Recently I was giving a talk about bullying to a group of 50 second year students in a Co. Waterford school and I asked ‘Who here thinks bullying is a bad thing?’ Everyone put up their hand, but I was guessing that in a group of fifty the odds were that I would have at least one bully. Research from America shows almost 30% of people are estimated to be involved in bullying during their lives either as a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a recent survey of students 13 percent reported bullying others, 11 percent reported being the target of bullies, and another 6 percent said they bullied others and were bullied themselves. Limited available data suggests that bullying is much more common among younger adolescents than older adolescents. As people grow older, they are less likely to bully others and to be the targets of bullies.
Bullying occurs more frequently among boys than among girls. Teenage boys are much more likely to bully others and to be the targets of bullies. While both boys and girls say others bully them by making fun of the way they look or talk, boys are more likely to report being hit, slapped, or pushed. Teenage girls are more often the targets of rumors and sexual comments. While teenage boys target both boys and girls, teenage girls most often bully other girls, using more subtle and indirect forms of aggression than boys. For example, instead of physically harming others, they are more likely to spread gossip or encourage others to reject or exclude another girl.
While many people believe bullies act tough in order to hide feelings of insecurity and self-loathing, in fact, bullies tend to be confident, with high self-esteem and are generally blind to their destructive lifestyle. Their self esteem is based in their over estimation of their personal power. They are generally physically aggressive, with pro-violent attitudes, and are typically hot-tempered, easily angered, and impulsive, with a low tolerance for frustration. Bullies have a strong need to dominate others and usually have little empathy for their targets. Male bullies are often physically bigger and stronger than their peers. Bullies tend to get in trouble more often, and to dislike and do more poorly in school than people who do not bully others. They are also more likely to fight, drink, and smoke than their peers.
Children who come from homes where parents provide little emotional support for them, fail to monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their lives, are at greater risk of engaging in bullying behavior. Parents’ discipline styles are also related to bullying behavior: an extremely permissive or excessively harsh approach to discipline can increase the risk of teenage bullying. Bullies need to feel POWER all the time; they do not like to feel vulnerable. This feeling of vulnerability is so repugnant to them that if they see it in another person they will bully them. They may be seeing some trait in the other person that is they themselves also possess which they despise. This is something they are not aware of, it is unconscious.
Bully Groups (Gangs)
Surprisingly, bullies appear to have little difficulty in making friends. Their friends typically share their pro-violence attitudes and problem behaviors (such as drinking and smoking) and may be involved in bullying as well. These friends are often followers who do not initiate bullying, but participate in it. As mentioned above, some teenagers not only bully others but are also the targets of bullies themselves. Like other bullies, they tend to do poorly in school and engage in a number of problem behaviors. They also tend to be socially isolated, with few friends and poor relationships with their classmates.
One of the reasons to befriend a bully is that once someone belongs to a gang they are less likely to be bullied by the gang; however they may have to bully others to belong to the group. They may not take pleasure by bullying someone but they are grateful it is not them on the receiving end.
If You Are Being Bullied…
- Talk to your parents or an adult you can trust, such as a teacher, school counsellor, or principal.
Many people who are targets of bullies do not talk to others because they feel embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful, and they believe they should be able to handle the problem on their own. Others believe that involving adults will only make the situation worse. While in some cases it is possible to end bullying without adult intervention, in other more extreme cases, it is necessary to involve school officials and even law enforcement. Talk to a trusted adult who can help you develop a plan to end the bullying and provide you with the support you need. If the first adult you approach is not receptive, find another adult who will support and help you.
- It is not useful to blame yourself for a bully’s actions.
You can do a few things that may help if a bully begins to harass you. Do not retaliate against a bully or let the bully see how much he or she has upset you. If bullies know they are getting to you, they are likely to torment you more. If at all possible, stay calm and respond evenly and firmly or else say nothing and walk away. Sometimes you can make a joke, laugh at yourself, and use humour to defuse a situation.
- Act confident.
Hold your head up, stand up straight, make eye contact, and walk confidently. A bully will be less likely to single you out if your project self-confidence.
- Try to make friends with other students.
A bully is more likely to leave you alone if you are with your friends. This is especially true if you and your friends stick up for each other.
- Avoid situations where bullying can happen.
If at all possible, avoid being alone with bullies. If bullying occurs on the way to or from school, you may want to take a different route, leave at a different time, or find others to walk to and from school with. If bullying occurs at school, avoid areas that are isolated or unsupervised by adults, and stick with friends as much as possible.
- If necessary, take steps to rebuild your self-confidence.
Bullying can affect your self-confidence and belief in yourself. Finding activities you enjoy and are good at can help to restore your self-esteem. Take time to explore new interests and develop new talents and skills. Bullying can also leave you feeling rejected, isolated, and alone. It is important to try to make new friendships with people who share your interests. Consider participating in extra-curricular activities or joining a group outside of school, such as an after-school program, church youth group, or sports team.
- Do not resort to violence or carry a weapon.
Carrying a weapon will not make you safer. Weapons often escalate conflicts and increase the chances you will be seriously harmed. You also run the risk that the weapon may be turned on you or an innocent person will be hurt. And you may do something in a moment of fear or anger you will regret for the rest of your life. Finally, it is illegal for a anyone to carry a weapon; it can lead to criminal charges and arrest.
In one study of students, over 88 percent said they had witnessed bullying in their schools. People who witness bullying can feel guilty or helpless for not standing up to a bully on behalf of a classmate or friend, or for not reporting the incident to someone who could help. They may experience even greater guilt if they are drawn into bullying by pressure from their peers. Some people deal with these feelings of guilt by blaming the victim and deciding that he or she deserved the abuse. Friends sometimes also feel compelled to end a friendship or avoid being seen with the bullied person to avoid losing status or being targeted themselves.
Bullying can lead people to feel tense, anxious, and afraid. It can affect their concentration in school or work, and can lead them to avoid school or work altogether. If bullying continues for some time, it can begin to affect a person’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. It also can increase their social isolation, leading them to become withdrawn and depressed, anxious and insecure. In extreme cases, bullying can be devastating, with long-term consequences. Some feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as carrying weapons for protection or seeking violent revenge. Others, in desperation, even consider suicide. Researchers have found that years later, long after the bullying has stopped, adults who were bullied when they were younger have higher levels of depression and poorer self-esteem than other adults.
If you are experiencing difficulties with bullies and would like to talk about the problem in a safe and non judgemental way please contact Michael Fitzgerald at the Dungarvan Counselling Centre.