According to the American Psychological Association, “Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentional and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions. The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to ’cause’ the bullying.”
Bullying is a very durable behavioral style, largely because bullies get what they want. Moreover, bullying is a learned behavior. In other words, bullies aren’t born bullies. Typically, a person who bullies others learns that behavioral style at an early age.
There are girl bullies and boy bullies, but the one who ends up most hurt by bullying is the bully. Without proper intervention, child bullies usually grow up to be adult bullies, who wreak havoc in their relationships and in the workplace.
Thankfully, not all children learn to be bullies and proper parenting plays a large role in helping a child learn proper conflict resolution skills. It is well documented, for example, that children who are allowed to play freely with their peers learn best from their experiences and these problem solving experiences lead to the development of acceptable, healthy social skills. But don’t be fooled by those who try to brush off bullying behavior with inane comments like, “Oh, boys will be boys” or “She’s so cute, she’s a little dominatrix like her mother.”
Just how serious is the problem of bullying?
Hara Estroff Marano published an article titled, “Big Bad Bully” in which she tells of a a 15 year-old in Cherokee County, Georgia who grew tired of being teased. Finally, he shot himself to death in front of his classmates. He simply walked to the front of the class room and pulled the trigger. This is serious business and like the multitude of incidents before him, the tragedy of this young man’s death fell relatively silently into the history of repeated similar stories throughout the country.
Estroff Marano points out startling research findings from around the world which indicate the following similarities in bullying incidents:
- Bullies are a special breed of children. The vast majority of children (60-70 percent) are never involved in bullying, either as victims or perpetrators. Early in development, most children acquire internal restraints against such behavior. But those who bully do it consistently.
- Their aggression starts at an early age.
- It takes a very specific set of conditions to produce a child who can start fights, threaten or intimidate a peer, and actively inflict pain on others.
- Bullying causes a great deal of misery to others, and its effects on victims last for decades, perhaps even a lifetime.
- The person most hurt by bullying is the bully himself, though that’s not at first obvious, and the negative effects increase over time.
- Most bullies have a downwardly spiraling course through life, their behavior interfering with learning, friendships, work, intimate relationships, income, and mental health.
- Bullies turn into antisocial adults, and are far more likely than non-aggressive kids to commit crimes, batter their wives, abuse their children and produce another generation of bullies.
- Girls can bully too. But, their aggression has been vastly underestimated because it takes a different form. It involves a far more subtle and complex means of meanness than the overt physical aggression boys engage in.
Bullying is a unique form of abuse that involves repeated acts over time. The bully’s motivation comes from their desire to create or enforce their power over another person. The link between bullying and school violence has attracted attention since the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School. Subsequently, a report released in 2002 by the U.S. Secret Service concluded that bullying played a significant role in many school shootings and that all efforts should be made to eliminate bullying behavior.
How can I spot a bully before it’s too late?
Here are a few factors that parents and teachers can look for in identifying a potential bully:
- Their family of origin has a history of threatening, intimidating, aggressive behavior.
- The child shows little or no consideration of the feelings of others.
- He or she likes to use others as a scapegoat for behaviors.
- the child has tantrums or rage in front of peers which include screaming, shouting, threatening, or name-calling.
- besides engaging in excessive fighting and intimidation of others, the child takes away objects or destroys objects that belong to others.
What about the child who has been bullied?
A young person who has been the victim of a bully often shows symptoms of depression, anxiety, poor self-image, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or ideations. Relief is certainly available for the child or teen who has been the victim of bullying that can alleviate the anguish that it causes. One of the most effective therapies in addressing the emotional distress caused by bullying is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches the young person to better understand their thoughts and feelings in relation to the situation and how their thoughts and feelings influence their actions in regards to bullying.
What can be done to help the bully?
Early intervention can also have a significant effect on restoring a bullying child or teen to more acceptable social behaviors. Treatment of these kids requires the counselor to understand the child’s situation and background. Such understanding often sheds light on the motivation for why the bully is resorting to such behavior. A counselor can then teach the child how to identify the emotions they are experiencing (e.g. frustration, anger, jealousy, and insecurity) and offer them positive ways to work through their feelings. Finally, counseling can help a bullying child or teen to practice introspection and understand how their words and actions can cut and leave lifelong scars.