By Joseph Johnson, Staff Writer
NOTE: As I was preparing the final edit of this part of a three part special report on bullying, a breaking news story came out of Murrysville, PA. A sixteen year old student at Franklin Regional High School has gone on a stabbing rampage that has injured at least 20 people, including students and adults.
The event could have been worse, but for a student hitting a fire alarm to warn others, and an assistant principal subduing the assailant. As this story continues to unfold, I suspect we will hear the term “bullying” tossed about.
For the past week or so, I have asked a couple dozen different children if they were aware of bullies in their schools or neighborhoods. Every single one of them said “yes.” I asked them to share examples, and the list ranged from “having their school books knocked out of their hands” to what I would consider outright assault. Most of them also stated that they believed there “would always be bullies” around.
Every one of them felt powerless to prevent it.
In Part Two of “The Bully Dilemma”, we will take a look at some of the potential causes contributing to the “making” of a bully. However, before we can get into that, we should define “bullying.” By definition, bullying can take many forms. For the purpose of this story, we will focus on physical bullying.
Bullying can take on the form of hitting, pushing, tripping, slapping, spitting, stealing and/or destroying possessions, including books, clothing or lunch money. I am certain I must have left something out.
The examples I gave above, although they do fall under the bullying definition, are in all actuality crimes. However, since they involve children, they are soft sold as bullying.
A list of “why” a person decides to bully someone is vicarious a best, I mean unless we could actually spend time inside the bully’s head prior to the incident, there is no way of knowing for certain.
In February 2000, Barry K. Weinhold wrote an article entitled, “Uncovering the hidden causes of bullying and school violence” which was published in Counseling and Human Development. In the article, he states that “bullying is the most common type of violence in contemporary US society.” If you factor in the high rate of domestic violence existing in our cities today, this could mean that many young people grow up expecting that violence is an acceptable way to get what one wants.
What does a bully look like? He looks like one of our kids, because in reality, they “look” the same. However, there are characteristics that are common among children who bully others. Typically, the bully has difficulty getting along with other kids in general, and as a result, will not engage in play with them. If you observe them on the playground, they tend to isolate themselves from others, although they will often skirt the perimeter of the activities.
When the bully feels insecure for whatever reason; such as being confronted with a problem, they will often times take it out on another child. They will use either physical or verbal assaults to do this. They also break or throw things in order to have a sense of power. Feeling insecure, afraid or powerless is often a catalyst for aggression. Once they identify their negative actions with power, is is difficult for them to let go of that.
In regards to specific causes, many factors are at play. If the places that the bully frequents do not have standards in place to prevent their actions, then they will feel free to exhibit their negative behaviors. Schools, the home, parks, malls, etc must have high standards in regards to social-interaction in order to lessen the likelihood of bullying. Sadly, as I stated in Part One of this series, the typical standard is the “Just Say No” approach.
Another factor to consider in regards to the causes of bullying is directly related to the society we live in. Negative behaviors tend to receive more recognition than positive ones. Consider the majority of the stories that appear on the evening news. Acting out causes people to receive more attention than making the right choices do, because correct responses are considered to be the “norm.” Sadly, this is increasingly becoming quite the opposite of the norm. Lack of proper skills in regards to appropriate social interaction, promotes in the child the likelihood of being a bully.
The bully’s own history can also play an important role in why they behave aggressively towards others. One factor that may be missed with a lot of frequency is the possibility that the child may have an undiagnosed learning disability. When a child experiences academic failure, especially if they are giving it their all, they become more likely to bully. Again, they are in search of some sort of “power.”
BULLYING BEGINS AT HOME
The home is either an incubator for the potential bully, or the place where it is prevented from ever staring to begin with. In regards to the home, there are several factors that may increase or decrease the likelihood of a child becoming a bully. Economics can play an important role. The reality is that some families cannot afford to provide their children with the latest gadgets or popular clothes that other children may have. This can often lead to ridicule by other kids, which may lead to the “unpopular” child becoming aggressive.
This is certainly not an excuse, but it is a real factor.
Another factor to consider is the sad reality that many children today are growing up in homes that are not warm and loving. Feelings are either not expressed, or are considered to be a sign of weakness. Inconsistent discipline, or a home environment that focuses on punitive measures as opposed to positive re-enforcement, may also be a breeding ground for the potential bully.
Neglect or being bullied by adults or older siblings, may also “teach” a child that this is the acceptable way to resolve issues and conflicts. Again, it is often about power and the “give me my way or what I want or face my wrath” approach to interacting with others.
The causes addressed above are no way complete or all inclusive, the reason a child bully’s another child is as unique as the child and their situation. However, by being aware of possible causes, it is a potential tool for stopping bullying before it starts.
In Part Three of “The Bully Dilemma” we will take a look at what we can do to lessen the occurrences of bullying.
Read Part One of “The Bully Dilemma” by clicking here.
Read Part Three of “The Bully Dilemma” by clicking here.
Join the 4-State Anti-Child Assault and Bullying Task Force on Facebook by clicking here.