It is 3:00PM on a Friday afternoon, and the bell rings out through a noisy classroom. Jason makes his way out ignoring all of the snickering and laughing he is sure is at his expense, by continuously reminding himself that the week is over and it is time to go home. As he makes his way to his bike, he is stopped by Ronny. Ronny is the resident bully. He has made Jason’s life a living Hell from day one of school. Today was no different. Ronny both verbally and physically abuses Jason as he tries over and over to get to his bike and depart, but Ronny will not allow it. Finally, a teacher breaks it up, and Jason is able to get on his bike and leave. Today is not a new experience for Jason. This happens every single day, and, unfortunately, Ronny is not the only bully that Jason has to deal with. Bullies make fun of Jason and everyone laughs. In spite of all of this, Jason is in high spirits today because today is Friday, and the weekend will bring some much needed relief… Or so he thought. When Jason arrives home, he gets on his computer and logs into Facebook where the insults and tirades continue. Jason closes his laptop, and the story goes on, but not usually for much longer. This is a harsh reality for a lot of our children in society today. Bullying is an issue we find in all levels of society from elementary school into, sometimes, adulthood. Bullying continues to spread through our society like a cancer and needs to be eradicated by any means necessary to preserve the mental and physical well-being of our youth.
In The Book of Unknown Americans, bullying rears it’s ugly head many times, and gives you a very real look at the long term effects of what bullying can lead to later in life. Garrett Miller is mentally, physically and sexually abusive throughout, from the locker room while teasing Mayor about his legs and throwing his boot at his chest (14), to outside of school to Maribel when he is accosting her up against a wall (121). Garrett can be compared to many bullies in the world, and based upon the ending of this book when we receive our first and only look at his family in the form of his father, we can surmise the reason Garrett is such a bully. With not much information about his father, we’re left to assume a small handful of possibilities. He is intoxicated, he is racist, or he legitimately fears for his life. Knowing, however, who Garrett is, it is likely either—or a combination of—intoxication and racism, and if we were to dive deep into the father’s past, it’s safe to assume that there was bullying in some form that ultimately lead him to this point in his life.
According to Dan Olweus, bullying is a “systematic abuse of power and is defined as aggressive behaviour or intentional harm-doing by peers that is carried out repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power, either actual or perceived, between the victim and the bully.” There are three types of bullying that exist. Verbal bullying, which includes teasing, name calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting and threatening to cause harm. Then there is social/relational bullying. Examples of this type of bullying include leaving someone out on purpose, telling others not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors, or embarrassing someone in public. Lastly, there is physical bullying. Hitting/kicking/pinching, spitting, tripping/pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, making mean or rude hand gestures. While bullying takes many forms, the overall and long-term effects are the same.
The National Institute of Health found in a recent study that “Children who were victims of bullying have been consistently found to be at higher risk for internalising problems, in particular diagnoses of anxiety disorder and depression in young adulthood and middle adulthood (18–50 years of age).” They also went on to further exclaim that “victims were at increased risk for displaying psychotic experiences at age 18 and having suicidal ideation, attempts and completed suicides. Victims were also reported to have poor general health, including more bodily pain, headaches and slower recovery from illnesses. Moreover, victimised children were found to have lower educational qualifications, be worse at financial management and to earn less than their peers even at age 50.” Their study concluded that “Childhood bullying has serious effects on health, resulting in substantial costs for individuals, their families and society at large. In the USA, it has been estimated that preventing high school bullying results in lifetime cost benefits of over $1.4 million per individual.” That means that for every 100 children that we protect from bullying, our country saves $140 million. It is more than surprising that this issue isn’t at the forefront as a major health concern.
It’s January of 2017, Gabriel Taye is an 8-year-old Cincinnati, Ohio resident with a loving family and a luminous future ahead of him. He is an only child of mother Cornelia Reynolds who considers him her “best friend and … first true love” (Jorgensen). Gabriel attends Carson Elementary School and is the victim of multiple elementary school bullies. He lives in fear of the verbal and physical barrage of abuse that comes his way almost daily. On January 24th, 2017, Gabriel is physically assaulted by multiple assailants as viewed by security footage. He is rendered unconscious for more than 7 minutes before he is finally found on the bathroom floor by an adult. This is only after some students poke at him and other students walk over his seemingly lifeless body. After the third adult arrives, the child is helped up and taken to the nurse for medical attention. None of these adults thought to inform Gabriel’s family of the incident. Later in the same day, Gabriel began showing signs of nausea, and was carried to the hospital by his mother. The following day, Gabriel stayed home from school to recover from the incident, and returned to school the day after that. On that fateful day, Gabriel returned home and walked into his room knowing he would never walk out again. He was later found dead after he hanged himself with a necktie. Gabriel’s mother has since filed a lawsuit against public school system in Ohio. While responsibility does rightfully fall on the school, the root of the problem falls on the parents of the children doing all of the bullying.
What lesson can Garrett take from within ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ after seeing what his father does right in front of him to another human being? It stands to reason that children exposed to violence in the home will engage in higher levels of physical bullying. After seeing his father shoot Arturo with a shotgun, Garrett’s fate may be sealed. It can be surmised that the issue of bullying is an issue that begins in the home. Everything from parents turning a blind eye to the negative things their children do, all the way down to the way parents speak to one another in front of their children. Bullying continues to spread through our society like a cancer and needs to be eradicated by any means necessary to preserve the mental and physical well-being of our youth. If we can’t figure out a solution during our time, the next generation will face much larger problems that will disturb the overall nature of our children’s children.
Aspa. “Bullying Definition.” StopBullying.gov, Department of Health and Human Services, 29 Feb. 2012, www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html.
“Common Causes of Bullying.” No Bullying, http://nobullying.com/common-causes-of-bullying/.
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015.
Jorgensen, Sarah. “Video Shows ‘Bullying’ Incident Days before 8-Year-Old Took His Life.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 May 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/13/health/ohio-boy-suicide-bullying/index.html.
Olweus D. Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Wiley-Blackwell, 1993.
Schwarz, Joel. “Violence in the Home Leads to Higher Rates of Childhood Bullying.” UW News, 12 Sept. 2006, www.washington.edu/news/2006/09/12/violence-in-the-home-leads-to-higher-rates-of-childhood-bullying/.
Wolke, Dieter, and Suzet Tanya Lereya. “Long-Term Effects of Bullying.” Archives of Disease in Childhood 100.9 (2015): 879–885. PMC. Web. 18 Sept. 2017.