Sarah Mattie, the Content Production Editor at MSWDegrees.org shared with Healthy Lombard that bullying is an idea that strikes anger in parents’ hearts and exasperation in the minds of teachers and others who work with kids.
If you’re a parent and your child tells you they’re being bullied, your immediate response is likely to defend your kid. Perhaps you even thought—or said—the bully is a “bad kid.” That’s a totally reasonable reaction. You don’t want your child to hurt.
If you work in a school, chances are you’ve sat through countless professional development sessions being told about the effects of bullying and learning about your school’s “zero-tolerance policy.”
But in both cases, it’s possible you still felt a bit helpless. If you work with kids, you may know zero-tolerance policies don’t work, posters saying “be a friend, not a bully!” do nothing, and punishments are often disproportionately used against students with special needs and who identify as BIPOC and LGBTQ+. If you’re a parent, you aren’t there to help at school, and you can’t hover over a smartphone 24/7.
Often, the talk about bullying focuses on “victims.” But what if some of the focus was shifted to the “bullies” themselves? When we talk about other dangerous situations, like criminality, we care about the victims’ welfare—but we know interventions are needed for the perpetrators. Only they can truly stop their own behaviors.
This article explores the nature of bullying, why kids engage in bullying behaviors, the long-term consequences if the underlying issues aren’t addressed, and steps you can take to help those who bully before it’s too late.
A note about terminology
In this piece, we won’t be using “bullies” or “victims” to describe the young people involved unless needed to emphasize a point or as part of a quote. Labeling children—or anyone—as a certain “type” may indicate to the child that the label is who they are. They often internalize this and may act accordingly. Using labels also removes responsibility from anyone else—and stopping bullying is a community effort.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is often misunderstood and misapplied to situations. Dan Olweus, often considered the “founding father” of research on bully/victim problems, created the widely-accepted definition of bullying:
“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”
For a behavior to be called bullying, it needs to include:
While other negative interactions should be addressed, bullying needs to be handled differently from interactions that don’t meet these standards.