Why Kids Bully
Bullying is not a new problem. It's been a fact of life and an accepted reality for generations of kids. So why the increased attention now?
Bullying is such a serious health concern that the federal government has a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to stopping it – www.StopBullying.gov.
What is Bullying?
Bullying, according to the website, is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The action is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
Bullying includes actions such as making threats against someone, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Is Bullying Getting Worse?
Bullying is not a new problem. It’s been a fact of life and an accepted reality for generations of kids. So why the increased attention now?
In recent decades, legislators and the media have started to pay much more attention to the issue. In the early 1990s, several teen suicides led to more focus on the subject. In recent years, the dramatic rise in school shooting incidents has led to increased scrutiny. Is bullying responsible for the dramatic increase in school shootings?
According to a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, while the increased attention to bullying has led to the impression that bullying is increasing, that isn’t true; the prevalence of bullying and related behaviors generally decreased between 2005 and 2014.
Effects of Bullying
The increased focus on bullying prevention efforts certainly is hopefully helping to fuel the decrease in bullying behaviors, and that’s a good thing for our kids.
While the research on bullying is relatively new and far from complete, some of the initial findings show bullying is linked to some concerning effects:
- Feelings of sadness and loneliness
- Changes in sleep and eating problems
- Decreased academic achievement
- An increased likelihood to miss or drop out of school
Kids who bully others are more likely to:
- Have substance abuse issues
- Get into fights
- Engage in sexual activity earlier
- Have criminal convictions
- Be abusive toward their future partners or children
Why Kids Bully
Why kids bully is the subject of many different theories. Some believe it comes from a lack of attention from a parent at home. And others think it is a learned behavior from witnessing bullying by other adults or older siblings in their lives. There is also the thought that some kids are more aggressive, impulsive, or dominating by nature.
A fascinating theory published in Time Magazine conducted by the University of California-Davis proposes that kids bully to climb the popularity food chain at school. “What [researchers] found was that only one-third of the students engaged in any bullying at all–physical force, taunts or gossip-spreading–but those who were moving up the school popularity chain bullied more as they went higher. Only when kids reached the very top 2% of the school’s social hierarchy or fell into the bottom 2% did their behavior change; these kids were the least aggressive.
Another theory on why kids bully is that it’s an easier way to solve problems. Rather than learning to manage their emotions and work out differences with a classmate, they bully. The bully has not developed proper social skills, and that can follow them into adulthood.
Researchers at Yale Medicine are also trying to understand bullying better. Some of their research supports the theory that a lack of social awareness is a trait that bullies often possess, and in many instances, they share it with their victims.
How Parents Should Handle Bullying
According to the researchers at Yale, do not ignore bullying. To stop the behavior, work with both the kids who are bullies and the kids who are being bullied.
Stopbullying.gov provides this list of warning signs to look for that may indicate your child is being bullied by someone else, or that he or she is the bully.
Signs a Child Is Being Bullied:
- Unexplained injuries
- Lost or destroyed personal items
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as physically harming themselves or talking about suicide
Signs a Child Is Bullying Others:
- Gets into physical or verbal fights
- Has friends who bully
- Is increasingly aggressive
- Is sent to the principal’s office or detention frequently
- Has unexplained extra money or new belongings
- Blames others for problems
- Is competitive and worried about reputation or popularity
Preventing bullying only happens when we acknowledge its existence. It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open with your children and model behavior of treating others with kindness and respect.