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Why Do Kids Bully?

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Bullying is at the forefront of parents' minds this year, as numerous bullying-related suicides have been reported. And bullying isn't just happening on the playground. Thanks to social media, kids can be bullied 24/7! It's a scary time for parents. Why do kids do it?

We sat down with Dr. Andrea Weiner, who will be presenting a talk at this year's Big Tent Conference entitled, "Making Our Children Socially and Emotionally Smarter." Here's what she had to say about bullying ....

momlogic: Why do kids bully?

Andrea Weiner:
First, let's state the three major characteristics of bullying: One, it's characterized by a power differential between someone who has an unfair advantage over someone else who is victimized. Two, it is an intentional act; someone has the intent to want to harm the victim. And three, it is not generally a random act or single incident and is characterized by repeated occurrences.

A child who is a bully does it for the power. Research shows that children who bully may be learning to use power and aggression as their way to deal with others, and often this gets carried over into later relationships (dating aggression, spousal abuse or workplace harassment). Bullies also process social information inaccurately. For example, the common line they often use -- "What are you looking at?" -- is an incorrect perception of provocation where it doesn't exist to serve as justification for aggressive behavior.

ml: What are the typical forms of bullying?

One is physical aggression -- hitting, shoving, kicking. Boys tend to be more physical in their approach to bullying. Then there's social aggression, which is more subtle and indirect, usually in the form of alienation, ostracism, deliberate exclusions and spreading untrue rumors. Researchers call this relational aggression that intentionally goes after another person's self-esteem, friendships or social status in a group. Social aggression is more common among girls. The movie "Mean Girls" is a perfect example of this. And lastly, there's cyberbullying. This form occurs with the Internet, most commonly on social-media platforms such as MySpace or Facebook, where unkind, harassing comments are made to others anonymously and are intended to embarrass and hurt someone else.

ml: Who are the typical bullies and victims?

Typically, one thinks of a bully as someone who is the biggest and strongest kid. That is not necessary true. Bullies come in all shapes, colors and genders. Often they can be the popular kids who use power to control others. They certainly aren't characterized by empathy or having a loving nature. Although they seem to have a strong self-image, [the truth] is usually the opposite. They use fear because underneath it, they are scared and do not think highly of themselves. The victims who are bullied are often the loners who are socially withdrawn, those who dress, look or act differently than their peers, those who are passive and let others be in control. They may also have problems that would make them targets of abuse. 

ml: How can parents tell whether or not their child is being bullied? 

AW: Signs of being bullied may include a reluctance to go to school, sleep disturbances and vague physical complaints, such as stomach pains or headaches. Look for belongings that are missing without explanation or clothes that are ripped. If parents suspect that their child is being bullied, it is best not to ask directly. Most children are afraid to report bullying for fear of being called a tattletale. Use indirect questions that aren't too personal, like, "How do you spend your recess time?" "What's it like walking to school/being on the school bus" or "Are there are any children at school who are bullies?"

ml: What should you do if you think they are being bullied?

AW: If parents suspect their child is being bullied, they need to talk to the teacher to determine if their suspicions are correct. Ask the teacher to observe the child to determine their peer interactions. Often, parents are the last to know when their child has been bullied or is the bully.

ml: What do you do if your child is the bully?

Most of the time when parents hear that their child is a bully, it comes as a shock. It is very upsetting to hear that your child could have inflicted any harm to another. A parent needs to get all the facts before they can decide on the best course of action with their child. Send a very clear message to the child that bullying or any type of aggression will not be accepted, and discuss the consequences of any future bullying behavior. Discuss alternative approaches to aggression that the child can use when he or she feels angry or hurt. It is important not to get uncontrollably angry or use physical punishment. If bullying behavior keeps occurring, parents should seek professional help for their child.

next: Diary of a 50-Year-Old Bride, Part 1
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 16, 2010, 10:08 AM

It’s no shock that there isn’t a whole lot of real information in here for parents.

What are you supposed to do when your child is being bullied on the play ground? Go to school with your child and volunteer to supervise the play ground. Then when the offending party starts his crap confront him. Then wait for his parents or get his home information and confront his parents with the information. So many of these children get away with their inappropriate behavior because nobody tells them to simply stop.

Children for the most part listen to adults. So tell the bully to knock it off or the next step will be involving their parents. Which at the grade school level will normally strike fear into the heart of any play ground tyrant.

If your child is older then maybe you need to consider more drastic measures. Take them off the bus and arrange for other means of transportation. Remove them from the school. Cancel your cable, cell phone turn back in a vehicle and send them to private school. I can tell you none of my material possessions are worth any of my children’s lives yet so many people watch their children suffer in a school for years at the hands of a juvenile delinquent yet simply throw their hands up and do nothing but tell their own child to toughen up.

You can press criminal charges in some school districts. Parents need to wake up and realize that the language and what we have all been force fed about bullies is wrong. They need to be confronted and removed from the schools.

If they are allowed to torment their peers their behavior will only escalate. And if YOUR child is a bully wake the hell up. Do the hard work and punish them. Get them counseling. Attend school with them.

All this may sound extreme and outlandish but our society has made it so many parents think they have little to no recourse when if they would simply grow a back bone and say their child was worth the cost this problem would change.

CarlinsMommy November 17, 2010, 9:44 AM

KS, I like your bottom line: grow a backbone!

It amazes me when people say “kids can be bullied 24/7 thanks to social networking.” That’s true, if a parent allows them to BE online that much. Internet and cell-phone use should be monitored! Don’t let your kid bully online, and don’t let your kid be bullied!

Parents need to stand up to the situations that hurt our kids, period. That’s our job!

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