What are kids saying about violence?
Survey: Emotional abuse a bigger concern than physical
(CNN) -- When most of us think about school violence, we think of tragedies like the one at Columbine High School. But it turns out if you ask kids what they think, it's not physical violence they worry about.
A new survey of 1,000 kids in the fifth through 12th grades found the violence that most impacts their lives is emotional.
A group of suburban Maryland teens cited examples:
"The entire group began to talk about her behind her back," said Cara McAnaney.
"More people started picking on him," recounted Evan Baach. "Until you have the entire grade picking on him."
Patience, Evan's little sister, sees a lot of "putdowns and exclusions from groups and just teasing and bullying".
"I think it's a lot bigger than the physical violence problem," Evan said.
'We're talking about cruelty'
The survey found many kids feel they're in a culture that is -- essentially -- mean.
"We're not just talking about joking and kidding around that sort of thing. We're talking about cruelty," said Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute, New York City-based non-profit organization. The institute conducted the survey.
Twelve percent of the kids surveyed had been bullied five times or more in the past month. And 23 percent admitted they had bullied someone else.
"They said adults will say it's all part of growing up, kids have always been that way," Galinsky said. "Well, the kids said this is a different generation and they said words do hurt and they said it's the little things that lead to the big blow-ups."
Those blow-ups can be violent. The survey did find that 8 percent of those surveyed have been attacked with a weapon. Another 8 percent had also been forced to perform sexual acts.
"That means that in a hypothetical class of 25 children, about two or more of these children might have experienced some sort of extreme violence," Galinsky said.
'It just stays with you'
However, there is no evidence that today's youth culture is any meaner than in the past. But to those who say it has always been around, those surveyed say that doesn't diminish the problem.
"I think people who say what is the big deal I don't think they've been through that dramatic experience themselves," said Halfdan Broch-Due.
His friend Buki Oni agreed. "Once it happens to you, it sticks in your head and it just stays with you for the rest of your life."
And, they say, meanness can even make you mean.
"I think some kids do make that big switch around saying 'This is not how I want to be. I want to be the person basically dishing out all the emotional damage on the other kids to make up for all the stuff that happened to me'," said Bryan Wilkerson.
So what happens if you're not part of the meanness?
"You're the one who normally gets picked on because you don't retaliate," said Bryan.
The survey does suggest ways adults can help.
For starters, the researchers found that size does matter. Smaller schools, large schools broken up into smaller "schools within schools," and higher teacher to student ratios help ease the problem by giving kids more of an identity.
Success has also been found when one teacher is identified to handle the problem and train other adults to deal with emotional cruelty.
And the survey authors say kids are asking for a more civil society. "They're saying help us create a culture where the teasing doesn't get cruel," Galinsky said.
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