Did you know that 20 percent of Oklahoma public school students have been bullied on school property and 14 percent have been victims of cyber-bullying (via email, chat rooms, instant messaging, a website, text message, or social media)? Bullying can leave physical and emotional scars that may negatively impact a young person’s well-being into adulthood. October is Bullying Prevention Month and we want to draw attention to the consequences of bullying and share valuable prevention resources for parents, mental health professionals, and educators.

The Centers for Disease Control defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, involving an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.” This includes spreading rumors, making threats, attacking either physically or verbally, and intentionally excluding someone from a group.

Youth who are more vulnerable to being bullied include those with disabilities, learning differences, cultural differences, or sexual or gender identity differences.

The harmful impact of bullying affects victims, as well as those who witness bullying and those who bully. They may experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse, poor attendance and performance in school, and social problems. Some may become involved in interpersonal or sexual violence.

Bullying victims and perpetrators are also at an increased risk for suicidal ideation and behaviors, especially when other risk factors are present. Teaching youth coping and life skills can help them prepare for life’s challenges. The CDC reports that youth who possess the skills to cope with difficulties in a healthy way and solve problems peacefully are at a lower risk to bully or be a victim of bullying, and for suicide. The key is focusing on positive and empowering messages that build a young person’s resilience and foster acceptance of differences in others and themselves.

Want to learn more? The Oklahoma State Department of Education website offers a wealth of bullying prevention and information resources.