As a twelve year old growing up in India, I used to be panic-strickened every time my parents asked me to fetch an item from the neighborhood grocery store. The reason: another 12 year old boy, son of our next door neighbor, who almost always intercepted me in order to pick a fight. I recall he would push and taunt me, but I would keep walking saying nothing to him. I hated to go to this grocery store alone. I was ashamed of my weakness. I could not figure out why he did not like me. Looking back, I know I was very different from most neighborhood kids. I was not hip or glib; I was shy and cautious. And I excelled academically – a phenomenon that was neither common nor valued in my neighborhood of low socio-economic stratum. For a couple years, I endured the fear and emotional suffering. Finally, I gathered some courage to talk to my father about this. He was surprised, but kept a calm expression: looked right into my eyes and said, ‘there is nothing he can do to you!!” I know it was a very profound statement. He obviously did not ask me to physically fight with this kid, but he was conveying to me that he (my father) was with me, and I should not be afraid. I remember vividly that my father sent me to the grocery store the same day and sat in the balcony of our apartment, keeping an eye on the street. I remember, walking down the street, my whole body posture changed. As I saw the bully approach me, I glared right into his eyes and said in a steely tone ‘what do you want?’ The bully was taken aback and stopped suddenly, his eyes scanning my whole body as if to look for any sign of weakness. As my posture became more determined, the bully retreated for his home. He never returned. I know I was fortunate in many ways in this regard. Many other kids are sadly not that fortunate.
How common is bullying?
My experience is shared by about 30% of youth in the U.S. – these children are either bullies or targets of bullying. According to a national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported having been bullied and 5% reported both bullying others and being bullied.
Male vs. female bullying
Both girls and boys bully and get bullied. Male bullies tend to bully both boys and girls, and often use physical force in bullying. Female bullies typically bully other girls and mostly use rumors, sexual comments and social exclusion.
Who is likely to be a bully?
The following characteristics not only predispose children and teens to be a bully but also describe them:
• Easily angered.
• Inflated self-confidence.
• Low tolerance for frustration.
• Lacking in empathy.
• Do poorly academically.
• Tend to get in trouble often.
• Tend to fight, drink and smoke more than peers.
• Have parents who are not emotionally invested, do not monitor their actions and use an extreme approach (permissive or harsh) true disciplining.
• Male bullies tend to be physically bigger and stronger than their peers.
• Surprisingly ‘popular’
Who is likely to be bullied?
The following characteristics predispose a child to be bullied:
• Insecure: have low self-esteem.
• Socially isolated: lack social skills.
• Social ‘misfits’.
• Rarely retaliate or defend.
• Males who are bullied tend to be physically weaker than peers.
Long-term consequences of being a bully
• Tend to have legal problems as an adult.
• Tend to engage in criminal activities as an adult.
• Have difficulties developing and maintaining positive relationships.
Long-term consequences of being bullied
• Increased anxiety.
• Development of depression, including suicidal thoughts.
• Academic problems and school phobia.
What to do if your child is a bully?
• Seek professional help as soon as possible since it can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal difficulties.
• Involve pediatrician, classroom teacher, principal, school counselor, clergy, etc. All of them working in concert has the best potential for helping the child.
• Bullying could be a manifestation of conduct disorder, anti-social personality disorder, ADHD or bipolar disorder. These conditions need to be recognized and treated promptly.
What to do if your child is being bullied?
• Encourage your child to tell you what is going on.
• Do not be critical: be accepting. Assure your child he/she is not at fault.
• Get your child involved in solution-finding.
• Meet with teacher, school counselors and school principal to find a ‘solution’.
• Do not ask your child to use physical force.
• Help your child learn to be assertive.
• Encourage your child to be around his friends so he is not likely to be cornered by the bully.
• Seek psychiatric help as soon as possible if you notice worsening of academic performance, increasing social withdrawal or depressive symptoms.
Bullying via internet, known as cyber-bullying, has become increasingly common in recent years. This could include making threats, making derogatory comments, stealing passwords, spreading rumors, etc. It is important to realize that the psychological and emotional consequences of cyber-bullying are similar to real-life bullying and in fact, can even be worse. Cyber-bullying can be more perverse, more public and more humiliating than real-life bullying.
What schools and communities can do?
Bullying needs to be taken very seriously as is can lead to disastrous consequences including death. Effective anti-bullying programs have been developed by some schools and must contain the following elements:
• School-wide commitment to end bullying.
• Zero tolerance to bullying.
• Increased awareness about bullying.
• Improved adult supervision.
• Support and protection for all students.
• Involvement of all adults at school, e.g. teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, crossing guards, etc.