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August 30, 2013
by Cindy Marie Hosszu

This is not a rite of passage...

August 30, 2013 06:00 by Cindy Marie Hosszu

 Back to School Series:


Bullying and being bullied is not a part of growing up.  Bullying is not “kids being kids.”  Being bullied is not a rite of passage.  Over time, psychologists have come to understand just how damaging bullying behaviors can be to children, and into adulthood. 

Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, health complaints, and decreased academic achievement.  A small percentage of those bullied may retaliate in violent ways.  Twelve of fifteen school shooting cases in the 1990’s involve those who had a history of being bullied.

Kids who bully others can have troubles such as adolescent alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism, fights, drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity, criminal convictions, and can be abusive toward partners, spouses, or children later in life.

Even those who witness bullying can suffer consequences such as use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, increased mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and missed school.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is unwanted aggression that encompasses an imbalance of power, and is repeated over time.[1]  It can happen anywhere, and at any time.  Whether it is before, during, or after school, the playground, in transit to school, or even on the internet, it affects the person being bullied, the person engaging in bullying, and those who witness the behaviors.  In 2011, 20% of 9-12 grade students were bullied nationwide. [2]

Types of Bullying

Verbal - Teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threats to cause harm.

Social Bullying - Purposely excluding, encouraging others to exclude, rumors, and public embarrassment.

Physical Bullying - Hitting, spitting, tripping, taking or breaking another’s things, mean or rude hand gestures.

Kids Who Use Bullying Behavior

Risk – Although there is no consistent distinction for people who use bullying behaviors, some of the characteristics that are observed most in those who use bullying is that they tend to be well connected to peers, have social power, or are overly concerned with popularity.  They tend to dominate or take charge of others.  They can be aggressive, competitive, and easily frustrated, have less parental involvement, or issues at home.  They have difficulty following rules, view violence in a positive way, think badly of others, and have friends who bully.  They are not stronger physically, but have power over those they bully.

Warning Signs - Those who use bullying behavior may get into physical or verbal fights. They are increasingly aggressive, and may get sent to the principal’s office or detention frequently. You may notice they have friends who bully others.  You may notice unexplained belongings or money, and they tend to blame others for their problems, and don’t take responsibility for their actions.

Support - While it is important not to call the person a bully, the child needs to understand that bullying behavior is wrong.  Calling one a bully implies that the behavior cannot be changed, and it also fails to recognize that kids can be more than just a bully.  They could have been bullied, or witnessed bullying also.  While addressing bullying, model respectful behavior, because children learn by example. It is important to show kids that bullying will not be tolerated.  Work with the child to understand some of the reasons they are bullying.  It can be to fit in, or because they are acting out.  Use consequences to teach how bullying is wrong, and build empathy to help prevent future bullying. Talk about what it is to be a good friend, the benefits of teamwork, the importance of respecting others.  A project such as Civil Rights and Bullying is an example of a consequence that will build empathy.  Involving the child in making amends, such as writing an apology letter, can help the child reflect on how their actions affected another.

Avoid the “Three strikes, you’re out” response, and suspending.  They do not reduce the behaviors.  Conflict resolution and peer mediation also do not work. It is not a conflict between people of equal power who share equal blame.  Group treatment for students who bully does not work because group members tend to reinforce bullying behavior. 

Remember to stay involved.   Continue to encourage behavior that affects people in a positive way.

Kids Who Are Bullied

Risk – Kids who are bullied need help learning how to respond to being bullied.  Like those who bully, there is no specific set of characteristics that describes who is at risk, but they are often perceived as different.  They may be overweight, underweight, have different styles, or social standing.  They are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves.  They can be depressed, anxious or have low self-esteem.  They are usually less popular, or have fewer friends.  They do not always get along with others, and may seem “annoying” or attention seeking as they struggle to fit in.

Warning Signs – Sometimes there are no warning signs, and kids do not like to talk about their situation.  Some things to look for are changes in the child such as unexplainable injuries, lost or broken belongings, and frequent illness.  You may notice changes in eating habits such as not eating, or being very hungry when they get home from school because they did not eat their lunch.  They may not want to go to school and have declining grades, loss of interests, loss of friends, and want to avoid social situations.   You may notice feelings of helplessness, decreased self-esteem, or self-destructive behaviors.

Support – Listen and focus on the child.  Learn what is going on, and show you want to help.  Assure the child that bullying is not their fault.  Because they may struggle to talk about it with parents, seeking a therapist or councilor may be valuable.  Use role play to help give the child way to deal with bullying.  Work with the school, and make a game plan and find out what will help the child feel safe.  Minimize changes to routine, so that the child is not singled out.  If seating changes are necessary, make the change for everyone. 

Never tell the child to ignore the bullying.  Do not blame the child for being bullied.  They did not provoke or deserve the aggressive behavior.  Do not tell the child to fight back.  Parents should resist the urge to contact other parents because it could make matters worse.  Bullying is repetitive behavior, so be persistent and keep informed on the situation. 


Those who assist do not start the bullying, but they encourage, or join in at times.  Kids who reinforce are not directly involved, but give audience by laughing or encouraging the bullying behavior.  Outsiders are kids who remain separate from the bullying and do not either engage or stop it.  They often want to help, but do not know what to do.  Kids who defend will comfort the child being bullied and may come to the child’s defense.

Prevent Bullying

Talk to kids about bullying.  Encourage kids to do what they love.  Help kids understand what bullying is and that it is not acceptable.  Be a model of kindness and respect.  Encourage kids to speak to a trusted adult if they are being bullied, or see others being bullied.  Talk about how to stand up to kids who bully such as using humor, or saying “stop” directly and confidently.  Talk about actions that don’t work like walking away.  Discuss strategies for staying safe such as staying near adults or groups of other kids.  Urge them to help kids who are bullied by showing kindness or getting help.

Getting Help

There are times when Bullying can get to a point where depression or stress has set in and a child will benefit from counseling. It may be helpful for the child to talk through the feelings they experiences as well as learn new skills such as assertiveness or self-esteem. Family counseling can also help as this can help to strengthen the child's sense of support, can open lines of communication and increase cohesiveness in a family.  


[1] "APA Resolution on Bullying Among Children and Youth." American Psychological Association (APA), July 2004. Web. 20 July 2013.

[2] "Bullying: What You Need to Know |" Home | n.d. Web. 20 July 2013.






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