It’s easy to understand what it’s like to be a victim, but don’t be surprised if your understanding of bully behavior is off base. There are many myths about who bullies are and what makes them behave the way they do.
Profile of a young bully: this is a child or teen with a positive self-image, strong self-esteem, and little anxiety. They are driven by a desire to be in control and they cherish power. They also have little empathy for their victims, and appear to derive satisfaction from inflicting physical or psychological suffering on others. A bully will defend his or her actions by blaming the victim, saying that their victims provoked them. A bully may also have poor self-control, and be depressed or stressed in some way. They have difficulty making friends. It’s not black and white however–victims can become bullies–any child, boy or girl, can be a bully or be bullied if the circumstances are right
If you and your child have been a bullying victim, you may hope bullies get their just desserts. Well, they do.
Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties, which can continue into adulthood. Bullies are even at higher risk of suicide.(see the research studies at the end of this article).
What if your child is the bully?
Think about it. Your child may be strong and motivated, they’re active, and yet they get into trouble a lot. They complain how others make them mad or pick on them, and yet they don’t appear to have the fears and anxieties that their victims have. If a teacher or parent tells you that your child is a bully, it can be huge shock, and your first reaction might be to defend your child. Perhaps you can’t imagine the child you love is hurting others, or perhaps you’ve even encouraged your child to defend themselves against others.
If it’s hard to accept, take a moment and step back and think things through. It may not be your fault, but as a parent, you have a responsibility to both your child and to their classmates (and their parents) to intervene to stop the behavior, and make it clear that bullying is not acceptable, and that it will not be tolerated or ignored.
What parents of bullies can do
Find out if anything is bothering your child and aggravating their internal nature to act out against others. Is there something making them feel insecure or unhappy? Are they being ignored at home? Picked on? Are there other family troubles they can’t cope with? Ask them. Then ask yourself two important questions:
- What can you and your family do to reduce stress in your child’s life;
- What values do you want your child to learn from you, such as respect for others and empathy for others’ feelings.
Maintain an atmosphere of love and calmness at home. Don’t allow older siblings to tease a younger child, and don’t allow destructive criticism. Work toward an ideal home environment that is a “haven of love” for all the family. Yes, a haven of love, that’s what it says.
Have a plan before you talk with your child, and prepare to have an open conversation and to listen closely to your own child’s point of view. Your job is to design some disciplinary action that fits the context of your lives.
Make it very clear that bullying and aggression will not be tolerated, and spell out the consequences for all bullying behavior. It is important to be completely consistent so that the child understands exactly what will happen if he or she repeats this behavior.
Consequences could include the loss of privileges, and especially freedoms that allow them to bully others. For example: if your child is allowed out to play in the evening, and is bullying other children at this time, keep them indoors for a day or a week depending on how serious the behavior is or the age of the child. Whatever you decide on, make it extremely clear and consistent.
Next, teach your child or teen different responses to things that make them aggress against others. They probably don’t have social skills, or options, for handling situations that make him or her upset or angry. Some examples: avoid kids that irritate them, or “storm out” of a situation that’s escalating instead of fighting, or write down insults and keep them hidden instead of speaking them aloud, leave a situation and get physical exercise…
Then teach your child empathy, which can be learned. Say to them: “All people deserve respect even if you don’t like them,” “All people have value and feelings”, “All people are different, and they don’t have to be like you or act the way you want them to.” Remind them of others who show kindness and respect to them. If your child can be trusted, taking care of a pet is a good way to help him or her develop the skill of empathy.
Praise and positive reinforcement are actually crucial. Catch your child being good and offer praise as immediately as possible. Being “good” might be about being kind, but it might also be about avoiding confrontation even if they get angry or aggressive in their thoughts but not their actions.
Allow your child or teen to earn rewards and privileges. For a child, keep track with a calendar and stickers so that you and your child can measure each positive behavior, and then celebrate and reward it accordingly.
Let the school know what you are doing to work with your child, and ask for staff help and ideas for consistent consequences at school. Let other parents know as well.
If bullying or other aggressive behaviors persist even after working with your child or teen, seriously consider professional mental health treatment.
Some statistics on risks to bullies
One study showed that 60% of boys who were identified as bullies in grades 6 through 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 years, and between 35% and 40% of these children had three or more criminal convictions by that same age.
Much bullying occurs in schools. Dr. Joyce Nolan Harrison, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said, “Studies show [bullying is] particularly common in grades 6 through 10, when as many as 30% of students report they’ve had moderate or frequent involvement in bullying,” she says.
According to international studies, bullying is common and it affects from 9% to 54% of all children. In the United States, many believe bullying can push victims to acts of violence, such as the Columbine High School massacre.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are almost 4 times as likely as others to be bullies. And, in an intriguing corollary, the children with ADHD symptoms were almost 10 times as likely as others to have been regular targets of bullies prior to the onset of those symptoms, according to the report in the February 2008 issue of the Journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.
If you are the parent of a victim
If schools don’t have the resources to deal with bullying, parents need to take matters into their own hands. Enlist the help of all the other parents of bullied children. “Parents have to work as a group,” explains Dr. William Pollack, professor psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “One parent is a pain in the [butt]. A group of parents can be an educational experience for school authorities.”
One thing you shouldn’t do, Pollack says, is call up the bully’s parents. “You have no idea of what is going on in that kid’s home,” he says. “He may get hell for bullying your kid — or he may be told to keep it up.”
Armor your child by describing ways they can protect themselves. Avoid the places where bullying happens (bathroom, lunch, playground) or always bring a friend.
Help the bullied kids find each other. “If there are a bunch of them together, they can stand the bully down,” Dr. William Pollack says. “They don’t have to beat the bully up. They just have to say, ‘Why are you treating my friend this way?’ The bully will often move on.”
Inform teachers and school staff in writing of your concern, or volunteer in your child’s classroom(s).
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Bullying and suicide. A review. (excerpt)
Authors: Kim, Y.S.; Leventhal, B. International Journal of Adolescent Medical Health; pp: 133-54; Vol(Issue): 20(2), 2008
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine believe they’ve found a connection between bullying, being bullied, and suicide in children. Bullying, the most common type of school violence, has been frequently associated with a broad spectrum of behavioral, emotional, and social problems. This paper provides a systematic review of 37 studies, from 13 countries, that were conducted in children and adolescents, and that examined the association between bullying experiences and suicide, with an emphasis on the strengths and limitations of the study designs. (Suicide is third leading cause of mortality in children and adolescents in the United States of America and around the world.) Despite methodological and other differences and limitations, it is increasingly clear that any participation in bullying increases the risk of suicidal ideations and/or behaviors in a broad spectrum of youth.
Not just the victims were in danger: “The perpetrators who are the bullies also have an increased risk for suicidal behaviors,” said lead author, Dr. Y.S. Kim.
Many adults scoff at bullying and say, “Oh, that’s what happens when kids are growing up,” according to Kim, who argues that bullying is serious and causes major problems for children, and that it should be taken seriously and addressed.
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Kids with ADHD more likely to bully (excerpt)
By Linda Carroll, MSNBC contributor Jan. 29, 2008 URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22813400/
For one year, a study followed 577 children in the 4th grade, in a community near Stockholm. The researchers interviewed parents, teachers and children to determine which kids were likely to have ADHD. Children showing signs of the disorder were then seen by a child neurologist for diagnosis. The researchers also asked the kids about bullying.
“The results underscore the importance of observing how kids with ADHD symptoms interact with their peers,” says study co-author Dr. Anders Hjern, a professor in pediatric epidemiology at the University of Uppsala in Stockholm. These kids might be making life miserable for their fellow students. Or it might turn out that the attention problems they’re exhibiting could be related to the stress of being bullied.
“You can’t learn if you’re being bullied, if every day you’re frightened of how you’re going to be treated,” says William Pollack, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
As for the bullies, they often need help with other issues, Pollack says. “It’s not uncommon, for instance, to find that the aggressor is acting out because he’s depressed. And often, the kids who are doing the bullying have been bullied themselves,” he adds.
Unfortunately though, treating ADHD won’t remedy bullying because “drugs for the condition impact a child’s ability to focus in school but not the aggression that could lead to bullying,” says Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry and director of the Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic at Yale University, and president of the American Psychological Association.
Bullying happens most at school. The best solution for bullying is for schools to develop programs that help both the bullies and the bullied, experts say.
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Hyperactive Girls Face Problems As Adults, Study Shows (excerpt)
by Nathalie Fontaine, René Carbonneau, Edward Barker, Frank Vitaro, Martine Hébert, Sylvana Côté, Daniel Nagin, Mark Zoccolillo and Richard Tremblay, March 2008, Journal Archives of General Psychiatry, and ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2008).
A 15-year longitudinal study found that girls with hyperactive behavior (restlessness, jumping up and down, a difficulty keeping still or fidgety), and girls exhibiting physical aggression (fighting, bullying, kicking, biting or hitting) were found to have a high risk of developing adjustment problems in adulthood.
Young girls who are hyperactive are more likely to get hooked on smoking, under-perform in school or jobs and gravitate towards mentally abusive relationships as adults, according to a joint study by researchers from the University de Montréal and the University College London (UCL).
The study followed 881 Canadian girls from the ages of six to 21 years to see how hyperactive or aggressive behavior in childhood could affect early adulthood. The research team found that one in 10 girls monitored showed high levels of hyperactive behavior. Another one in ten girls showed both high levels of hyperactive and physically aggressive behavior.
According to UCL lead researcher, Dr. Nathalie Fontaine. “This study shows that hyperactivity combined with aggressive behavior in girls as young as six years old may lead to greater problems with abusive relationships, lack of job prospects and teenage pregnancies.”
“Our study suggests that girls with chronic hyperactivity and physical aggression in childhood should be targeted by intensive prevention programs in elementary school… Programmers targeting only physical aggression may be missing a significant proportion of at-risk girls. In fact, our results suggest that targeting hyperactive behavior will include the vast majority of aggressive girls,” said Dr. Fontaine.
“We found that about 25 per cent of the girls with behavioral problems in childhood did not have adjustment problems in adulthood, although more than a quarter developed at least three adjustment problems,” researcher Richard Tremblay said, noting additional research is needed into related social aggression such as rumor spreading, peer group exclusion. “We need to find what triggers aggression and how to prevent such behavioral problems.”
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Bullying and Suicide
Psychiatric Times. Vol. 28 No. 2 February 10, 2011
Childhood and adolescent bullying is recognized as a major public health problem in the Western world, and it appears to be associated with suicidality. Recently, cyberbullying has become an increasing public concern in light of recent cases associated with youth suicides that have been reported in the mass media. Victims of bullying consistently exhibit more depressive symptoms than nonvictims; they have high levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims. Studies show that bullying behavior in youth is associated with depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. These associations have been found in elementary school, middle school, and high school students. Moreover, victims of bullying consistently exhibit more depressive symptoms than nonvictims; they have high levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to attempt suicide than nonvictims.
The results pertaining to bullies are less consistent. Some studies show an association with depression, while others do not. The prevalence of suicidal ideation is higher in bullies than in persons not involved in bullying behavior. Studies among middle school and high school students show an increased risk of suicidal behavior among bullies and victims. Both perpetrators and victims are at the highest risk for suicidal ideation and behavior.
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Margaret is a Certified Parent Support Provider with 20+ years' experience counseling parents & caregivers. Her book, "Raising Troubled Kids" includes practical, clinically-sound advice for improving behavior, reducing stress, & creating a therapeutic home. When families comes first, troubled children do better.
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Motivating Others Through Voices of Experience: A national youth-led mental health organization for people ages 16-24.
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National Educational Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder
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