Why Bullies Bully
What you need to know about bullying, bullies, and how to stop the cycle of bullying.
Bystanders in Bullying
It's not unusual for kids to join in bullying. Some groups thrive on it.
A bully can run a group through a simple premise: If you want to join,
you've got to participate in this behavior, which includes harassing another
person. It's a socialization process kids go through as they enter
adolescence, Espelage says.
Bullies also like having an audience for their aggressive behavior -- and
they learn when to strike for maximum effect.
"Bullies, as they get older, get more clever at being able to choose places,
as well as victims, that are under low surveillance by adults, but are often
overseen by peer bystanders, who provide an audience that fuels the bullying,"
says Ron Slaby, PhD, a senior scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health
(CMCH) at Children's Hospital-Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Cyberbullying: Silent Threat
Bullying isn't new. But it's been changed by the Internet, which gives
bullies a nonstop, worldwide stage.
Before cell phones and computers became part of kids' lives, they could
leave school and escape bullying for the night at home. But now, they can be
exposed to cyberbullying -- done online or by cell phone -- 24 hours a day.
"There's no way for a child to get away from it," Espelage says.
And cyberbullying often goes unreported.
"Cyberbullying is silent," Raffalli says. He estimates that "90% of kids
won't say it's happening, and the bully thinks she can get away with it because
she can delete her messages and an adult won't figure it out."
Turning Bullying Behavior Around
Bullying is obviously traumatic for the victims. It can wreck their school
performance, sleep, mental health, and self-esteem. And in some cases, it can
lead to suicide.
The outlook for bullies isn't good, either. If they don't get help and
change their ways, they're less likely to hold down a job, have a stable adult
relationship, earn an advanced degree, and are more likely to go to prison for
a violent crime.
In short, both need help.
"There is a lot of focus on the victim when it comes to bullying, and this
is very appropriate," Raffalli says. "But by offering therapy on both sides of
the equation, especially early on in grade school, and remembering that all the
kids involved are children, we can start to reduce the incidence of bullying as
kids get older."
6 Ways to Stop the Bullying Cycle
Here are six steps toward stopping a bullying situation:
- Believe the child. "If your child tells you about a bullying
situation, don't dismiss it as, 'Kids will be kids,'" Raffalli
- Set a positive example. Kids often mimic what they see. So live in a
way that shows your kids the healthy social and emotional skills that will help
them deal with bullying.
- Watch for signs of bullying. "Bullying comes with a code of silence
-- no one involved says anything about it, even the victims," says Espelage. So
parents have to be extra vigilant. Watch for signs of bullying like a change in
your child's grades, difficulty sleeping, and depression.
- If your child is the bully, take action quickly. "Parents
generally like to think the best of their kids," Sege says. But if you don't
stop a budding bullying problem quickly, you may face a much worse situation
later. "We need to nip it in the bud as it's emerging, when it's most effective
and easier to turn around," Slaby tells WebMD.
- Teach kids what do to if they are bullied or see someone else being
bullied. "Kids really should put a stop to bulling when they see it
happening," Fonville says. "Don't be afraid to stand up for someone else." All
it takes is one person standing up to a bully to help the situation, and the
victim -- and empathy is key, Slaby says. Try a simple approach with the bully,
like "How would you feel if someone did this to you?"
- Get help. Resources include parents, pediatricians, teachers, social
workers, therapists/psychologists, guidance counselors, school administrators,
and law enforcement, in cases of criminal behavior.