Bullying is considered to occur when an aggressive behavior is directed at another person with the intention of creating or increasing the imbalance in the power between bully and victim. It usually occurs consistently over time and causes significant harm to the victim. Bullying can occur to people of all ages and at several contexts such as in the family, in the social life and at a school. On this article I am going to focus on bullying between children and how you can prevent it.
Who are the bullies?
Although bullies’ characteristics can widely vary, researchers were able to identify some key characteristics that seems to be transversal to most bullies. These kids tend to be physically strong for their age or school class, making them have an advantage in potential physical confrontations and allowing them to appear more menacing. Bullies tend to be aggressive towards authority. This usually includes disobeying school staff (teachers and non-teaching personnel), their parents and other adults in general. These kids tend to have a low self-regulation capacity, acting on impulse. Lastly, bullies don’t show much empathy for the victims they are terrorizing.
Why do they bully?
There are several perspectives on why bullying occurs. Although researchers are not unanimous, one of the most common perspectives to view bullying is by looking at the individuals’ characteristics and past. If the kid didn’t receive much love from his family and if he wasn’t taught rules while growing up, he might be more inclined to bully others. Another factor that might contribute is if the child suffered abuse during their life. Bullying might simply be the only way that the kid knows to let off all this rage that is accumulated inside.
Spot the bully
Although bullying is strongly associated with a scenario where a bigger and stronger kid calls names, psychically assaults and steals lunch money from a smaller and physically frailer boy, this not always the case. I just described an instance where the bully exerts obvious physical and emotional violence on the victim, however, there are some less obvious types of bullying such as social exclusion, sexual harassment (more common on adults) and one that comes as a product of the advance of society: cyber bullying.
Signs of bullying
Bullying can go unnoticed for an extended period of time. This is connected to the “kids will be kids so there is nothing we can do about it” attitude. Although nowadays there is a lot more conscience about what constitutes innocent child’s play and what may be a potentially hazardous interaction between kids, there is still some normalization of bullying. But how can we spot bullies? How can we spot victims?
Involves physical violence. Some examples of this are pushing, hitting, scratching and damaging property. This kind of bullying is more easily identifiable than the next one, since it can leave bruises on the victim.
Kids can be cruel and sometimes the verbal abuse starts out as a harmless joke. Nonetheless, it can escalate to something more serious and inflict serious psychological and emotional harm. Some examples of this type of bullying include insults, intimidation, body shaming and discriminations of any sort.
This kind of bullying is very to identify because adults are usually not aware of the dynamics and hierarchies within children’s groups. Examples are spreading rumors, encouraging others to spend less time with the victim or mockingly mimic the victim. Social bullying has the objective of damaging the victim’s position in the social hierarchy by tarnishing their reputation.
With the advance of technology kids have also changed how they interact with the world around them. Nowadays, infants have a tablet in their hands before they even learn how to read or write. This comes as no surprise. The past generation used television as a means of keeping their kids busy and this generation just followed the advances in technology. As the digital world gained more and more importance amongst the newer generations, this naturally permitted a new kind of bullying to be born. Cyber bullying occurs when an abuser exerts any kind of the previously mentioned types of bullying recurring to digital methods, such as phone messages or social media posts. If someone went through something embarrassing in the old days, the harassment caused by other kids making fun of you would last maybe a couple of weeks until everyone just passed on to the next big event at school. Nowadays, if a bully decides to do public shamming, a video, photograph or a written record of the event will endure on the internet with the possibility of it being revisited for several years (and maybe indefinitely).
Who are the victims?
Once again, victims’ characteristics widely vary, but there are some transversal characteristics that tend to be present. These kids are on the opposite specter physically when compared to bullies, since they are usually seen as less capable of defending themselves. Victims are usually more low-key than their peers. They are shy and don’t like to be in the center of attentions. This is usually a consequence of these kids also being more insecure, anxious and having a low self-esteem.
Tips to deal with bully
Bullies are quite intimidating, and victims are usually afraid to talk to someone about them. This is further intensified by the fact that victims rarely have good friends. Bullying is a serious worldwide problem that can lead to problems such as poor school grades or, in extreme cases, lead to severe depression, suicide or school shootings. So, how can we stop bullying?
The Olweus school environment solution
Dr. Dan Olweus is considered a pioneer and the founding father of bullying research. After studying schools and how bullies and victims acted, Dr. Olweus came up with an intervention program that builds upon four key principles to make a school less prone to be a bully environment:
(1) a positive interest and involvement from adults.
(2) there should be a clear line on what constitutes as unacceptable behavior. Grey lines allow some behaviors to go unnoticed.
(3) sanctions for unacceptable behavior must be enforced consistently. If someone crossed the line, he must receive an immediate and appropriate sanction.
(4) the presence of adults that serve as respected authorities and as positive role models.
Preventing bullying starts in your home
Olweus tips can also be applied in your family. You should always try to reserve some time to be present in your kids’ life. Don’t just passively ask him how school’s going and be content with a 1-minute conversation on the topic. Try to help him with his homework and listen to the problems he brings home. Give him solid advice on how to deal with his problems in an assertive manner, not reinforcing any type of aggressive behavior or thought. Rules should be established in your home. Some behaviors are quite simply not acceptable, and kids need to learn that. If you child is used to following your authority and rules it becomes easier for them to adhere to the school hierarchy, respecting its rules and its authority figures.
Helping present/future victims
If your kid closely resembles the victim profile described previously, he is at a greater risk of being bullied. If you notice he is sad and doesn’t seem to have the rich social life that is characteristic of those ages you should try to talk to him about it. Convey to him that it is ok to talk about feelings and difficulties with you. Although you might provide some support, a clinical psychologist is always helpful on these cases. Most times, these kinds of children are depressed and suffer from severe anxiety. A professional will be able to help with these problems, also improving the child’s interpersonal skills. If a child is not depressed, suffering from anxiety and has adequate interpersonal skills, she is more likely to be happier and less probable to be a bully victim.
Be there for your kids. Be a role mode.