What is a bully? What do bullies do that is so bad? Is being bullied really bad and hurtful to someone? Is all bullying bad or only some types of bullying? Who can bully who?
This is the first post in a 4 part series on bullying.
A Definition of Bullying
So that we know what we’re talking about, lets start with a definition bullying. I’ll let you do your own google search on bullying but here are the key points that I cobbled together:
From the U.S. Government’s stopbullying.gov:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior between individuals that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Individuals who bully use their power to control or harm others.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
An act is bullying when:
- The behavior hurts, humiliates, or harms another person physically or emotionally.
- Those targeted by the behavior have difficulty stopping the action directed at them, and struggle to defend themselves.
- There is also a real or perceived imbalance of power between the parties.
Finally, from Wikipedia:
Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others.
I am happy using any of the above as our working definition of bullying. I think it is important that any definition we use be universal in the sense that we are describing behaviors and not classes of individuals. For example, it seems wrong to say that bullying can only occur between school kids, but the same behavior in adults is not bullying. It would be silly to say something like, “Bullying is when a 7-year-old boy hits a 6-year-old girl and repeatedly intimidates her.” Our definition of bullying should have nothing to do with the genders and ages of the individuals. It’s the behavior that we want to focus on.
Is Bullying Harmful?
Do I really need to answer this question? Perhaps I do, if you’ve been living under a rock! There have been many suicides directly linked to bullying. In his article The Long Term Effects of Bullying, Mark Dombeck says that “Bullying is abuse” and he outlines some of the short and long-term results from bullying.
Short term effects include:
- Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.
- Greater incidence of illness
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Suicidal attempts
Long term effects include:
- Reduced occupational opportunities
- Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge.
- Difficulty trusting people
- Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations
- Increased tendency to be a loner
- Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned
- Self-esteem problems
- Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization
I hope we can agree that bullying is a serious problem for those being bullied. If you don’t think its so serious, I would invite you to read accounts of bullying. Or, maybe you can try to talk to one of the children who have committed suicide because of bullying.
But what about the bullies themselves? Well, it only take a moment of thought to realize that someone (a bully) who does these things to others (the bullied) is going to be suffering themselves! The literature seems to agree with this common sense.
WebMD has published a list of characteristics of children who bully. (I made a slight edit and substituted “individual” for “child”):
Individuals who bully may witness physical and verbal violence or aggression at home. They have a positive view of this behavior, and they act aggressively toward other people, including adults.
Many bullies think highly of themselves. They like being looked up to. And they often expect everyone to behave according to their wishes. Individuals who bully are often not taught to think about how their actions make other people feel.
Bullying behavior is a “red flag” that an individual has not learned to control his or her aggression.
At this point, I hope we can agree that not only is being bullied is bad, but being a bully is also bad. Both groups need help!
Can adults bully? Of course. There is workplace bullying, with its own prevention website, The Workplace Bullying Institute. There are many other forms of adult bullying. I particularly like the descriptions of different types of adult bullying found at BullyingStatistics.org:
- Narcissistic Adult Bully
- Impulsive Adult Bully
- Physical Bully
- Verbal Adult Bully
- Secondary Adult Bully
I like this list of categories, but the bottom line is that adults can and do bully others regularly. PBS’ This Emotional Life claims that “a quarter of American employees will experience some form of bullying at work.” That’s only at work! No need to list examples of adult bullies, you probably have your own examples of bully adults in your life.
Children Bullying Adults?
Since we have a universal definition of bullying, it is certainly conceivable that a child, or children, could bully an adult. One particularly difficult example was Karen Huff Klein, a bus monitor who was bullied by 7th graders in 2012:
You can read more about this case on Wikipedia. I found it especially interesting when I read that:
After the bullies’ identities were revealed, they received many death threats.
So, apparently the solution to bullying, is to bully the bullies. Oh boy, good job anti-bullies (please note the sarcasm).
Adults Bullying Children?
Sure, adults can bully children and they do:
- Coaches bullying their players
- Teachers bullying their students
- Parents bullying their children’s classmates.
Here are a few notable news stories:
- Megan Meier, age 13, committed suicide in 2006 after being bullied by a mother of one of Megan’s classmates.
- Jacob Hancock, age 18, committed suicide in 2010 after he was bullied by classmates. Apparently Jacob’s football coach watched and even participated in the bullying.
- Stephanie Almonte, age 12, committed suicide in 2014 after being bullied by her math teacher.
Parents who Bully their own Children?
What!? Can this really happen? Of course it can. I found a description of being bullied by Alexis at Bulling Recovery to be particularly disturbing. Her story is difficult to read and includes all sorts of lovely plot elements:
- a father who continually taunted her,
- a verbally abusive mother,
- a child (Alexis) who is only able to survive and not thrive the rest of her life.
Here is an excerpt from her description:
My mother, who was verbally abusive and considered her child to be no more than her handmaiden and if the ridiculous and overwhelming demands were not met, well, there was the short and skinny horse-riding crop employed quite skillfully. I made Cinderella look like a child of extremely spoiled and indulgent privilege. I wish I were exaggerating because this looks rather like I’m just wallowing in self-pity. I am not, however, exaggerating.
Another story I found was of a father who, it seems, was trying to enforce some discipline on his 13 year old daughter. You can read the heart breaking story here: 13-Year Old Commits Suicide After Father Publicly Shames Her.
In any case, I think we can agree, that parents bullying kids is certainly possible. And awful. Especially awful when you remember our definition of bullying above:
Those targeted by the behavior have difficulty stopping the action directed at them, and struggle to defend themselves.
Children are certainly going to have trouble stopping a parent bully. Especially when/if society looks in and believes that the parent is just doing normal parenting.
Thank goodness most kids have “normal” parents who don’t bully. Or do they? We will discuss this in future posts.
- Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to dominate others.
- Those bullied can not easily defend themselves.
- Bullying is harmful to both those being bullied and those bullying.
- Anyone can bully or be bullied. In particular:
- Children can bully other children
- Children can bully adults
- Adults can bully other adults
- Adults can bully children
- Parents can even bully their own children