by A. Arao
As young people all over Japan head back to school, many are worried about being bullied and ostracized. Bullying is a horrible experience regardless of who is involved or where it occurs. Numerous longitudinal studies have shown how bullying leads to lower academic achievement, anxiety, depression, and too often suicide. In 2020 the World Health Organisation reported that each year over 100 million young people die as a result of child and domestic abuse and bullying.
Here in Japan in 2020, with the COVID-19 lockdown of schools, 517,163 cases of bullying were reported in Japan with 78.9% of schools reporting incidents of bullying. At the elementary level, 86.4% of schools reported incidents of bullying and the number of students who refused to attend school rose to 196,127.
Though they may mean well, people hold some common misconceptions about bullying. It is important to develop a better understanding of bullying in order to recognize and address it effectively when it happens.
“You need to stand up for yourself to the bullies.”
Although some people may feel comfortable doing so, most of those who are bullied have difficulty “standing up for themselves.” Sometimes, those who bully are physically stronger. Often, those who bully often do so with the direct support of other aggressive individuals and/or the indirect support of bystanders. Cultural norms are a significant reason why students have so much difficulty standing up for themselves. Often, bullying behaviors seem to have the support and approval of other classmates as well as teachers and staff.
In Japan, the emphasis on collectivism leads those who are bullied to think of their role in the bullying dynamics, to consider what they can do to avoid being bullied—as if they were participants in their own bullying rather than recognizing that the bullying is something that is being done to them. Moreover, with so many direct and indirect supporters of bullying behavior, it can seem that resources for support and help are limited. Often, people who are bullied withdraw emotionally, cognitively, and physically. It is not surprising, for example, that as incidents of bullying in schools increase, so does the number of students who refuse to attend school (futōkō, 不登校).
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
Another challenge when recognizing and addressing bullying is the fact many bullying behaviors are couched in ambiguous “playing around.” Moreover, many acts of bullying do not leave visible signs. Like other countries in the West, Japanese students also experience direct bullying, and aggressive behavior like fighting, teasing, and name calling. Unlike the West, though, Japanese students experience far greater numbers of indirect bullying—the manipulation of social relationships by gossiping, spreading rumors, or social exclusion. These acts of indirect bullying have a significant psychological impact and for Japanese students in particular, who have been brought up to believe that self-worth is defined by one’s group affiliation, the effects of social exclusion can be particularly devastating.
“Bullying is just a stage that kids go through at school. They’ll be fine.”
This idea used to be commonly held. However, incidents in Norway and Japan in the mid-1980s helped change people’s ideas of just how damaging bullying really is. In both countries, adolescents took their own lives as a result of persistent, severe bullying. Bullying can have long-lasting negative effects. Those who are bullied are at a greater risk of developing mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness as well as leading someone to consider suicide. Experiencing bullying can also lead to lower academic performance, attendance problems, and negative attitudes towards school and social interactions. Recent studies indicate that even after the bullying stops, the effects of what happened can continue for months and years with elevated levels of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. This includes both those who bully as well as those who are bullied. There is growing evidence to suggest that bullying is linked to later dating violence. Some victimized students even report PTSD-like symptoms.
“Bullying happens only at schools.”
With the prevalence of mobile communication technology, phone calls, texts, and social media posts can be used to cyberbully at all hours of the day and night. Bullying behavior now easily transcends the school environment and threatens the privacy and safety of an individual’s home. New technology even allows those who bully to remain anonymous and spread offensive and malicious content to a wide audience. For many who experience such bullying, it can seem like there really is no escape.
“Bullying is not my problem.”
Did you know that teachers can also be bullied? Or that bullying behavior is often carried out in the workplace? Anyone anywhere can experience bullying. It is important to develop a better understanding of how bullying occurs in order to take effective steps to curb and stop bullying. To understand more about bullying and what you can do to stand up to bullying, please look at the information and resources on bullying available on the TELL website.
Together, we can take a stand against bullying.