Bully, Bullying, Bullied

By Dr. Julius Licata

 

Dr. Licata co-founded and has been directing TeenCentral.Net since 1998. This website is free, anonymous and very safe for all teens who log on to “work it out.” Licata has seen a concerning rise in bullying incidents and issues reported on TC.N recently, as well as the distress and helplessness it causes victims. In this article, Licata explores the dangers of bullying and the signs of bullying for which parents should watch in their children.

Social standing and fitting in are very important to teenagers. All too often, maintaining that comfortable role in a group can be ruined by bullies. Bullies are typically bigger physically, but they may also be bigger in terms of personality or viciousness. They typically intimidate through physical or sexual means, but they also can be more subtle and use verbal abuse to inflict pain and intimidation on their victims. They target the weaker, shyer, sensitive kids and usually repeat their hurtful behaviors over time with one goal: to increase their own stature at the cost of destroying the victim’s self-esteem.

Clearly, bullying is far more than simple teasing; it is an aggressive, destructive and very dangerous behavior that also includes harassment and can ruin someone’s life. The victims of bullying and harassment often do not tell parents or report this behavior because they fear retaliation, feel embarrassed about what is happening or just feel so put down that they see no hope of this situation ending. They also fear retaliation if they try to stand up for themselves and frequently attempt to befriend the bully, just to make the punishment stop. This can often result in feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Bullies believe that they shine or look good when they make others look sad or weak. They see no value or worth in anyone but themselves. Bullying is not only the obvious punching or hitting; it actually can take many more destructive forms such as social exclusion, name-calling, obscene gestures or sending threatening messages via phone or computer (cyber bullying).

Teens who are subjected to bullying on any level often feel distraught, depressed, abused and alone. They try to avoid situations that will cause them to interact with bullies, but, with today’s technology, bullying comes directly into the home. Victims feel that there is no safe haven from their tormentors and, in some instances, the only relief they can see is self-harm or suicide.

 

TeenCentral.Net is a unique, personalized, anonymous, safe and free Internet resource that helps kids face and overcome crises and life’s daily challenges. Teens post to the site with issues, questions, experiences or problems and receive answers online from professionals within 24-hours. After a counselor addresses the problem, a Master’s or Doctorate level Clinician checks the correspondence before it is posted on the site. Throughout this article, real posts from teens on bullying appear in italics.

Steve13 writes:

I am so stressed out. Every day when I walk to school I meet up with this kid Robert who I used to know when we were little. We stopped hanging out together after second grade, when I got transferred to a better school. He still goes to my old school. Now every time he sees me, it’s like he just wants to kill me. He starts swearing at me and stuff. He’s freaking me out. The other day he came running after me carrying this huge tree branch like he was going to hit me with it. I feel like I’m in a movie with a stalker. Except that there’s no one to save the day. What should I do to get him to cut it out?

Imagine Steve13’s fear every time he leaves his house to walk to school, hang out with his friends or just go for a walk. He is forced to live in fear because someone, for some unknown reason, has decided to bully him. His life truly has become a nightmare.

Tweetybird15 writes:

Here’s my story. I’m in eighth grade and I go to a good school. The only problem is that I’m on partial scholarship, and somehow this got out. Now there’s this guy in my class who is making a big deal out of me being “poor.”

My friend Susan says he must have a crush on me, but I know that’s not the reason. The other day he took out a five-dollar bill and started waving it around, saying. “I bet you think this is a lot of money.” I don’t think anybody really knew what he was talking about, but they soon will. He isn’t going to stop till he makes my life miserable.

I can’t concentrate when I’m in school because I don’t know what people think about me. And I really don’t want to talk to my parents and make them feel bad for not being rich. Who should I talk to when I can’t talk to anyone?

In this case, there is no threat of physical attack; however, the bullying is real and very dangerous. It makes Tweetybird15 embarrassed to the point where she cannot do her work and puts her in danger of losing her scholarship. This intimidation and harassment are strong forms of bullying and have no purpose but to destroy another person.

Why Do Bullies Behave So Badly?

We all must consider, “Why is a bully, a bully?” Some aggressive teens report that they are insecure themselves and so they become bullies to cover their own insecurities. Others testify that they are tired of being bullied so they bully others.

Poppie writes:

I don’t know why I do this, but I act like I am really tough at school. I know that other people don’t like me because I act like nothing matters to me. It is not how I really feel, but I will threaten other kids and act like nobody is tougher than me. Other people call me a bully. Even though I don’t really beat anyone up, I say I am going to all the times. Why can’t I stop acting this way?

Poppie may have a tendency to be aggressive so that getting his own way is just a matter of using this aggressiveness to gain the advantage.  While boys tend to dominate the physical side of bullying there is no shortage among girls participating in rumors, teasing, harassing and bullying in Internet chat rooms and blogs.

Bullies may be victims of abuse of some sort in the home, or they may have witnessed someone being abused at home. When children see problems solved through violence, they naturally use that learned behavior to achieve their own wants or desires. We must always be aware that children watch what works for their parents and act out accordingly. If there are few or no consequences for their behaviors, bullies will take that as approval to act out without thought and without fear of reprisal. There must be a concerted effort within the home to not only offer consequences for negative behaviors, but to avoid showcasing the negative behaviors as well.

Children who have been victims of violence or have not been taught how to properly socialize can find bullying very effective. Others may try to become friends with the bully simply to protect themselves from hurt or harassment, and they may even play along with bullying another to keep themselves out of the direct line of fire.

It seems obvious that adults should never use force or violence to redirect negative, aggressive behavior since this serves only to reinforce the behavior rather than control it. However, the cycle of violent consequences for violent behavior is all too often repeated generation after generation. Instead, parents should make children realize that their behavior is wrong and unacceptable. Never try to explain children’s behavior as being a result of strong personality or tough natures. If parents find their children unable to eliminate negative, bullying behavior, then eliminate violent TV shows, video games or movies from their lives. If this does not help, do not be afraid or hesitant to seek counseling.

Adult Involvement

Accountability is extremely important, and giving appropriate consequences for aggressive behaviors must start early. Bullying must be redirected and stopped when it first appears. If a parent notices a 3-year-old is hitting another child, it is time to redirect the behavior. Failure to take a stand or redirect this child may be tantamount to giving him/her the permission to become a bully. Parents often find it difficult to redirect behaviors in a child who is predisposed to being aggressive, but, if this child does not respond to correction, it is not too early to seek professional help.

Often, because they don’t see the bullying, adults don’t understand how dangerous it can become. It is vital that adults never consider bullying a rite of passage or tell a victim that it will stop. Bullying should never be tolerated, and no teen should have to endure the embarrassment or hurt that is intentionally inflicted by a bully. Indeed, bullying can start as early as preschool, and it often lasts into adulthood if the bullies are not challenged and their behaviors stopped.

It has been recognized by mental health professionals that the rise in suicidal ideations and suicide attempts can be linked to long-term bullying when certain victims can see no way out of the abuse. Adults should be aware that many teens do not discuss their mistreatment by bullies, so they must rely on signs that a teen may be suffering as a victim. Open communication with our teens is vital so that we can tell when something is bothering them. Look for signs of depression, moodiness, staying alone, fears or excuses for not attending school or simply not spending time with friends. Above all, listen when children say they “don’t feel like life is meaningful” or “life is empty,” as these are signs that they need professional help.

Adults should never minimize the concerns teens share with them. Never advise teens, “If you stand up to them, they will stop.” This can be dangerous and cause greater harm to the victims. Adopt a zero tolerance policy regarding this bullying in all areas of life.

If a child is redirected and refocused on more positive behaviors, there is a good chance that he or she will adopt that more positive behavior. There is no need to scream or yell at the child, as that does little more than reinforce negative behavior. However, talking calmly and correcting lovingly will go a lot further and stay with the child longer. Of course, offering positive or negative consequences for behaviors helps to reinforce the positive and deter the negative and, if done early, helps children to adopt more socially acceptable behavioral patterns.

Every child deserves to live in peace and harmony without fear of being harassed, hurt, maligned or physically brutalized. Mental health professionals and educators must make every effort to educate parents about the consequences of unacceptable behaviors by their children and give them alternatives. All adults should be vigilant for signs of bullying and victimization and never tolerate bullying in any setting.|

Resources

KidsHealth.com. Dealing with Bullying. Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD, June 2007. Originally reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD

Suite 101.com. Why Do Bullies Bully? Nash, Lori

Cohn, Andrea & Canter, Andrea, PhD, NCSP. “Bullying: Facts for Schools and Parents.” National Association of School Psychologists.

Julius Licata is the Director of TeenCentral.Net for KidsPeace. He has been working with children for over 30 years. Before taking over TeenCentral.Net, he worked as a Mental Health Professional for KidsPeace. Julius earned his BA in Philosophy from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, New York, and his Master of Divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary in Mahwah, NJ. He recently received his PhD in Psychology. Besides his position at KidsPeace, Julius is Archbishop of the Old Catholic Apostolic Church of the Americas, located in Bethlehem, PA, and Pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. Jude, also in Bethlehem.