Everyone has known or been a bully. They are a school stereotype right alongside the nerd and the jock. It is an accepted role to assume, and to some a necessary relationship to endure. In modern times schools have begun to declare war on this character, encouraging their student body to see this role as wrong and root it out of their schools.
Who are the bullies? Who are the victims? Why is this a problem, and, most important, what can be done about it?
Enter: The Bully
Most of us have a picture of a bully in our heads. It may be a specific person, or a caricature, but we can all point to traits that tend to be common among them.
In her book The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence, Barbara Coloroso points to these as common characteristics of bullies. They all:
- like to dominate other people.
- like to use other people to get what they want.
- find it hard to see a situation from the other person’s vantage point.
- are concerned only with their own wants and pleasures and not the needs, rights, and feelings of others.
- tend to hurt other kids when parents or other adults are not around.
- view weaker siblings or peers as prey (bullying is also known as: “predatory aggression.”
- use blame, criticism, and false allegations to project their own inadequacies onto their target.
- refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.
- lack foresight – that is the inability to consider the short-term, long- term, and possible
- crave attention.
Those who bully as a way of being seem to be people with deep deficiencies. They appear to be people who can’t or won’t put themselves in another person’s shoes. They are people whose own pain and position clouds their view of the people surrounding them. Very often, it seems, the home life of the bully plays into their public actions. This article called, “How Does Bullying Start?” , points out that while parents can be responsible for creating bullies, communities where children live as well as neglect can contribute to acting out. Children who witness violence or general disrespect in the home tend to use this model as the basis of their interaction with the outside world. They may even find that the actions of bullying get them what they want in ways nothing else will. This may be especially true if bullies are working within a system of adults who are busy, overburdened, or without the right or power to take effective action.
According to a survey taken by the Teen online & Wireless Safety in 2009, these are some common reasons for bullying:
- 11% show off for their friends.
- 14% want to be mean.
- 21% are out to embarrass the victim.
- 28% use it for entertainment.
- 58% are trying to get back at the victim for various reasons.
- 58% feel the victim deserves it.
- 16% have other reasons.
These reasons seem to point to a number of traits and social constructs that are destructive. Some of the reasons point to a hierarchy within which children are fighting for acceptance and status. A high percentage of the reasons children bully others is based on vengeance. Many bullies seem to have a belief that some people deserve to be treated in a mean way and they have a right to be the meanie. Is this just the response from an unhealthy cycle of interactions or is this is the kind of prejudice that appalls us as we look back in American history? Since it seems to be at the core of motivation for students who torment others, it is vital that we find out where this thinking originates.
Maybe bullying is an instinctual response. Bullying can be a way of enforcing conformity. Many bullies are well liked by those around them, and some bullies epitomize the ideal athlete or student like the “Popular/Aggressive Bully” in this article called “6 Common Types of bullies”, by Sherri Gordon . In an article from Scientific American titled “The Origins of Bullying”, author Hogan Sherrow shows examples from nature that reveal how animals can bully those of their kind who deviate very much from the status quo. Sherrow also says “In the US, views on violence, sexuality and what is normal impact the actions of our youth, and play on our inherent tendencies to coerce others into conformity.”
One thing I noticed while perusing information about bullying and bullies is that there is a lot of information about how to deal with the aftermath of interacting with the person doing the bullying, but very little information about how to keep the bully from taking the actions they do in the first place. Most activity is focused on reporting actions and staying away from those doing the actions. Very little information is available on how to heal the bully, or what can be done about the environment that produces them. It is easy to dismiss them, avoid them, and let them fall through the cracks, as this article from “The New Bullying” indicates.  This may be because bullies tend to come from homes where they are not taught well how to interact with society, and homes that don’t meet their emotional needs.  Entering these homes and fixing the conditions that contribute to the emotional state of bullies is a very tricky thing to do. People don’t want their homes declared unfit, and in general people don’t want society coming in and telling them how to raise their kids. I know I don’t. But this attitude leaves the percentage of kids who are bullies fending for themselves on a path that can lead to jail,  and other negative consequences.
Who are the people who are on the butt end of the bully’s pranks? Right now I imagine a number of people reading this are raising their hands. I know I received my fair share of teasing on my way through school, though I was lucky to escape any physical violence. This is Deborah Colorosa’s , list of characteristics of the bullied:
- The kid who is new on the block
- The kid who is the youngest in the school – and thus usually smaller, sometimes scared, maybe insecure. Bullying escalates when a new class enters middle school or high school.
- The kid who has been traumatized – who is already hurt by a prior trauma, is extremely sensitive, avoids peers to avoid further pain, and finds it hard to ask for help.
- The kid who is submissive – who is anxious, lacking in self-confidence, and easily led and who does things to please or placate others.
- The kid who has behaviors others find annoying.
- The kid who is unwilling to fight – who prefers to resolve conflicts without aggression.
- The kid who is shy, reserved, quiet or unassuming, timid, sensitive.
- The kid who is poor or rich.
- The kid whose race or ethnicity is viewed by the bully as inferior, deserving of contempt.
- The kid whose gender/sexual orientation is viewed by the bully as inferior, deserving of contempt.
- The kid whose religion is viewed by the bully as inferior, deserving of contempt.
- The kid who is bright, talented, or gifted – targeted because she “stands out” – in other words, is different.
- The kid who is independent and unconcerned about social status, doesn’t conform to the norm.
- The kid who expresses emotions readily.
- The kid who is fat or thin, short or tall.
- The kid who wears braces or glasses.
- The kid who has acne or any other skin condition.
- The kid who has superficial physical attributes that are different from those of the majority.
- The kid with physical and/or mental disabilities – such children are two to three times more likely to be bullied than other kids because they have an obvious disability and thus a ready excuse for the bully; they are not as well integrated into classes and thus have fewer friends to come to their aid; and they lack the verbal and/or physical skills to adequately defend themselves against aggression.
- The kid who is in the wrong place at the wrong time – attacked because the bully wanted to aggress on someone right there, right now.
When we think about the bullied within the context of school we think foremost about students bullying other students. These days bullying goes beyond that relationship. It appears that teachers are increasingly the victims of bullying from students,  and students can be the victims of bullying from teachers . This second situation can be particularly damaging, because children are basically powerless to defend themselves if they cannot find an adult to listen to them and advocate for them.
Why should we care about this problem?
In the past there may have been more of an emphasis on becoming an idealized person, rather that keeping those who mistreat others in check, as cited in this dissertation by Steven Arthur Provis from 2012  “The 1950’s and 60’s did not specifically address bullying in schools in regards to policies and practices. The major policies and practices focused on appropriate behavior and being a model student.” But now, thanks to more research on related topics it has become apparent that bullying can affect people for life, or even end their lives, as referenced in this article called “Bullying and Suicide” . There is also a study that indicates victims of chronic bullying are more likely to end up in jail as adults. 
What is being done?
The most common piece of advice given when is comes to preventing bullying is to report it. Let someone know. Students can tell teachers, parents, school administrators, or any adult they trust. But then what happens? There are lots of articles giving teachers advice about what to do in their classrooms. According to “Teaching Tolerance” website  one thing recommended for teachers to do when confronting a bullying situation is to “Stand between the bullied student and the bully(ies), blocking eye contact.“ Other advice given in this article includes telling the parties involved that bullying is unacceptable, talking to the children involved separately and imposing logical consequences laid out in school rules. An article by William Voors  also gives advice to teachers. Some of the advice includes educating their students about bullying and how to treat others, and standing up to fellow teachers who are mistreating their students. The ideal portrayed in this advice is great, but I wonder how practical it is to implement these strategies in the day-to-day life of a teacher? It seems that each school system varies in the amount of support teachers and school administrators give adults who stand up for children who are being victimized. I couldn’t find statistics indicating how successful teachers are in following this advice. Most of the articles I have read with anecdotal stories about teachers regarding bullying are negative. There is also a recent study from the University of Texas, Arlington , which indicates that children are more likely to be bullied in schools with anti-bullying campaigns. The researchers suggest the campaigns themselves might be teaching bullies how they should act. If there are stories out there about how bullying is being combatted effectively in schools they are not widespread in the media.
Advice is doled out,not only to teachers, but to parents and children directly. Dr. Ruth Peters asks parents to help teach their kids what to do when facing a bully in her article titled “How to help keep your kid from being bullied” by . She also says that violence toward the bully is not answer, which may fly in the face of advice from some generations ago. Some authors direct their advice at children themselves, as in the book, Life Strategies for dealing with Bullies. Author, Jay McGraw,  says near the beginning of his chapter about educating parents, “Now that you have learned so much about bullying… you probably know more about how to stop today’s bullies than your parents do.” He encourages children to guide their parents to what they should be doing. It is true that often the adults close to a child are some of the last people to know about bullying occurring to kids. A study done in 2010 found that most bullying was not reported at all to anyone.  . While it may be common for adults in a child’s life to be unaware, that doesn’t mean it is acceptable. The education and support parents, especially, can give may make the difference between the kid who survives bullying, explodes under the burden of bullying, or becomes a bully themselves.
Bullying and Homeschool
Parental involvement might be the reason bullying seems so rare in homeschool environments. Understand that I am not saying homeschooling is entirely without bullying. The extent to which bullying exists within any homeschool community is largely undocumented so no one knows for sure how much bullying goes on, but those within the community tend to notice a difference in the relationships among the children from what is seen in school. Homeschooling, even for a short period of time, isn’t for everyone. Laura Brodie did a good job of trying to provide a balanced perspective on what homeschooling can offer a family facing unrelenting bullying in school in her article for Psychology Today.  What people in the homeschool community have noticed, is that the bullying that occurs is often dealt with in the early stages. This is one thing Christina talked about in her article “Is there bullying in homeschool?” 
Parents in a homeschool environment have two advantages over other parents when it comes to bullying. 1. Proximity. Parents are present with their children and other homeschool children much of the time, so it is far more feasible to understand what their child is facing and who their child is interacting with. It is also easier to talk to other parents immediately about any situation that may come up. Rachel Gathercole, in her book The Well Adjusted Child , says that when homeschooled children do run across issues like being excluded or name-calling they tend to have quick access to help. “When this happens, the children have a perfect opportunity not just to encounter bullying, but to learn skills to deal with it due to one key reason: their parents are there to help them.” 2. Authority. Homeschool parents are the teachers and the administration. If something needs to be done in their community there is really no one else to do it but them. There are also not as many hoops to jump through, since their actions for the most part need to be approved of only by the parents around them who have similar goals.
In general children in homeschool groups don’t fracture off into groups with lables like jocks, or nerds. While they do gravitate toward those with shared interests, they often move between groups with no consequence. Students are very often not in competition for status because they see each other as individual people, and accept each other for that. This is a what Kate Fridkis talked about in an article about her homeschool experience and bullying  .
Based on the evidence we have from the homeschool community, it seems as though experts who are calling for adult involvement in bullying situations are on the right track. Adults need to defend children, and teach them how to interact with each other with compassion and empathy. The problem that seems the hardest to tackle is scale. How can so few adults who are spread so thin help so many children in school? Parents may be more than willing to help their children learn how to interact with other kinds of students, but may be overwhelmed by their own lives, or their child may be too embarrassed to bring up the topic. What can be done about this? Hire more teachers or counselors? Make parents somehow feel empowered to inquire into their children’s lives? What will make adults and children strong enough to stand against an unhealthy social dynamic that can have lifelong repercussions?
- Coloroso, Barbara. The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence. New York: Collins Living, 2008.
- “How Does Bullying Start?.” com. N.p., 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Dec. 2015. <http://nobullying.com/bullying-start/>.
- Baird, Derek E. “2009 Cox Teen Online & Wireless Safety Survey: Cyberbullying, Sexting and Parental Controls in partnership with the National Center for Missing &Exploited Children® (NCMEC) and John Walsh.” . Cox Communications, May 2009. Web. 30 Dec. 2015. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/20023365/2009-Cox-Teen-Online-Wireless-Safety-Survey-Cyberbullying-Sexting-and-Parental-Controls>.
- Gordon, Sherri. “6 Common Types of bullies.” health. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 30 Dec. 2015. <http://bullying.about.com/od/Bullies/a/6-Common-Types-Of-Bullies.htm>.
- Sherrow, Hogan. “The Origins of Bullying.” Scientific American. N.p., 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-origins-of-bullying/>.
- Lloyd, Devyne. “What happens when bullies become adults?.” The New Bullying. Michigan State University School of Journalism, Apr. 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://news.jrn.msu.edu/bullying/2012/04/01/bullies-as-adults/>.
- Dimond, Diane. “Today’s Bullies – Tomorrow’s Criminals?.” Huffington Post. N.p., 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-dimond/todays-bullies—tomorrow_b_120765.html>.
- “Students Bullying Teachers: A New Epidemic.” com. N.p., 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://nobullying.com/students-bullying-teachers-a-new-epidemic/>.
- Kam, Katherine. “Teachers Who Bully.” WebMD. Ed. Charlotte E. Grayson. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully>.
- Kelmon, Jessica. “When The teacher is the bully.” Great Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/when-the-teacher-is-the-bully/>.
- Provis, Steven A. Bullying (1950 – 2010): The Bully and the Bullied. Chicago: Loyola University, 2012. N. pag. Loyola University. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <http://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1380&context=luc_diss>.
- “Bullying and Suicide.” Bullying Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html>.
- Woollaston, Victoria. “Victims of bullying are MORE likely to end up in jail than those who are not bullied – and it affects women more than men .” Daily Mail. N.p., 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2382641/Victims-bullying-MORE-likely-end-jail-bullied–affects-women-men.html>.
- “Bullying:Guidelines for Teachers.” tolerance. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.tolerance.org/supplement/bullying-guidelines-teachers>.
- Voors, William. “How to Deal With Bullying in Your Classroom.” net. N.p., Dec. 2002. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <http://www.teachers.net/gazette/DEC02/voors.html>.
- Lewis, Bridget. “Youth more likely to be bullied at schools with anti-bullying programs, UT Arlington researcher finds.” uta.edu. University of Texas, Arlington, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 6 Jan. 2016. <https://www.uta.edu/news/releases/2013/09/jeong-bullying.php>.
- Peters, Ruth A. “How to help keep your kid from being bullied.” Today: Parenting. N.p., 31 Mar. 2005. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.today.com/id/6954575/ns/today-parenting_and_family/t/how-help-keep-your-kid-being-bullied/#.VoWSG3g-MaJ>.
- McGraw, Jay. Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies. New York: Aladdin, 2008. 141. Print.
- “Study Finds Most Bullying Not Reported; Reporting More Likely When Physical Harm Involved.” org. Ed. Alison Cohen and Ashley Gaddis. N.p., 31 Aug. 2010. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://www.edc.org/newsroom/press_releases/study_finds_most_bullying_not_reported_reporting_more_likely_when_physical>.
- Brodie, Laura. “Homeschooling to Escape Bullies: What’s Wrong with That?.” Psychology Today. N.p., 3 May 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-in-time-homeschooling/201005/homeschooling-escape-bullies-whats-wrong>.
- “Is there bullying in homeschooling?.” The Fairly Odd Mother. N.p., 9 July 2012. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. http://www.thefairlyoddmother.com/2012/07/is-there-bullying-in-homeschooling.html
- Gathercole, Rachel. The Well Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling. Denver, Colorado: Mapletree Publishing Company, 2007. 106. Print.
- Fridkis, Kate. “An Unschooled View on Bullying.” com. N.p., Sept. 2011. Web. 31 Dec. 2015. <http://homeedmag.com/HEM/285/unschooled_view_on_bullying.php>.
- What experience have you had with bullying in your life. Were you the bully, the bystander, or the victim?
- What would have helped you, or the other children involved in the bullying you remember? How does that affect your feelings about bullying now?
- What are some of the issues children face today when it comes to bullying? What problems exist in school? What problems exist at home? What problems exist in the community?
- What can be done to address each of these problems? What can be done at school? What can be done at home? What can be done in the community?
- What overall solution would you suggest to address this problem?
- What would it take for children to universally respect each other in this world? Would we need to restructure children’s environments to better meet their needs? Would we need to restructure adult lives so they are better able to meet their children’s needs? Or do you have a different radical idea?