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The Bully, The "Bullied" and The Bystander

Sad girl standing by group of bullies

​​​ Wherever there are children, there are bullies.

In your neighborhood. In your school. Maybe in your own home.

Bullies use fear to get what they want and to get away with unacceptable behavior. Their victims (the "bullied") fear continued or worse abuse if they tell.  Bystanders fear becoming the next victim. The "bullied" suffer in silence while repeatedly getting harassed. Bystanders stay silent to avoid the unwanted attention of the bully. It's a vicious, unending cycle.

Studies on bullying show that younger and weaker youth are victimized most often. In addition, the bully-victim relationship tends to continue unless parents or other adults intervene.

The Bully

Bullies come in all sizes, ages and genders. The tactics they use vary widely. Some get physical. Others play on emotions. Boys often use force (punching, kicking, tripping, etc.), while girls usually rely on more subtle actions (gossip, manipulation, exclusion, etc.). Other characteristics include:

  • Bullies are impulsive.
  • Bullies have little, if any, empathy for others.
  • Bullies do not suffer from low self-esteem.
  • Bullies need to control and dominate others.
  • Bullies have a positive attitude toward aggression.
  • Bullies have more physical or emotional power than their victims.
  • Bullies have a strong desire to get or achieve something they feel they need.

The Victim

Bullies like to pick on kids who can't or won't stick up for themselves. Unfortunately, many victims lack the social skills and social networks that can keep them from being victimized. As a parent, you can help your child become more "bully-proof" by doing the following:

  • Teach Your Child to Be a Friend

There is strength in numbers. Encourage your child to develop lots of friendships. If he or she has a special interest "sports or music" find programs that your child can participate in. The more social interactions your child has, the more friendships can be developed. The bottom line for your child is that he or she has to know how to act like a friend to have a friend.  By building appropriate relationships with others, your child will become better skilled at dealing with a variety of personalities and handling different social interactions.

  • Build Your Child's Social Skills

Teach your child social skills, including getting along with others and showing appreciation.  It's also helpful to teach your child how to use humor to disarm a bully. Being able to laugh at oneself is a skill everyone needs, and using this strategy can often deflect a bully's aggression or teasing.

  • Teach Your Child Self-Respect

Kids who can hold their heads high and walk with confidence are less likely to be singled out by bullies. Some victims actually believe they deserve to be attacked because of how they look, talk or dress, or because of some other self-perceived physical or character flaw. They become withdrawn, they slouch and they avoid eye contact. When kids start acting like a victim, it opens the door to a bully's aggression.

Talk to your child about his or her strengths and how they can be used as a shield against bullying behaviors. Encourage your child to use positive self-talk during difficult moments, and help him or her see challenges as opportunities. Above all, provide ongoing support and encouragement.

The Bystander

It can be very difficult for a child to take a stand and defend someone who is being bullied, especially if the victim is considered to be a "loser" or "weird." Has your child ever described a bullying situation, and have you ever asked what he or she did to stop it?

Some bystanders are too afraid to get involved. They don't want to be the next target. Some experience feelings of guilt because they don't act. If a victim is a friend or classmate, some bystanders choose to disassociate themselves from the victim. Others blame the victim.

As a parent, it's important to teach and reinforce virtues such as caring and respect. Here are things you can do to instill these values in your child:

  • Model respect and kindness at home. If you and your spouse are considerate and compassionate to each other and other family members, your child will likely treat others the same way.
  • Show respect for those in authority, including teachers and police officers.
  • Have positive expectations for your child's behavior. Praise your child's acts of kindness and use appropriate discipline to correct bad behavior.
  • Encourage your child to volunteer in the community. This will give him or her a sense of obligation to others.

Bullying is a difficult problem that only gets worse when it's ignored. Victims and bystanders can't be expected to resolve the issue all on their own. Talk to school administrators to find out how they are dealing with the problem in your child's school. If necessary, you or a representative from the school should contact the parents of a bully and make them aware of their child's behavior.

Pretending the problem doesn't exist won't make it go away. Everyone must play a role in correcting bullying behavior when it happens and be proactive in trying to prevent it.

For more information, take a look at No Room for Bullies: From the Classroom to Cyberspace.