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Health & Parenting

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Why Bullies Bully

What you need to know about bullying, bullies, and how to stop the cycle of bullying.

Bystanders in Bullying continued...

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."

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