August 15, 2004

Understanding Bullying


 Bullying is so common that a parent might be tempted to see
it as somehow a normal part of growing up. Phrases like “he’s just a big bully”
make bullying seem like a harmless thing. But the reality is anything but. When
bullying takes root in a school, it sets a tone that undermines learning because
every child has to worry about being victimized. It also sets the stage for
continuing violence, as children who were victims sometimes turn on weaker
children or occasionally explode in rage.

Bullying occurs when a powerful child
repeatedly picks on a less powerful one. Boys who bully usually use physical
force and threats, while girls are more likely to taunt and exclude their
selected victims. Bullies take things from their victims–lunch money, toys,
sometimes even articles of clothing–but mainly what they’re after is what they
might consider to be respect. They want to be known as strong, powerful, and
tough. Some children become bullies in reaction to harsh discipline at home,
others out of fear, and still others because bullying brings them
status.In order to increase their power, bullies often gather a group of
followers. They control these cronies by giving or removing approval. Anyone who
steps out of line may end up being picked on himself. In a sense, bullies are

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About 1 child
in 10 is a victim of bullying. In general, these children are different in some
way–either physically unattractive, shy, or simply vulnerable. They usually
have few friends. Many of them report feeling isolated and depressed. Their
bodies ache, not only when they have been physically hurt, but also as a sign of
emotional distress.They often avoid school, developing what is sometimes
called “school phobia.” Like the bullies, they are at risk for suicide and
suicide attempts. Sadly, some of the school shooters in the late 1990s were
victims of bullies, seeking revenge.

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As a parent,
you can do several things to take effective action against bullying:


  • Teach your child how to stand up to bullies without fighting, and make
    sure she knows that telling an adult about bullying is an act of courage, not
    snitching. For specific suggestions, see href=”,1510,5014,00.html”>bully-proofing
    your child.
  • If your child witnesses bullying, stress that standing by passively is
    not OK. Instead, your child should take the side of the victim and
    report the bullying to a responsible adult. Commend your child for having the
    courage to stand up to the bully and his crowd.
  • Most importantly, teach your child to make efforts to include the victim
    in games and social life. Part of the way bullies operate is by socially
    isolating the victims. Bystanders, working together, can befriend the victim
    and isolate the bully. When schoolchildren do this, bullying decreases
  • If your child is a bully, let him know that the bullying must stop, and
    then make sure that it does.
  • Support efforts by the school to eliminate bullying. Hundreds of schools
    have instituted effective anti-bullying programs. The key to these programs is
    getting everyone in the school–teachers, administrators, and, especially,
    students–to reject bullying and to make sure that every child feels
To learn more about bullying, see also: href=””>Bully Beware is a Canadian
organization that provides a good reading list on its website, including
specific information about anti-bullying campaigns for schools

(courtesy of href=””>


For every victim, there are many
children who are bystanders. They take part in the bullying by laughing,
nervously perhaps, and by keeping quiet about it to adults. They fear that if
they try to protect the victim, they are likely to become targets themselves.
Bullies play to this audience. The bystanders may feel that there is nothing
they can do, but they also often feel guilty because they know that bullying is
wrong and they are letting it happen.

Bullies usually are careful to hide
their actions from teachers. School officials often don’t know the extent of the
problem, and parents may have a hard time believing their children could act in
such a cruel way. Bullying is a problem among children, but it is not reasonable
to expect them to solve it on their own. They need parents and other adults to
take the lead to create bully-free schools and neighborhoods.

color=#000080>What you can do  


Unfortunately, the distorted leadership skills bullies develop
as children don’t serve them well later in life. They are more likely to drop
out of school, lose their jobs, fail in relationships, abuse family members
physically, and spend time in jail. They are also more likely to commit suicide.
This is not to say that every child who has ever been a bully is destined to a
life of aggressive, antisocial behavior. But a child who bullies needs help to
stop, for his own sake as well as his victims’.

color=#000080>The Victim  


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