Why Do People Become Bullies?
by Del Hungerford
Throughout 2011 and into 2012, we’ve seen countless cases of bullying. Kids are posting comments on Facebook or videos on YouTube. After the postings, some of these same children have committed suicide or murdered their bullies.
The act of bullying is “harassing, maltreating, singling out, hounding, harrying, or discriminating against another person.” To understand a little more:
- The bully knows what he/she’s doing, as it is an intentional act.
- The actions are repeated often with the intent to harm or discredit another.
- There is a “power over” equation in that the bully holds something over the victim.
- Bullies engage in “abusive behavior.”
- A person who bullies has often been bullied themselves and lives with adults who model abusive behaviors. There may also be verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
- Bullies often act out what is modeled in the home. If authority figures demonstrate abusive behavior, a bully may turn that same behavior onto his/her own victim in order to gain some control back in his/her life.
To get to the root of the obvious epidemic on bullying, one must understand the CAUSE behind it. We want a quick fix but fail to understand the underlying issue. Going back to what’s modeled by those around us, we see on a daily basis how people treat one another. This occurs in our homes, on television, in movies, in the media, and in schools.
With the high rate of divorce and/or both parents working, children are often left at daycares, home alone, or with other caretakers. The main influence in children’s lives is often not caring and loving family. Therefore, the child often has role models (including other children) that are contrary to the set family values.
Through my experience as a teacher, it was easy to spot the children that lacked loving support from home. For many children, they feel lost in their situation. For some, this sense of “out-of-control” breeds the need to be in command of something. Often, that control is gained at the expense of others. In addition, children want to fit and not be pointed out. So, many will point out the faults of others to take the attention off their own shortcomings or to gain what they feel is respect from fellow classmates or friends.
Is there a solution? Although the issue of bullying is very complicated, there are steps that can be taken toward stopping the epidemic. It must first start in the home with:
- Understanding that any form of abusive behavior is not acceptable. This involves both parents and children. Parents need to model good behavior and then treat their children in a respectful and non-abusive manner.
- Educating the entire family through classes, counseling, good role models in church or the community, and school. In order to understand the bullying epidemic, a family must understand HOW to treat people with respect.
- Understanding that education concerning bullying comes first followed by putting positive behavior into practice. This often involves some form of family counseling or classes on the “how to” process.
- In order for a bully to change his/her behavior, the paradigm, standard, and pattern of a new behavior must begin. Without proper modeling of what’s considered good behavior, this is less likely to happen.
- Understanding that a character change is important for all involved. This includes all family members. In abusive home situations, until “offenders” change their behavioral pattern, children who bully will not have a good role model to follow.
- In situations where it appears everything in the family is normal, help the bully understand what it is that contributes to the need to torment others. Remember that the main underlying factor in bullying is that for some reason, a child (or adult) feels inferior. The act of bullying covers up or “masks” a lack of self-esteem.
NOTE: bullying will only change once we realize that educating children in school is not enough. Education must start in the home.
The Story of A.J., “The Bully.”
Although this story is fictitious, it represents an often typical story of a bully.
Enter Center Stage: “The Bully and Victim.” This child (we’ll call A.J.) has determined that his/her victim (we’ll call C.B.) is stupid because C.B. always comes to school smelling bad and dressed in clothes that don’t fit. C.B. is shy and doesn’t appear to know the answers when asked by Teacher. So, A.J. calls C.B. stupid and smelly and gets other friends to hold their noses every time they walk by C.B. During recess, A.J. and friends taunt C.B. with insults outside the hearing range of playground staff.
Enter Stage Left: “C.B.’s Family.” C.B. is from a poor family. C.B. and four siblings live with their father, the sole provider for the family. With a job that barely makes ends meet, the family has little money for new clothes. Four of the children are in the same school as C.B. They, too, are often made fun of by classmates because of how they dress.
Enter Stage Right: “A.J.’s Family.” A.J. comes from a middle class family where the dad is a workaholic and is rarely home. When home, he’s often in a bad mood and has little time for the children. A.J. has one sibling who is much older and is rarely home. Mom works a partial day and is at the house by the time A.J. gets home from school. Mom appears stressed when Dad is at home, trying to meet his every need so he won’t lash out at her. The family rarely does anything together and has not taken a vacation in years. A.J. doesn’t feel a part of the family since Dad doesn’t appear interested in what’s going on in A.J.’s life. A.J. often comes to school in a bad mood after listening to heated fights between Dad and Mom, where Mom usually ends up crying.
Enter Downstage: “School Staff.” Teacher suspects that something is going on with C.B. because he has become quieter and more withdrawn. After questioning C.B., Teacher learns that classmates have been teasing him. After interviewing several students, Teacher determines that A.J. is the instigator. When questioned, A.J. offers no explanation and makes no mention of anything amiss at home. By all accounts, it appears that A.J.’s family life is normal.
Intermission: “Assessment time.” There are obviously several “issues” present in this situation. Pinpointing the underlying cause may be difficult, especially since A.J. can offer no explanation for bullying other students.
When a child is unable to explain his/her feelings or connect the offending behavior to something going on in his/her life, unless a teacher or school counselor is able to “connect the dots,” the root of the problem may be difficult to discover. Therefore, with nothing to go on, teachers, counselors, and parents work on modifying the behavior. This may include class discussions on bullying and how to treat others, time-out for the bullying student, a behavior plan, etc. In the meantime, the bullying student’s “life” situation has not changed. In the case of A.J., fights between Dad and Mom continue to escalate.
Enter Center Stage: “A.J. and C.B.” A.J. is now on a behavior plan but has had a particularly rough morning. Mom and Dad got into another argument and were still arguing when A.J. walked out the door to catch the school bus. A.J. is agitated and upset when climbing on the bus. The only place to sit is across from C.B., who watches diligently and nervously as A.J. sits down. After a few moments, A.J. retorts, “What are you looking at, stupid?” followed by, “What is that awful smell?” A.J., noticing that a few students begin to giggle, perks up a bit (because of the affirmations of other students) and hurls a few more insults toward C.B. Eventually C.B. starts to cry, which only makes the situation worse.
Enter Stage Right: “The classroom.” C.B. and A.J. take their seats in the class. It’s obvious something has happened on the school bus. Teacher hears whispering among students who are talking about the incident but appears to not be listening to the conversations. However, overhearing the gist of the incident (while pretending not to), Teacher waits to speak with A.J. during a break. Again, A.J. cannot provide an answer as to what brought on the need to insult C.B. Not knowing what else to do, Teacher asks A.J. to visit with the school counselor.
Enter Stage Left: “School Counselor.” Counselor meets with A.J. and knowing that C.B. tends to be the focus of A.J.’s frustration, begins to ask questions.
Some questions to ask…
- What do you think is causing A.J. to become a bully? Can it be fixed and if so, how?
- When a student does NOT have an answer for something, how can teachers, counselors, and/or parents find out what’s really going on?
- Going through the above scenario, how does this type of story normally end?
- Place a “like” situation in the place of this story. Can you determine the cause of the bullying behavior? If so, what do you think can be one about it?
- What other questions could you ask? Write them down.
ENDING… to be determined.