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Decoding Bullying - Part 1: Understanding why kids bully
by: Priyanka Raha ~10/14/2022


Bullying 101

Bullying - we all know it and we have probably all faced it in some form or the other. Bullying has become a problem with enormous impact on our children. In an effort to prevent bullying, I want to explore why bullying happens and why kids bully. Bullying is perceived as unwanted aggressive or negative behavior that is repeated or highly likely to be repeated. Bullying can be broadly categorized into four kinds

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Social isolation
  • Cyberbullying

Although bullying is widespread it remains one of the most undetected behaviors among children in schools and playgrounds because either adults are too quick to brush it off as harmless kid behavior or they refuse to accept it because they haven’t seen it happening. According to a recent survey done by the CDC, about 1 in 4 high school students have reported being bullied and 1 in 6 high school students have reported being bullied electronically. It has been found out that reports of bullying are highest in middle schools, about 28%, while that percentage is slightly lower in high schools, about 16%.

Impacts of Bullying

Bullying can cause physical injury, social and emotional distress. In more extreme cases, it can lead to self-harm and sometimes even death. Bullying increases the risk of anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and lower academic achievement. Bullying doesn’t just impact the ones who are bullied, it equally affects the ones who bully others. Research has indicated that youth who bully others are at risk for substance misuse and academic problems. Youth who bully others are bullied themselves and are at a greater risk for suffering mental health and behavioral problems.

Understanding Bullying Behavior

The first step in changing this epidemic of social torment is to understand the reason behind bullying. Without a proper insight into why a bully uses aggressive behavior it will be hard to know how to handle the situation. Some kids are more aggressive, dominating and impulsive by nature but these traits do not make a child a bully.

Although bullies don’t need a particular reason to bully others, their behaviors often stem from a deeper problem that they are themselves trying to manage, mostly without any help. Here are a few things that bullies have replied when asked the reason for their behavior:

  • Because it makes me feel stronger, smarter or better
  • Because I’m bullied at home
  • Because this is the only way to keep others from bullying me
  • Because this is what you do to hang out with the cool crowd
  • Because others are doing it without facing any consequences

Whatever the reason, bullying is NOT COOL, it’s mean.

In order to understand better, we have categorized a few reasons why kids bully

Peer pressure

Children or young adults often feel socially isolated brought upon by multiple reasons. In order to avoid this they start to hang out with groups who have a certain authority in the schools and more often than not these peer groups are the ones that display bullying behavior. To show their allegiance and fit into the peer group the youth resort to bully others.

Family issues

Some youth who bully may be victims of aggressive behavior at home or may have caregivers or parents who do not show love or emotional support. It is highly likely that these young adults might be dealing with emotional stress and are unable to find support or a way to communicate to anyone. In the absence of proper tools to manage their own anxiety they lash out in aggressive behavior towards others.

Need for power

Children who bully are often found to have been bullied in the past. They tend to be in situations themselves either at home or other spaces where they feel like they have no control over their choices or their life. So they display bullying behavior in social interactions as they find it appealing how it makes them feel powerful.

School factors

In multiple surveys youth who bully have pointed out that they do it because they see others do it without facing consequences. Bullying is as much an individual problem as it is a systemic issue. If schools do not have proper processes in place to check bullying behavior it results in propagating the problem. Students who bully need a lot of support to help them address their behavior.

Prejudicial thinking

It has been found that bullies often target kids who are different in some way. Kids are usually singled out by bullies if they have special needs or have a different gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion etc. That is because it is human nature to fear what we do not know. Kids who bully are often not exposed to different opinions and are unable to expand their horizons of knowledge thereby leading to a severely constrained thinking.

I hope this was helpful in providing an insight into the minds of the bullies. In our next blog, I will be diving deeper into how as adults we can help the kids who are bullied as well as the kids who bully. Only when we tackle this problem from both sides can we put an end to this. Stay tuned!

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