Unfortunately bullying is something that has occurred throughout time, but today there is a growing movement to say NO to bullying.
Bullying occurs in kindergarten, prep, primary school, high school, the community, aged care homes, online and in workplaces where people aged 15-65 experience bullying from other adults.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is an intentional act of causing harm and unhappiness to other people via harassment, physical assaults, cyberbullying and other subtle methods of manipulation and coercion. Harassment can be via physical, verbal and / or emotional means (Sullivan, 2010).
Its a pattern of behaviour of a person who has difficulty controlling anger, resentment and/or aggression – lacking social skills they choose to place their aggression, social dominance and power upon another. Some of the tactics that bullies use involve: criticism, exclusion, ridicule, teasing etc.
Bullying at School
Despite teachers’ best efforts, there is minimal or nil adult supervision in the school environment which expands the bully’s opportunities (Green, Collingwood & Ross, 2010). The bullying may be the actions of one or a group of students excluding, isolating and taking advantage of another. It’s much more difficult to defend yourself and more intimidating when outnumbered.
Who could be considered a Bully?
In relation to children, the child bully would be seen to enjoy pushing others around, choosing to engage in this behaviour regularly. They will have a negative sense of self therefore become aggressive with others, from the very first indication that they are not in control and have little power over a situation. Generally children who are bullies may have learning difficulties and / or have difficult home environments (Sullivan, 2010).
A young person bullying others is generally asserting a high level of social dominance, control, power and influencing others, the aim being for victims to perceive they are powerless and weak.
What is bullying behaviour to be on the lookout for?
Bullying occurs in 2 ways: direct and indirect bullying.
Indirect bullying: includes socially isolating a person until they submit. This may involve the bullies spreading rumours, excluding from the group/activity, bullying other students to not socialise, criticising personal appearance/capabilities, name calling, ignoring the person’s existence, staring, laughing at and telling jokes about the person (Eslea, 2010).
Direct bullying: includes physical aggression such as shoving, pushing, hitting, kicking, strangling, scratching, biting, punching, throwing objects etc (Eslea, 2010).
To break it down even further, the following can be considered bullying behaviours:
- Physical – kicking, hitting, spitting, throwing objects, and stealing, hiding or damaging another’s property
- Gestures – isolating and / or threatening the person by using gestures to show that one is unwelcomed
- Verbal – using insulting language, name calling, verbal abuse, spreading foul rumours, teasing, taunting
- Cyber bullying – using online forums to exclude, and degrade a person (SMS, email, chat rooms, social media etc)
- Racial – being targeted and made fun of due to racial identity
- Sexual harassment – physical, verbal threats and or jokes of a sexual nature
Why Do Kids Bully others?
Children can become bullies for reasons such as:
- Frustration – sometimes children can be frustrated and remain so as the source of the frustration may not be known yet. Some difficulties they may have can include: dyslexia, autism, hearing, other learning difficulties, allergies, etc. The child may not be performing to the level the school requires or that their peers are, and feel frustrated and inferior.
- Bullying because they were bullied – the bullied child may have alerted those in their world, however nil interventions could see the child begin to exhibit aggressive behaviours in order to survive.
- Inappropriate role modelling – one or both parents in the home environment may not have learned appropriate behaviour skills to teach their child; or they may be absentee/neglecting emotional and behavioural development.
- The child may be experiencing abuse in their home – bullying can be their (only) way of expressing anger, power and dominance.
- Being part of the crowd – the child may be going along with the crowd to avoid being targeted themselves.
- Low self confidence – the idea that tearing someone else down will help them to feel better about themselves (power and control).
- Getting what they want – they may have learned that this is effective in getting them what they want eg attention, favours, not having to complete a difficult task etc.
- Lack of social skills – inability to communicate feelings and needs to respond to a situation (violence is generally used when there are poor verbal communication skills)
- At the more extreme end, conduct disorder – conduct disorder can lead to antisocial, psychopathic or other personality disorder (Guerra, Williamson & Sadek, 2012).
The Impacts of Being Bullied
Those who experience being bullied also experience suffering, which interferes with social and emotional development. The suffering of some can be so extreme that they have attempted suicide rather than to continue enduring the harassment.
Social dominance and submission is what bullying is about, and this can be life altering because we are shaping who we are and our understanding of the world around us during our early years and adolescent experiences (Arseneault, Bowes & Shakoor, 2010). These bullying experiences affect the person’s emotional, psychological, social and physical growth and can be a very traumatic experience as they do not feel safe.
A young person is being taught that they are different from their peers, that different is a ‘bad’ thing and this can begin a negative self-talk that they are not good enough, have a dysfunctional sense of self, low self-esteem and low self -orth.
Those who have experienced bullying may become withdrawn, adopting a passive communication style and avoiding conflict as much as possible. They are not able to put up or enforce personal boundaries to keep them healthy and safe, they struggle to stand up for themselves, and do not put their ideas, thoughts or feelings forward as they fear conflict or rejection.
Those who have been bullied may experience anxiety (physical symptoms consisting of nausea, vomiting, body pain, upset stomach headaches etc).
Young people’s level of self esteem, resilience, confidence, coping skill and understanding will impact how they react to bullying.
What Kids can do to avoid be a victim of Bullying:
- Travel in a group (organise to go with your friends to events rather than on your own, this limits a bully’s opportunity to target you)
- If you react to the bully with distress, this gives them what they are looking for. If you ignore it, do not engage, they do not get the reaction they are wanting
- Hold your confidence – stand up straight, walk purposefully, make brief eye contact with those around you. It’s a way you can say no to bullying, without saying a word.This will give the persona that you are not intimidated, therefore more difficult for bullies to crack. Importantly – fake it until you make it! You may not feel confident … but others don’t know that. Additionally, holding your physical self in this manner may help to build confidence.
- If the bullying does occur, report it to teachers and a parent/guardian.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY – you are not the problem, the bully has a problem (Miller & Lowen, 2012).
Parents generally know their younger children better than they know themselves, they are aware of temperament and behaviour patterns therefore will notice when there is a change of mood/attitude/behaviour.
Parents are not able to attend school with the child or ‘bubble wrap’ the child to protect them from bullying or other life adversities. However by being responsive to their child’s needs, having open communication, and involvement in their child’s education, hobbies, interests etc encourages the child to develop into a friendly, kind human. If bullying does happen, it is generally best to be addressed by parents, the school and counsellors.
Parents can help by:
- Being responsive to the child’s needs
- Teaching the child effective interpersonal and social skills (making friends, enforcing boundaries and assertive when needed)
- Role modelling non aggressive behaviours in daily relationships and interactions (children learn by example)
- Collaborative problem solving (with the school)
- Keeping a record of the bullying incidents
- Contacting the department of education if the school is not responding appropriately (Sullivan, 2010).
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.
- Arseneault, L., Bowes, L., & Shakoor, S. (2010). Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems:‘Much ado about nothing’?. Psychological medicine, 40(5), 717-729
- Eslea, M. (2010). Direct and indirect bullying: Which is more distressing. Indirect and direct aggression, 69-84..
- Green, R., Collingwood, A., & Ross, A. (2010). Characteristics of bullying victims in schools. London: Department for Education.
- Guerra, N. G., Williamson, A. A., & Sadek, S. (2012). Youth perspectives on bullying in adolescence. The Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 14-16.
- Miller, C., & Lowen, C. (2012). The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention And Intervention. Penguin.
- Sullivan, K. (2010). The anti-bullying handbook. Sage.