What makes a bully? Is it a malicious desire to hurt another person? A person lashing out because of problems at home? A need to seem tough in a world that is out of their control? There is no single formula for those we have come to see as bullies and the definition is pretty broad.
The facts about bullying are less vague. According to Stop Bullying, as many as one in three children has reported being bullied at some point in their life. While some of this is done in elementary and high school, the bulk of it seems to be in those middle years of junior high.
More alarming is the impact.
The National Institute of Health has found in numerous studies that bullying causes social, emotional, mental and even physical damage in the short and long term. Not only that, but those who are the bullies themselves have an increased risk of depression. It isn’t just the victims who suffer, the aggressors suffer as well.
“We Were Only Fooling Around!”
One of the major reasons bullying isn’t addressed is the idea of teasing versus bullying. How often have you heard the phrase, “it was just a joke”? Or accused someone of being too sensitive and getting their feelings hurt over nothing?
We have a serious problem in our society of diminishing the feelings of others, refusing to admit that something may have been hurtful, intentionally or not.
This can be seen in the “teasing culture” that has become so popular. Look up roasting on Reddit or watch old Vine compilations and you will have a multitude of examples of insults used as humor. It is easy for this behavior to morph into cyberbullying, which is becoming an increasing problem with the prevalence of social media and smartphones.
Many teens can handle teasing. They joke around with their friends, make fun of them and give as good as they get. The problem arises when one or more of the people involved are not a part of the joke.
Help Children Recognize Teasing vs Bullying
So, how do we teach our children the difference? We start by recognizing what teasing is and when it merges into bullying.
- Is equally distributed among the entire group
- Does not target a single individual
- Avoids topics of faith, ethnicity, gender or disabilities they cannot control
- Stops when a person requests it
- Targets a specific person more than the rest, or exclusively
- Focuses on deeply personal aspects to a person’s life, such as their religion or race
- Becomes a pattern
- Causes anxiety, pain or anger in the person receiving it
- Doesn’t stop when requested
- Creates an imbalance within the group
Talking to Your Child about Bullying
No one likes to think that there is a problem with their child, whether that is being bullied or being the bully. Regardless of the difficulty of the conversation, it is critical that you have it. National Bullying Prevention Month is in October and can be the perfect time to open the conversation.
As a parent, you are your child’s greatest advocate. Tell them that you love them, and that they can open up to you without fear of punishment or judgment. Talk to them about how teasing is different than bullying, and keep the conversation open if they think of any examples they have seen or even taken part in that crossed that line.
Together, the two of you can come up with a plan to battle bullying. If your child has been exhibiting bullying behavior, it is also a time to make it clear that it can’t continue. It may take more intervention, such as working with school administration or a therapist. But it all starts with one conversation.
Costello, Victoria, ‘How a Bully Is Made’, Psych Central, https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-a-bully-is-made/
Stop Bullying, https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html
National Institute of Health, ‘How Does Bullying Affect Health and Well-Being, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bullying/conditioninfo/health
Pederson, Traci, ‘Depression High in Cyber Bullying Victims’, Psych Central, https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/22/depression-high-in-cyber-bully-victims/18527.html,
Help Your Teen Now, ‘Life Before and After Bullying [Infographic]’, https://helpyourteennow.com/life-before-and-after-bullying-infographic-what-causes-it-and-the-future-impact/