Bullying is a form of aggressive harassment that cuts across geographic, racial, and socioeconomic segments of society. It is a range of behaviours that include seemingly harmless teasing to threats and actual physical violence.
Why should I be aware of this?
Many believe that Bullying or being Bullied is an intrinsic part of growing up. But such behavior has far-reaching negative effects – both on the victim and on the perpetuator. Young bullies are more likely than those who don't bully to skip school and drop out of school. They are also more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and get into fights. They are also likely to grow into aggressive adults – in fact according to one study, 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school had at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24 (Olweus, 1993).
Bullying is a common experience for many children and adolescents. Surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Studies show that between 15-25% of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency, while 15-20% report they bully others with some frequency.
How does this affect me?
Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as their school performance. Some report having dropping out of school to escape the humiliation of being picked upon. They report feelings of helplessness, fear and a sense that it is somehow their fault. Some victims of bullying have even attempted suicide rather than continue to endure such harassment and punishment.
All about bullying
Boys tend to use physical intimidation or threats, regardless of the gender of their victims. Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Recently, bullying has found a new outlet in online chat rooms, mobile phones and email. Bullies send mean text, e-mail, or instant messages; post unauthorized pictures or messages about others in blogs or on Web sites; or use someone else's user name to spread rumors. Girls are more likely than boys to report being bullied by email and text messages.
Here is a list of behaviours that bullies commonly use
- Punching, shoving and other acts that hurt people physically.
- Spreading bad rumors about people.
- Keeping certain people out of a group.
- Teasing people in a mean way.
- Getting certain people to "gang up" on others.
- Forcing victims to hand over money or possessions.
- Attacking or teasing people because of their religion or colour or sexuality.
For more, see Bullying behaviours
Bullying is present behind all forms of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, conflict and violence. When the bullying has a focus (like race or gender) it becomes racial prejudice, sexual discrimination and harassment etc.
Why kids bully
Family, individual, and school factors all contribute to the development of Bullies. Several child-rearing styles have been found to predict whether children will grow up to be aggressive bullies. A lack of attention and warmth toward the child, together with modelling of aggressive behaviour at home, and poor supervision of the child, provide the perfect opportunity for aggressive and bullying behaviour to occur.
Some individuals are temperamentally inclined to bully. For example, active and impulsive children may be a little more inclined to develop into bullies. Often, boys who are physically stronger than others their age tend to develop bullying tendencies, although of course there are many strong, physically adept boys who never bully.
The extent of supervision in school has a direct bearing on the frequency and severity of Bullying-related problems. If there is adequate supervision of students, a warm and inclusive environment in the class, and teachers who are receptive to student problems, bullying can be easily kept under check.
Here are some of the most common excuses children and adolescents offer for their bullying behaviour –
- They want to be accepted by the smart crowd, and picking on others somehow makes them feel stronger, smarter, or better than their victim.
- They see others doing it. One disturbing study revealed that children whose parents punish them often, find aggressive behaviour validated at home, and thus take to bullying.
- They say it is all in fun, that they are just horsing around.
- They think it is the best way to keep others from bullying them.
The dynamics of bullying is rooted in a power imbalance. A stronger, bolder and more aggressive child typically picks on those who are weaker, shyer and less assertive. Sometimes older students bully younger ones, or senior students bully new students. Sometimes bullies pick on students who are new immigrants or from a cultural/religious minority group. All interventions in bullying of different types -- be it in school, sexual harassment, racial abuse or marital abuse, must take this into account.
Victims also have a typical profile. They tend to be timid, passive, easily intimidated, and in the case of boys, less able to handle the situation than the bully. They tend to lack the correct assertive responses, and do not usually retaliate. Also, they do not normally have too many friends and so are seen as safe targets for bullying.
Signs that your child may be getting bullied
The following signs are small danger signals that could tell you that your child is being bullied. Ask these questions of yourself --
- Is your child coming home with cuts, bruises and/or torn clothes every second day?
- Does he ask for stolen possessions to be replaced?
- Does he frequently lose dinner or pocket money?
- Has he fallen out with previously good friends?
- Does he seem moody or bad tempered?
- Does he seem to avoid leaving the house?
- Is he doing less well at schoolwork?
- Has he become quieter than before?
- Does he have trouble sleeping at night? Or does he wake up with nightmares?
Other than this checklist, look out for one important behavioural change – if your child has begun to show uncharacteristic aggression towards younger siblings or playmates, it could well be a sign that he is a victim of similar behaviour elsewhere.
What can I do?
How to cope with bullying
The best way to cope with Bullying is to not keep it private. Talk about it with parents, peers, colleagues, teachers and friends. In case talking seems difficult, write a note to your parents or teacher explaining what you are going through. Bullies often back off if they realize their victims have allies.
Find an unobtrusive way to tell your class teacher about the problem. If you feel you can not do that, talk to the school counselor or nurse. In case anyone has hurt you, tell a teacher immediately and ask for it to be written down. Make sure you tell your parents. Do not be tempted to hit back, for this would set an unending circle of violence and retaliation in place.
- Try to stay in safe areas of the school at break and lunchtime where there are plenty of other people. Bullies don't like witnesses.
- Try and get a teacher to catch the bullies red-handed. This way, it will be clear to everyone what has been going on, without your having to say so.
- Take judo, karate or other martial art classes to feel stronger and more able to defend yourself if required.
- Build confidence and practice being assertive. The simple act of insisting that the bully leave him alone may have a surprising effect. Remember that they bully’s true goal is to get a response.
When to get professional help
If parents and teachers are both unable to cope with bullies and their victims, they must seek professional help. Parents of victims of bullying need to get proactive when they find evidence of physical violence. Look out for signs that show your child is severely disturbed by bullying -- impaired sleep, falling grades, depression. If you notice any of these in your child, immediately take him or her to a counsellor or a psychiatrist. Also, get outside help if you feel the school authorities are not taking the problem seriously enough.
For parents of bullies, if you receive more than three complaints from school, victims parents or the victims themselves -- it is time to take the problem seriously. Seek professional help to channelise your child's aggression, enroll your child in an energetic sport and if necessary, visit a counsellor or psychiatrist.
What to do if your child is a bully
As a parent, it is important to take the problem seriously. Young bullies develop many related personality issues as they grow older, and may have troubled relationships, criminal convictions and dysfunctional families in adulthood. Here are some things you can do help.
- Maintain a non-aggressive, calm environment at home.
- Talk to your child, his or her teachers and administrators about the problem and assess its seriousness. Remember, a bully will always try to deny or minimize his or her wrong-doing.
- Discuss the negative impacts of bullying with the child, and make it emphatically clear that you will not tolerate this kind of behaviour.
- Work out an effective, non-aggressive consequence to punish the behaviour, like withholding certain privileges (television time, outings, treats etc). Never ever resort to corporal punishment, for it carries the message that "might is right."
- Supervise your child’s activities for some time. Accompany him or her to the park or to soccer games, arrange to drop and pick up from school instead of letting the child come home alone. Ask teachers to keep an eye on the child in school. Mere supervision works well to curb bullying behaviours.
- Work with the school towards modifying your child's aggressive behaviour. Communicate frequently with teachers and counselors to keep tabs on your child’s progress.
- Recognise the efforts your child is making, however small, to improve his/her behaviour. Reward all good behavior with loving hugs and kind words.
- Violence begets violence. So if your child is watching any violent television shows, playing aggressive video games, or is in contact with any aggressive individuals – this is the time to intervene and disallow all such behaviours.
- Make sure your own behaviour is appropriate – never fight or do anything violent in front of your child. Modelling of aggressive behaviour at home can lead to violence by the child against others at school and in later life.
- Don’t be shy of seeking expert help from psychologists, social workers, or doctors if you feel you can not cope with a bully in the house.
- Both Bullying and being bullied have very serious long term adverse effects on children. Neither should be ignored by parents and schools.
- Children of aggressive parents are likely to learn bullying behaviours.
- Often, children who are victims of bullying lack the appropriate assertive responses required to deal with aggressive peers.
Research on children and adults who are bullies shows that they are often from homes where problems are resolved through aggressive strategies. They have often been the victims of physical abuse or bullying themselves. They often seethe with resentment, anger and often have wide-ranging prejudices which they use to dump their anger onto others. More often than not, bullies are people who have not learned that their actions have consequences, that good behaviors get rewarded and bad behaviour has bad consequences. Instead, they learn to avoid the unpleasant consequences of bad behaviour through denial, blame and pretending victimhood.
- What is bullying?