Where do bullies come from?

What makes a child into a bully? What makes an adult into a bully? Most bullies grow out of two different or combined settings. They were either abused or bullied themselves, or they were so over-inflated by parents and other adults that they feel they have no responsibility for their actions. This second type of bully, unafraid of authority because they feel above it,  is called an “intimidator” by Dr. Pamela Riley, EdD, the executive director of SAVE (National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere.) Says Dr. Riley “Bullying is repeated and uncalled for aggressive behavior, or quite simply, unprovoked meanness, It’s behavior designed to threaten, frighten or get someone to do something they wouldn’t necessarily do.”These “intimidators” are, in fact sociopathic. Their behavior results from feeling that their actions are above authority. And like all bullies, they seek to manipulate others without regard for the long-term repercussions. As  children grow, parents must hold them accountable for their actions. Parenting by cause and effect teaches children that “This” behavior begets “That” result. Parents are often so afraid of their child “not liking” them that they do not enforce discipline. They count to 3 without anything happening when they get to 3. Children are led to believe that whatever they do is OK. and this is not Ok. Children need to be held accountable, without accountability the child is left feeling hollow and less valued. They have no defined limits and thus feel alone and undirected, this in turn does the opposite of what the adult intended; it lowers the self-esteem.

My children are told, without emotion, what will happen if their behavior is negative. There are natural consequences that will result. I don’t count to 3 (though I think it is a viable method for some parents), I remind them of the consequence and they chose the behavior. Does leaving a play date early, tossing away toys, or leaving dessert for another day hurt them? Yes. These are things they value and their behavior was cause to lose them. Does it hurt me? Yes I paid for the toys or have to go without pie, but it’s not about me, it’s about them. Too often parents want the pie and the lesson is lost on the children.

These children can also be what Dr. Riley calls a “Smooth Talker” bully or what I call an “Eddie Haskell” (Sorry, I watched a lot of Leave it to Beaver as a kid). These bullies manipulate subtly by saying the right thing at the right time and getting their way through guilt or lies. They get their power by secretly manipulating or deceiving. Though they may seem less threatening, they can do vast amounts of damage because their lies and strategies are enacted without consideration of repercussion.

What makes a victim? Most often the victim of a bully is targeted because the bully feels that the person is easily manipulated. They know that a person with a low self-image is vulnerable to attack and will most likely not fight back. Often these victims, as children, feel that they almost deserve the assault because they are “different”. They might have obvious physical and social differences; maybe a  weight problems, or a disability. Maybe they dress differently or are member of a minority in the surrounding culture; maybe they are a racial, religious or cultural minority. Being different makes them stand out and bullies feel that their actions will then be revered by others.

Because of their own low self-esteem a bully might target someone because of jealousy, or because they see that person as a threat to their own social standing. “Most victims often feel less powerful than bullies,” says Dr. Riley. “A typical victim is likely to be shy, sensitive and perhaps anxious or insecure.” A bully will continue to behave aggressively as long as doing so gets them the desired result.  Any person can be bullied, in fact according to safeyouth.org nearly 30% of children in the U.S. are exposed to bullying either as a victim, a bully or both. That’s nearly 6 million children!

So what do we do? We’ll discuss some ideas and present some strategies next time.

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