Bullying is part of every kid’s life, unfortunately. It is estimated that every person bullies someone, is bullied by someone or witnesses someone else being bullied during childhood.
I am writing about bullying because some of my work with kids, although it seems related to academic achievements and learning difficulties, is overcoming emotional baggage that starts with some form of bullying.
First, let’s get the facts straight.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is a conscious, repeated, hostile, aggressive behavior of an individual or a group abusing their position with the intention to harm others or gain real or perceived power.
There are many definitions of bullying, but they all consist of the key words “power”, “aggressive” and “repeated”.
To my surprise, most kids do not know what bullying is.
Bullying has become a problem in our society. As I promised in the first chapter of the bullying series, I will share with you today the facts and figures about bullying and they are very scary. But I am not writing this to scare you, just to create awareness to this epidemic of violence in our society. I also believe that parents and educators, who are the majority of the readers of this site, have the power to change it.
I have spent a long time reviewing information about bullying, much of it on various government sites, so where the source is not mentioned below, some government agency has publicly confirmed it.
* A study done in 2007 on a group of 6th Graders found that 89% of kids had experienced some form of bullying and 59% of the students had participated in some form of bullying
When talking about bullying, it is very important for parents (and teachers and kids) to understand what bullying is not. Many times, a single act or behavior is out of proportion, but it is not considered bullying.
Some people think that bullying is any aggressive behavior and although such behaviors are a source of concern and need attention, it is important to separate them from bullying. As I said in the first chapter of the bullying series, bullying is recurring and deliberate abuse of power.
It is not easy for kids to understand the difference between a deliberate act and an accidental one, but it surprises me that many grownups also talk about things people do to them as if they were done intentionally to hurt them. Such perception is very dangerous, because every minor act of conflict, done without any intention to harm, can escalate and become a big conflict.
Much like in any communication, whether it is verbal or not, there are two sides involved. Bullying is a form of communication and depends not only on the giver but also on the receiver. For an incident to be considered bullying, the aggressor must want to hurt someone and the victim must perceive the incident as a deliberate act of abuse.
It is very important for the victim to know what bullying is not to make sure that when things seem hurtful, they will not fall immediately into the category of bullying, because the way to overcome bullying is different from the way to overcome other hurtful acts.
In the past, people considered physical aggressiveness as bullying. Being a form of violence, it was easy to distinguish. Every physical act that was meant to hurt someone else physically was violence and therefore an act of bullying. However, the modern definition of bullying is much broader, so that made many people think there is a lot more bullying today, when in fact, it was here all along, but it was much more acceptable.
For example, name calling and exclusion of people based on their gender, race or disability were very common parts of daily life 40 years ago. I remember myself being intimidated by name calling as a kid. I was bullied and a bully myself. I was made fun of constantly for my skin color or ethnic affiliation and I joined others in making fun of others for other reasons.
I do not think we have more bullying nowadays. I think the level of bullying is similar to what it was in the past, we just pay attention to it more now and are more willing to address it and create an accepting, tolerant and happy society.
People use different forms of bullying to threaten, intimidate and create emotional pain. Here is a list of behaviors that are considered bullying. As I read each one of them, I saw only one form that was new and was not there 40 years ago. Other than that, we had them all and in some respects even worse.
Understanding the dynamics of bullying is very important in finding the solution for it. In the next two chapters of the bullying series, I will discuss the characteristics of two main players in the bullying phenomenon – the Bully and the Bullied (victim). I say two main players, because there are many other players in the game, but they will be discussed later on.
From a very early stage of the bullying research, it was obvious that bullies have special characteristics. Research done in 2007 by Field found that bullies have difficulties with schoolwork, health and self-esteem. Field also found that bullies have personal, social and interpersonal difficulties, including challenges in dealing with emotions and conflicts, lack of compassion and inability to express empathy.
As the challenges bullies have are all associated with their inability to manage their feelings, it is easy to see that bullies have low emotional intelligence.
Last week, I talked about the character traits of Bullies. Today, I will cover the personality of the Bullied or Victims. It is obvious that for someone to be a bully, they need a victim. You probably wonder why some kids are bullied and others are not? Well, it is because there is some dynamic between the bully and the bullied and some behaviors are easy targets for the bully.
The most obvious reason kids become a target for bullying is being different in some way. It is not easy to avoid being different somehow, because something as small as your type of hair or the size of your body can be easily used by the bully as a weakness.
During the school years, fitting in is very important for kids and by trying so hard to fit in and hide the differences, they attract bullies to their weakness. In his 2007 research, Field found that children who are bullied have 2 main problems:
* They stand out as being different
* They have challenges with their social skills
It is commonly thought that the bullying game is run by two main players, the bully and the victim. However, there are many other players taking part in this game. Understanding the role of the other players can greatly change the dynamic of the bullying act. Their weaknesses are not obvious, so they are not easy targets, but do they defend the weak? Encourage the bully? Do nothing?
As a group, the kids who are watching an act of bullying are called “Bystanders”. Research studies claim that in 85% of the situations, there are other kids witnessing an act of bullying. Most bystanders feel very uncomfortable with the bullying, but do not intervene for different reasons. As a parent reading this, you probably say to yourself, “I’d rather my kid leave the scene and not get into extra trouble”. Well, this is very wise, but more often than not, bystanders leave without getting the help of anyone else.
Statistically, 57% of the times, when another child intervenes, the bullying stops within seconds! So bystanders have lots of power. They just do not know it. The main problem is not that they do not help the victims. It is that they help the bully by being an audience for his act of power.
Bullying is not something we like to talk about. There are big groups and organizations out there trying to convince us to start talking about it, because life is getting worse and bullying is on the rise. I think they paint this picture of society for two reasons:
* To create awareness of something that many have bravely decided to stop tolerating and a sense of urgency in finding a solution for it
* To ease our guilt feelings about having accepted it as part of life until recently
As you might suspect, the first reason is closer to my heart and to my educational and social agenda, but I am not happy with the second reason, because I believe bullying is a fundamental part of our society (just think about bosses, kings and other people in power) and without acknowledging that, we will keep dealing with superficial issues and never really eliminate it.
I remember myself living in a bullying environment. I was bullied for my height (I am still short), I was bullied for my financial status (we lived on the poor side of town in a house and believed those living in a flat in a buildings were superior to us), I was bullied for my low academic achievements by my siblings (yes, it is hard to admit, but school was not my best experience), I was bullied for my bad health and using threats to get what we wanted was our way of life.
In the past, when a husband was a bully towards his wife and children, it was very acceptable. If any parent physically hurt their child, it was called “education” or “discipline”. Authorities did not even consider it a problem. I think that even today, many parents do not recognize their role in raising a bully in their home.
It is time to wake up and take responsibility.
Research about bullies discovered there were certain types of homes that raised bullies.
In my work for Together for Humanity, I must have read hundreds of articles while looking for solutions to specific forms of bullying and there was very limited mention of parents. I can easily understand why there was so little focus on parents’ role in eliminating bullying. It seems there is a fear of addressing the issue, as if pointing a finger at the parents will only make things worse.
Although I believe blaming is not a good strategy in solving any problem, I do think that shutting our eyes to the importance of the parenting style in creating the problem is not going to get us any closer to the solution.
Parents are the most important role models for their kids and the most valuable socializing agent. When their parenting style supports bullying behavior, they do not do it because they are mean and abusive. They do it because they do not know any other way or are not aware of the effects of their parenting on their kids and on society.
I think that avoidance and fear of discussing the parenting side is not doing parents any favors. By drawing attention to the importance of parenting, we can actually give parents back the power they need in order to run their family life in a productive, supportive and positive way. As a result (almost a side effect), we will also be reversing the bullying trend.
When we talk about bullying, we mainly think of children and the perceived increase in acts of bullying at schools. However, as we discovered in Home of the Bully, it is very likely that the parents or older siblings who are raising child bullies have been bullied by their parents or are being bullied at work themselves. Therefore, they are merely trapped in a cycle of bullying.
In Australia, it is estimated that 1 of 6 people are bullied at work. A research done by Duncan and Riley on the staff of a school cluster found that 97% of staff thought they had been or were still being bullied by another person at work.
In 2002, it was estimated that workplace bullying cost the Australian economy 36 billion dollars a year, not including stress leave people took due to bullying.
But the implications of this phenomenon are far more devastating than the financial toll society pays for bullying. People who are bullied and made to feel weak at work have a higher chance of finding someone weaker to pick on to regain their power. If they have kids, those kids might become their victims at home.
Besides the “obvious” workplace bullies – employers and managers (“the boss”) – anyone may act like a bully: subordinates, colleagues, clients, suppliers, individually or in groups. Anyone who feels weak may use bullying to regain their power by putting another down.