Parenting Matters


Who gets bullied?

By Kathy Cunningham, RN

Most of us can remember the bullies in our schoolyards, the instances and names of the bullies, and exactly how these kids impacted the school experience. Boys and girls who bully don't have low self-esteem as we once thought. Bullies may be average students or even classroom or athletic leaders.

At school, bullies typically tease their victims repeatedly. They intimidate, make fun of, and ridicule other students. They may shove, hit, and kick their victims, or damage the child's belongings.

Bullies usually target weaker and relatively defenseless students. They have a strong need to dominate or subdue their peers and choose to assert themselves with threats to get their way. Children who bully may brag about their superiority over other students. Typically, bullies appear to be hot-tempered, impulsive, and have low frustration tolerance. Often bullies are regarded as tough, hardened, and having little empathy with children who are their victims.

The children generally targeted by bullies can be overpowered physically, mentally, or emotionally. They are anxious and unsure of themselves. These children usually do not have a frame of reference for using violence to deal with conflicts. Victims are the children who suffer from low self-esteem and have a negative view of themselves.

Victimized children often consider themselves failures and feel stupid, ashamed, unattractive and an outcast. If bullied repeatedly, they may come to believe that they deserve it. They are often lonely, friendless, and feel abandoned.

It is easy to see how these children will become the targets for bullies from elementary through high school. Additionally, children from families that don't have a lot of disposable income may become targets for teasing and advance to being bullied simply because they wear "hand me downs" or don't have the latest, greatest designer clothes or shoes.

Dr. Dan Olweus, Ph.D., describes two types of victims in his book Bullying at School. The passive or submissive victim is non-assertive and through his actions may signal to others that he is insecure and won't retaliate if attacked or insulted, cries easily when bullied, has few friends, and lacks pro-social skills. The other victim, the provocative victim, is both anxious and aggressive, may cause disruption around him, and prolongs the conflict when losing.

Looking at the profiles above, it is easy to see how children with learning disabilities or ADHD may become targets. According to a national survey on school discipline conducted by Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), about 32 percent of kids with ADHD are "egged on" by their peers to act out and get into trouble. The study found that many youth with ADHD were victims of bullies, but when they reacted to the bully, they were punished for poor behavior while the bully was not.

Children can overcome the effects of bullying without many lasting effects. But for those children who are severely bullied, the effects can be life changing. They may find it difficult to concentrate in class or they may be absent and lonely.

These children are at risk for becoming depressed and may violently lash out at their tormentors. While the bullies may end up dealing with juvenile justice for their activities against others, so might the victims.

Bullies are not born that way. Bullying is a learned behavior just like prejudice and racism. It is up to adults to impact the children in our circles of influence by explaining that the use of ridicule and aggression is not an acceptable way to interact with people.

Originally featured on the MySA.com Health Channel.

Related Content: On-demand Video: The Effects of Bullying on Children
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