether the teasing affects them or not; and more often than not, they remain silent. A snide remark or a mocking comment during casual conversation can seem innocent enough, but constant berating like this from people who are supposed to support you can take its toll. Ridiculing comments can be taken literally and friends can be saddened or even experience depression because they don’t know how to deal with it; how can they stand up to bullies when those bullies are their very own friends?

Teenagers today are facing monumental amounts of stress; sometimes they don’t know how to relieve it and that results in them lashing out at their friends. They avoid their own insecurities by making fun of others, even if it is at the expense of their friends. This causes friendships to break apart because of hurt feelings that aren’t brought out into the open; the tension becomes palpable and people slowly grow apart, often with one side not even knowing what was wrong. This kind of underlying bullying can be disregarded by some as trifling, but it may be the most dangerous of all because of how difficult it is to address and conquer.

So how do we go about tackling a problem that envelopes our, or our children’s, daily encounters? The first step is for the victim to take a deep breath and be honest with the bullies. If any particular comment or tease results in hurt feelings, tell them the moment they say it. It may seem intimidating and they may tease you for speaking up, but at some point you have to stand up. Continue telling them when your feelings are hurt, and don’t let them joke it off or ignore you. If you feel that your environment is poisonous, maybe it’s time to start getting closer to a different group of friends. Also, it’s best to keep in mind everything we say and judge how others can perceive a comment before it is spoken. We don’t always realize how hurtful things can sound when we say them, but at some point we are all part of the problem, from children to adults.

Day to day teasing can either be light banter or harmful harassment. It depends on the receiver of the comments which it is. But if any comment is personally offensive, do the smart thing: speak up.

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