Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why is Bullying Worst for Asians?

“They were chasing me all year, and hit me in front of my house. I felt very upset and didn’t know what to do.”

“When I came back to school they tried to shoot me with a gun. They showed me a gun and I ran away.”

“The teacher doesn’t listen to us. I feel depressed or afraid to go to school. I have nightmares.”

Unfortunately, the stories of these Burmese refugees are not unusual. Two separate studies, one by the U.S. Department of Education and one by UCLA, have found that Asian Americans endure far more bullying in schools than other ethnic groups. The Department of Education research, which interviewed 6,500 students from age 12-18, found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on.

“This data is absolutely unacceptable and it must change. Our children have to be able to go to school free of fear,” US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a forum on the topic.

The figure was 38.4 percent for African Americans and 34.3 percent for Hispanics. Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers facing some Asian American students. Some in the API community have also commented that this situation also has to do with how Asian parents are raising their kids. Not preparing kids for how to defend themselves, and encouraging non-confrontation have made them easy targets for people to take out their sometimes racist, prejudiced beliefs.

It’s a hard dose of reality, but the truth is that bullying does not stop in the schools. Incidents of hazing in the military, workplace bullying and even bullying of seniors have all taken spotlight recently.

Congressman Judy Chu has requested Congressional hearings on the subject of military hazing and harassment prevention policies, following a series of high-profile hazing incidents, including one that led to the death of her nephew, Lance Corporal Harry Lew, in April of last year.

“The hazing of our nation’s defenders is inexcusable,” said Congresswoman Chu. “These brave men and women volunteer to be placed in harm’s way to protect our country.  They deserve better than to face discrimination or malicious treatment from their fellow soldiers in return.  I know firsthand about the pain a family faces when hazing leads to the loss of a loved one, and it is something no family should have to endure.”

Congressman Chu’s nephew, Harry Lew, was a 21-year-old lance corporal in the Marines, who was found asleep on guard duty in Afghanistan one night last April. After a sergeant announced over the radio that “peers should correct peers,” his fellow lance corporals ordered him to do push-ups, then stomped on his back and legs; poured sand in his mouth; punched him in the back of his helmet; and forced him to dig a chest-deep foxhole. At 3:43 a.m., while crouching in the foxhole, he shot himself in the head.

Lance Corporal Jacob Jacoby, who pleaded guilty to assault in Lew’s case, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and will have his rank reduced to private class. The judge in Jacoby’s court martial said that she found no evidence that the abuse led to Lew’s suicide, even though his death occurred just 22 minutes after the incident.

Understanding how to combat bullying starts with understanding bullying behavior at its earliest stage—this is when it has the best chance of being corrected, during childhood. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, children bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure, and picking on someone different, or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more important, popular, in control. In some cases, bullying is part of an ongoing pattern of aggressive behavior, and these children are unable to manage their anger in an appropriate way. These cases should be identified early so that professional counseling can help them learn to deal with their feelings, curb bullying and improve their social skills.

Other kids bully at school and other settings because they are copying behavior they are seeing in their own homes. People who are exposed to aggressive interactions within their own families often learn to treat others the same way, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle.

It can be difficult for parents to stay on top of bullying behavior that is taking place electronically—although this can be just as vicious. The Department of Education study found that teenagers in Asian communities are three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet. Over 60 percent of Asian American youth reported being bullied online every month. Only 18.1 percent of Caucasian students said the same thing.

Although social networking sites can make teenagers feel as if they are constantly watched by their peers, there is a ray of hope in this social media landscape. Sharing stories and videos online can galvanize supporters outside of a bullied person’s immediate community. For example, the It Gets Better Project, started by Seattle’s Dan Savage, posts videos by high profile celebrities and other LGBT community supporters, including President Obama, which encourage gay teenagers by telling them that life does get better, and to focus on the future.

The documentary movie “Bully” has an online site where parents, teachers, students and advocates can learn more about bullying, download toolkits, and take actions to stop and report bullying.

For more information on bullying, go to:


This story originally appeared in the International Examiner on July 4, 2012.