Bullying: The Who, What, When And Why

Bullying and its offshoot, cyberbullying are two terms, which carry heavy weight.  Since Columbine, Americans are quick to identify what is disproportionately normative behavior in childhood development as something sinister in its origins.  With the advent of social media, one phrase misplaced can create a tidal wave of social destruction.  Children are learning about boundaries in a world that cannot contain them.   Before you jump to conclusions that your child may be a victim of a bully or the one busy doing the bullying look for signs that may help point you in the correct direction.


Traditional Bullying: It must be a behavior (physical or verbal) that seeks to harm another with its intent. It must be repetitive and an imbalance of power must exist. The power imbalance could be but is not limited to size, strength, popularity, cognitive ability or age.

Cyberbullying: It is the social media form of bullying.  It can include spreading rumors and sending hurtful or threatening emails, instant messages, or photographs with the intent to cause psychological and eventually physical harm.

Now that we know what it is.  Who is playing the role?

The Typical Bully:

  • A child who has strained relationships with peers.
  • Frequently there is family discord present.
  • He/she may lack the ability to empathize with other’s feelings.
  • He/she may be aggressive and easily frustrated.
  • May exhibit signs of anxiety and depression and low self-esteem.
  • May be friends with others who are considered bullies.
  • May be well-connected.  Enjoys the chance to dominate or be in control.

Children who play the role of bully are more likely to vandalize property, abuse alcohol and other drugs, engage in risky sexual behavior at earlier ages, remain in abusive relationships, and involve themselves in physical altercations.  While the statistics are not encouraging, it is very important we do not throw around the label of bully and victim.  It only works to worsen the scenario and have the one labeled play into the role more prominently.  Something we do not want for either child.

The Typical Victim:

  • A child who struggles socially and may have few friends.
  • A child who may exhibit signs of anxiety and depression.
  • May lack assertiveness.
  • May radiate fear and loneliness.
  • Has frequent health complaints such as headaches, stomachaches, infections and so on.
  • May skip or miss school frequently.
  • Difficulties with sleeping routines and a loss of appetite.

It is important to note that most children who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide.  Bullying alone is not the issue.  Suicide risk is associated more directly to depression, problems at home and trauma history.  Bullying is only one factor.  Certain groups are more at risk of suicidal behavior: LGBT youth,  Alaskan Natives,  Asian-American populations and American Indian youth.  That being said suicide is a real threat for teens globally and schools, healthcare officials and parents should do everything they can to implement and address safety for our children.  If you are concerned about suicide, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Why Does Bullying Appear To Be So Pervasive?

Bullying appears to be on the rise but again our perceptions are somewhat skewed.  The media does a great job at stirring up fears and creating scary scenarios in the minds of parents. The National Center for Education Statistics report 20.8% of children report being the victims of bullying.  Bullying can occur as early as primary school and extend itself through the workplace.  Most bullying behavior peaks in middle school.  When it comes to cyberbullying, Dan Olweus, of The University of Bergen in Norway, has conducted extensive research in the area and has found that cyberbullying occurs less frequently than traditional bullying.  He believes categorically that if we combat traditional bullying then naturally cyberbullying will decrease.  It runs parallel with most adolescent’s concerns.  38% of kids report being upset by cyberbullying but their greater concern lies in bullying that follows them offline. 

The good news: 68% of children report they speak up about being cyberbullied.  This means the door is practically wide open for communication with your child and his/her school if necessary.  Children are letting us know they are worried and when they do it is imperative we do not minimize it but immediately get to the root of the issue and attempt to tease out what is normative behavior and what constitutes a true problem.  For more statistics, check out the Pacers Foundation.

How To Help The Bully and The Victim:

First of all, the reduction in unsupervised free play between children is putting our kiddos at risk.  The more an adult intervenes in social situations beginning at a small age the less the child learns how to navigate and solve social problems.  We have to give our children more freedom and independence to practice their skills.

Secondly, we must hold our children accountable for poor behavior.  Making excuses for our children and continually rescuing them from necessary learning moments teaches our children they are invincible to otherwise predictable social norms.  If your child is corrected by a teacher, step back emotionally from the situation and don’t throw yourself into immediate meetings with school staff for what many times is a benign teachable moment.  Children must know they will be held responsible when they do something wrong.  If not, they are more likely to play the role of bully in social situations.

Dr. Laura Markham has clear advice for parents.

Parents:

  1. Role model compassionate, respectful parenting at home.  If children are treated with respect, they are more likely to recognize disrespect in social spheres and rail against it naturally.  If they are raised in a home of negative language, they may have a harder time deciphering if they are truly being targeted.  Life is confusing enough.  Let’s make it as clear as we can at home.
  2. Teach confidence and assertiveness.  Kids who are assertive are less likely to be the victim.  Remind your child to verbalize their thoughts to a bully – “I want you to call me by my name.”  “It is not okay to put your hands on my body.”  “Hands off.”
  3. Teach basic social skills.
  4. Role play at home with your children BEFORE bullying occurs so they are better equipped to handle the situation.
  5. Build a connection with your child.  Lonely children are more likely to be bullied.  Parenting is 80% connection and 20% guidance.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Advice for the kiddos.

Kids:

  1. Ignore the bully.
  2. Label the bully’s negative behavior and ask them to stop.  Example: “You are telling me I am stupid.  That is mean.  Please Stop!”
  3. Agree with the offender.  If the offender tells you, “Hey, Four Eyes!” Just come back with, “Yep, I have poor eyesight.”  Or if they say, “Hey, You are stupid.”  You can retort, “Yes and I am good at it.” When you agree with the offender you take away their power and the bully loses.
  4. Buddy not bully.  Buddy up with a friend in hallways.  Strength is in numbers.
  5. Avoid unsupervised areas in the school if you are being harassed.
  6. Communicate with your teacher and make it clear there is a problem.  Let your teacher know it is repetitive and you feel unsafe in school.
  7. Talk to your parents.  They will help advocate on your behalf.
  8. If a student is bullying you; be loud in your response.  Loudly say, “I want you to get your hands off of me.” Or “Please stop calling me names.” Being loud gets the adults attention and the bully does not want the adults attention!

Bystander/Witness:

  1. Intervene. 57% of bullying stops when a peer intervenes. You have the power to do the right thing.
  2. Step in and turn your friend’s back to the bully and state loudly, “The teacher has been looking for you. Let’s go.”
  3. Seek out a teacher if the bullying quickly escalates.
  4. Do not be an audience member.  A bully loves an audience.  Don’t laugh.  Don’t encourage.  Help the victim and walk away.

How To Deal With the Emotions:

As parents we must teach our children that self-esteem and self-respect come from within.  It does not come from the outside.  We can’t look to others to feel better or worse.  We must create that for ourselves.  So when people call us names; we can throw away those names and statements and replace them with what is true.

  • We can have our children write those statements down and throw them away.
  • We can help our children journal through their feelings.
  • We can put down the technology and connect with our child so they know we are here to listen attentively to their needs.
  • We can encourage our children to build healthy relationships. Bullying occurs often between “friends.”
  • We can find a skill our child loves and help him/her develop it whether it be academics, animals, arts or sports.

As parents and leaders, we must have compassion not only for the victim but for the bully.  We must work as a community to help all of our children, who are struggling no matter their place on the spectrum of social behavior. Focus on being a Buddy not a Bully.