By Shelly Campbell-Harley





     First, let’s look at the definition of what a bully and bullying is.  A bully is a person who is victimizing another person by way of verbal or physical means.  That’s right, bullying does not necessarily mean being violent in a physical sense.  Bullying can include the following situations:  pushing, shoving, or being overly aggressive toward another child on more than one occasion; it can also include talking about another child in a mean way in a conversation, in a note, through texting, emailing, or IMing.  Bullying can be when a child spreads nasty rumors about another child, or teases them in a mean way; plays mean pranks on them, draws unkind pictures of another child, or gets their friends to join in shunning a particular child from sitting with them at the same lunch table or playing games with them on the playground.  You get the picture.  Some of you may be saying right now, well isn’t that what kids do? Isn’t that just a phase? The kids will grow out of it. I’m sure it’s nothing to be worried about.  Let’s take a look at the myths of bullying and see.


The Myths of Bullying


1.    Bullying is nothing more than a conflict between kids.

I’m afraid not.  Bullying is a lot different from having a conflict.  A conflict is a disagreement between two people and can usually be solved.  Bullying involves a power imbalance and is usually repeated over more than one occasion.  It concerns one child victimizing another child who has trouble defending him or herself.  Yes, bullying is done by girls as well as boys. 


2.    Most bullying takes a physical form. 

Actually, the most common form of bullying, according to national studies, is verbal.  Another common form that is seen a lot is social isolation, in which a child is forbidden to sit at certain tables, or play with certain kids, or even use the bathroom at certain times!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                3.    Bullying isn’t serious-it’s just kids being kids.

     Bullying can be extremely serious and can affect the child being bullied by hampering the child’s academic work, as well as                  their mental and physical health.  Children who are targeted by bullies are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and have higher rates of depression, anxiety, lonliness, and suicidal thoughts. As we have witnessed in the news recently, a child that is bullied can end up suffering a tragic end.  A child that bullies, usually falls into other patterns of antisocial behaviors that are violent and troubling as well.


4.    Bullying doesn’t happen at our school.

It’s true that bullying occurs more frequently at certain schools than at others, but it can and does happen anywhere children and youth gather.  Studies show that between 15%-25 % of children in the United States are bullied with some frequency and 15%-20%  admit that they bully other children with some frequency during the school term.


5.    Bullying is more likely to happen on the school bus than at school.

In contrast, while some bullying does take place on the bus, it more commonly takes place at school on the playground, in the bathrooms, in the cafeteria, in the hallways, and in the classrooms.


6.    Children that are bullied will most likely tell an adult.

Adults are usually the last to know.  Children for the most part will not report cases of bullying.  Why? Because of fear of retaliation on the part of the bullies, or perhaps because they feel the adults won’t take their fears seriously or won’t deal with the situation in an appropriate way.


7.    Children who become bullies are usually loners and don’t have many friends.

On the contrary, children who bully others usually have a larger network of friends than the children they bully! More importantly, they tend to have a small group of friends that support and encourage their bullying efforts.  Kids that bully tend to show more leadership skills than their victims or even than those kids who are not involved with bullying.


8.    Children who are bullied need to learn how to deal with bullying on their own.

 Certain kids have the motivation and skill set to handle a bully situation on their own, but some do not.  And why would we want them to try to handle a situation they are incapable of handling?! Bullying is peer abuse and victimizes other children. Society doesn’t expect victims of other forms of abuse to handle the situations by themselves (child/domestic abuse, etc.). 


9.    Most children that observe bullying don’t want to get involved.

Actually, most kids asked about bullying have indicated they don’t think it’s cool to bully others and they would do something if they saw it happening, especially to someone they know.


     So why is it that some kids bully and others don’t? Doctors give 3 reasons to explain this somewhat paradoxical situation.  First, some kids will begin bullying as a show of dominance.  This could be an effort on their part to make a hierarchy stand within the school ranks and be accepted by those that are popular and older.  Secondly, other kids turn to bullying because they were bullied and learned that in order to stop what they didn’t like, they needed to become one.  It is the recycled thinking of if you can’t beat them, join them; the strong will survive.  In this case, the bullies or those that are showing strength from the beginning.  The victims lose.  The third reason some kids bully is because of fear—fear of being bullied themselves.  Of course, there is always the supposition that they are being, or have been, bullied at home by a family member or relative. 

      Unlike what some people think, bullying is not a ‘kid thing’.  It may start out with just teasing, mean talk and drawings, and minor pushing and shoving, but by high school and adulthood, it has evolved into cyberbullying, over-aggressiveness, hazing, sexual harassment, and other troubled behaviors leading to criminal paths of assault and worse.


      So what are the signs that your child may be a bully? What should you be looking for to determine if there is trouble brewing? One thing to watch out for is how your child treats others.  Listen to how he or she talks to their friends.  If they are older, watch their MySpace and Facebook posts.  Keep an eye on who they hang out with; what kind of crowd they are part of.  For younger kids, check out their friends and  what kind of kids they are.  Does your child have a lot of friends or just a few? Why? Do kids tend to hang out with your child or shy away from him? Does she have leadership qualities? Have you received notes from their school about fights or incidents with other children? If so, it is probably about time to have a talk.  Remain calm and really listen to what your child has to say.  Let them know you are concerned about what is happening and you want to help.  If the behaviors persist or get worse, it may be helpful to get counseling or advice from a mental health professional. 

     Watch for signs of lonliness, depression, anxiety, and a tendency to not want to go to school.  Kids that are bullied tend to have low self-esteem and withdraw from others, while the children doing the bullying will tend to be easily frustrated, smooth talkers in difficult situations, aggressive even toward adults, be dominating and manipulative, and blame others when they get into trouble.


     What can you do to help your child? If you see patterns of troubling behavior emerging, put an immediate stop to it.  Do not slough it off as just a phase your child is going through.  Explain to your child that since they can’t manage themselves and their choices, your job as their parent is to step in and manage things for them.  Do what you have to do to help them understand what is wrong with that type of behavior and then do what you have to do to stop it.  If that means cut down on the socializing for awhile (physical and electronic), then so be it.

     If your child is bullying, it is important to provide predictable, appropriate, and consistent consequences.  Find out from your child the reason for these behaviors and be their number one supporter.  Tell them while there needs to be consequences, you will do all you can to help them get back on the right path.  Provide a positive home environment of tolerance, where everybody is valued and appreciated.  Be a good role model. If there is a situation at home where your child feels they are being bullied, this must be dealt with immediately so as not to continue the cycle.  

     Spend time with your children.  Listen more than you talk.  Really try to hear what they are saying.  Intervene whenever you see a bullying situation.  If your child has been being violent toward others, check and see is their time being spent watching violent movies? What about video games? Even their choice of music could play an important part.  Kids will do as they perceive is acceptable to society and their peers, not so much as their parents.  The first eight years of a child’s life is when parents get the chance to model and train up that child.  The child will watch and listen and then do as they have been taught, more or less.  The following years are spent still watching and listening, but now the children are comparing what they have learned to what their peers and the rest of society is doing.   

     The final piece of advice:  Nurture your children and their dreams.   Help them discover what their talents are and encourage them to go after them.  Build them up.  Participate in activities with them as much as possible.  Always be there for them, even when it seems like they don’t want you there any more.  They will want you again.  If you set the foundation, it will stay strong. 

     But how about kids? What can they do to help prevent bullying? For one thing, they can report any incidents to an adult.  Studies show most incidents do not get reported.  Support someone who is being bullied—walk home with them, sit next to them on the bus, sit at lunch with them and try to include them in activities.  Stand up to the person who is bullying.  For example, tell them: “Knock it off.  No one thinks you’re funny or cool because you’re being mean to someone.” Encourage your friends to stand up against bullying as well.  Get your school to institute a bully prevention program.  Once kids stand together against their peers being bullied, bullying won’t be a problem anymore.  And once parents get behind their kids and support them and be in touch with what’s happening in their lives, it will make a big difference not only in family relationships, but in their academic and physical/mental well-being also.


       And now, as it is with the end of every lesson, we will have a fun quiz.  Not for you, parents, but for your kids! Kids, this is a short series of questions for you to take and see if you fall in the category of being a bully.  If you do, don’t worry.  Share the results with your parents and work together to change your thinking and behavior.  If you don’t, then be thankful and work with friends to support them.  Here we go!


Y N    There is a boy or girl whom you’ve repeatedly pushed, shoved,

       punched, or been overly aggressive with at school just because you

       felt like it.


Y N    You had someone else hurt someone you don’t like.


Y N    You spread a nasty rumor about someone in a conversation, in a

       note, email, or IM.


Y N    You and your friends have regularly kept one or more kids from

       hanging out or playing with you.


Y N    You’ve teased people in a mean way, calling them names, making

       fun of their appearances or the way they talk, dress, or act.


Y N    You’ve been part of a group that did any of these things even if

       you only wanted to be part of the crowd.



     If you circled any of the above answers, you’re not alone.  Bullying is a serious business.  It causes young people a lot of pain.  You can help make things better. Visit the website at

   www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids and participate in learning how to be

   part of the solution instead of the problem.