Bullying 101

By Tracey Maxfield

Bullying is the use of repeated, aggressive behaviour intended to hurt another individual, physically, mentally, or emotionally.

It is the use of force, coercion, or threat, to abuse, aggressively dominate or intimidate. The behaviour is often repeated and habitual.

One essential prerequisite is the perception (by the bully or by others) of an imbalance of physical or social power.

This imbalance distinguishes bullying from conflict. Bullies do not need to be stronger or bigger than their victims. Bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behaviour characterized by the following three minimum criteria:

  • Hostile intent
  • Imbalance of power
  • Repetition over a period of time
  • In the bully circle there is:
  • The bully
  • The victim
  • The bully victim
  • And possibly
  • The bystander
  • The assistant
  • The upstander

Types of Bullying

Verbal: name calling, insults, teasing, verbal abuse, racist or homophobic remarks which detrimentally affect’s the victim’s confidence, sense of self-worth, way he/she defines self, activities he/she participates in.

Cyberbullying: using digital technology e.g. computers, phones, social media sites, chat rooms to intentionally bully, harass, threaten, intimidate (will be discussed in Blog #17)

Sexual: verbal, emotional and/or physical harassment, threats and intimidation of the victim’s appearance (body), sexual orientation, gender type, sexual activity

Physical: actions such as hitting, tripping, punching, pushing, kicking and/or damaging personal property of victim

Emotional: humiliation, taunting, threats, exposure, ‘outing’

Relational (Social/Covert): spreads rumours/lies/gossip; playing nasty jokes to embarrass and humiliate; mimicking unkindly, negative facial/physical gestures, contemptuous looks, deliberately isolates/ignores/excludes from an activity/group aimed at destroying the victim’s friendships, peer acceptance.

Dangerous Misconceptions About Bullying

  • Kids need to toughen up
  • Adults can’t do anything
  • Bystanders don’t have a role in bullying
  • Popular kids are bullies
  • It’s obvious when a child/teenager is being bullied

Risk Factors Leading to Bullying

  • Less parental involvement and/or parental rejection
  • Have friends who bully
  • Dislikes following rules (see Blog #5: CD/ODD)
  • Views violence in a positive/acceptable way
  • Aggressive and/or easily frustrated
  • Violence issues at home: physical abuse/discipline, spousal abuse

Who is a Bully?

Research indicates that “those who bully everyday are more likely to have experienced something stressful or traumatic."

Other Indicators of becoming a bully:

  • Death of a beloved pet
  • Experienced an accident, illness, serious attack
  • Parental separation/divorce
  • Significant family problems: mental illness, substance abuse, criminal activity, parental abuse
  • Abuse or neglect – sexual, emotional, physical
  • Type A bully is the cool kid who gains strength by harassing vulnerable kids. These bullies reassure themselves that ‘no harm’ is being done as it is all ‘in fun’ or get others to bully the victim
  • Type B bully is aggressive, uncaring, may be from a dysfunctional family, have a conduct disorder OR may be depressed, anxious, easily pressured and isolated

If you are a bully, there is an increased likelihood of:

  • Substance abuse
  • Criminal convictions
  • Worsening of pre-existing mental disorder(s) is left untreated
  • Developing anti-social personality disorder
  • Struggling to maintain personal, romantic, family relationships
  • Engaging in early sexual activity, risky behaviours
  • Growing up to be an unhappy adult with difficulty maintaining a job and/or becoming a workplace bully

What to Do if Your Child/Teenager is a Bully?

If your child/teenager is bulling, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent, nor does it mean that he/she is a bad kid. It is important to remember that there is always a reason for behaviour, whether good or bad.

Your child/teenager is relying on bullying behaviour to exert control, show power and get immediate satisfaction at the expense of another child/teenager.

The question you must ask is why?

Is he/she also being bullied or trying to respond to conflict? Is your child/teenager experiencing emotional problems, or unable to deal with a problem appropriately?

Is he/she being threatened or intimidated? Is the behaviour a reaction to a serious problem he/she may be too embarrassed or scared to talk about e.g. sexual abuse.

If you know or suspect your child/teenager is bullying, it is serious and must be dealt with promptly and appropriately.

The key is to be responsive and not reactive, remain calm and objective, listen to the facts, who was involved, what happened, what are the consequences.

Talk with your child/teenager privately, do not accuse, threaten, shame, blame others, dismiss; keep tone neutral, observe eye contact, body language and listen to the responses.

If your child/teenager becomes angry/argumentative, do not shout or argue, do not negotiate, you are the parent and role model, maintain your authority and clearly explain bullying is unacceptable and there are consequences.

Review strategies to help child deal with conflict, anger, anxiety, etc. If necessary, follow up with physician, counsellor. Speak with school, work together to develop plan of care if bullying is related to mental disorder, stress, being bullied, etc.

Be there to support and guide your child/teenager, show love whilst also firmly explaining the ‘rules’ and what is appropriate versus inappropriate behaviour.

Tracey Maxfield is a nurse, speaker, author, peer specialist and mental health/stop bullying advocate and educator. In 2017, she wrote a column for Castanet called Dementia Aware and in 2018, she published her first book Escaping the Rabbit Hole: my journey through depression. You can check out her videos and blog at www.traceymaxfield.com. She can be contacted at [email protected] 


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