Bullying: What It Is, Why Bullies Do It, And Behaviors To Watch

Bullying is often dismissed as a normal part of growing up, but bullying is a serious issue and can have long-lasting and traumatic effects.  We witnessed these disastrous effects at Columbine in 1999 and more recently at an Ohio school shooting.  Even Lady Gaga is speaking out about her own victimization by bullies and has launched an anti-bullying campaign.

What is Bullying?
Bullying is when a person or group repeatedly, over time, tries to harm someone who is weaker, or perceived by the perpetrator to be weaker.

Forms of Bullying
There are 9 main forms of bullying.
1)    Verbal- including derogatory comments and name-calling
2)    Social exclusion or isolation
3)    Physical- including, but not limited to; hitting, kicking, shoving, pinching, and spitting
4)    Starting false rumors or lies about the victim
5)    Taking or damaging a victim’s property
6)    Threatening or using coercion
7)    Racial
8)    Sexual
9)    Cyber

Why Bullies Bully
It has long been thought that bullies bully others because they have low self-esteem, but the research shows just the opposite.
*Bullies have strong needs for power and negative dominance over their victims.
*Bullies find satisfaction in causing injury and suffering to others.
*Bullies are often rewarded for their behavior with material or psychological rewards.

Effects of Bullying
Victims of bullying often experience negative, long-lasting effects including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal/homicidal thoughts or actions.

Behaviors to Observe
Because the bully does not want to be caught, he or she will often threaten the victim with the prospect of more harm if he or she tells someone.  So, the victim often will avoid telling an adult right away about what is happening.  It is important to know what behaviors and signs to look for to determine if your child is a victim of bullying.

* Not wanting to go to school or complaining about being sick, with no clear physical ailments
* Being scared to walk to or from school, refusing to take the school bus, or begging you   to drive him to school
* Coming home with clothes, books, or belongings destroyed, “lost”, or missing
* Coming home starving (because the bully took his lunch money)
* Asking for money or starting to steal money (to pay the bully)
* Becoming withdrawn, distressed, or anxious * Crying himself to sleep or having nightmares
* Crying himself to sleep or having nightmares
* Beginning to bully other children, especially siblings
* Refusing to go to the bathroom at school and/or coming home with a sense of urgency
* Attempting or threatening suicide
* Giving unlikely excuses for any of the above

The National Mental Health Information Center recommends that when you talk with your child:

* Make sure to let your child know that that being bullied is not his fault.
* Let your child know that he does not have to face being bullied alone.
* Discuss ways of responding to bullies.
* Teach your child to be assertive (I tell kids this is sticking up for yourself in a good way that doesn’t hurt anyone– including yourself and doesn’t get you in trouble).
* Tell your child not to react, but to ignore the bully, walk away and get help if pursued.
*  Tell your child to report bullying immediately to a trusted adult.

How to Address Bullying with your Child’s School
It is important to address the bullying issue with the school social worker, teacher, and/or principal.  Ask the school staff to keep your conversation private. One school I have worked with told me that they address bullies or any wrongdoings by telling a child, “You’ve been observed doing XYZ.” This takes out the possibility that the bully will identify who “told on them.”

If the bullying progresses past verbal abuse and there is a threat of physical violence, it is considered a crime. “Criminal threatening” is cause to alert police. Illinois, along with many other states have bullying laws to provide protection.

Article by:
Dori J. Mages, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
North Shore Pediatric Therapy



Dori J. Mages, MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker who earned her Master of Social Work from The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work in 1997. She also has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dori has worked with children, adolescents, and families since 1994 in several areas of social work practice including: foster care, schools, hospitals, and private practice. She earned her Type 73 school social work certification in 1997 and has worked with children of all needs in the public schools for 7 years. She knows the importance of collaborating with parents, teachers and school staff (with parental consent) to provide the most beneficial services. Dori has also been interviewed on ABC and NBC news as an expert discussing therapeutic topics and articles she has written. As a wife and mother of three, she understands the challenges and rewards of raising children and is compassionate about helping children and families navigate the difficult times. Dori prides herself on being a valuable coach and “cheerleader” to the families she serves and strives to give families the tools they will need to improve their quality of life long after therapy has ended.
Thank you to North Shore Pediatric Therapy for helping Sponsor our National Nanny Training Day for Chicago Nannies!

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