Bullying includes any type of insulting or threatening behavior that is repeated over and over and is aimed at children seen as physically or socially weaker than the bully or different from the bully. Four major types of bullying are physical bullying, verbal bullying, relationship bullying and online bullying.
Physical bullying involves the use or threat of physical violence to humiliate, manipulate, and/or frighten another child. Verbal bullying involves using spoken words to attack or embarrass another child. Relationship bullying means that the bully is using his or her social status to hurt another child. This involves keeping kids out of social groups, using a child’s desire to belong to a group to force the child to misbehave or do something he/she doesn’t want to do, or spreading rumors and insults about other children through friends, neighbors or schoolmates. Online bullying involves the use of computers, websites, message boards and other online forums to hurt other kids. Bullying is always intentional, and unless it’s stopped, it usually gets worse as times goes by.
Even though there are many different types of bullying, they all have some things in common. Here are a few ways you can tell that someone is acting like a bully.
Bullies usually harm those they see as “weaker” or “different.” In many cases, bullies are physically bigger. Other times they are considered more popular than other kids and have larger groups of friends. In some cases, the bullies come from a richer family or are part of popular social or athletic groups. But whenever someone tries to bully you or someone you know, it’s always because they think they can convince you that you’re somehow weaker than they are. Remember, though, that just because a bully thinks that you are weaker, different, or not as cool, that does not mean that you are.
Bullies do harm on purpose. Bullying isn’t a mistake kids make. They don’t accidentally hurt your feelings through mean acts that they commit over and over again. Bullying is done on purpose, with the intent to hurt or embarrass you. Sure, there are times when kids joke around with you and sometimes accidentally hurt your feelings or your body. In these cases, an apology is certainly in order, but that one mean act doesn’t necessarily amount to you being bullied. Bullying is much more than this. It is intentional, it is hurtful, and it is not okay.
Bullies don’t do it just once. If it’s just one mean act, then an apology and an agreement not to do or say that hurtful thing again should be enough to fix the problem. But bullying isn’t about one single act against you. Bullies usually repeat their behavior. Girls who get pushed around or boys who have rumors spread about them on message boards don’t usually suffer just once. The bullies who attack you do it over and over again because they are always looking for ways to put you down—which makes them feel better about themselves. And in many cases, the situation goes from bad to worse for kids like you. Bullies have been known to start with taunting and then move into physical bullying that can grow worse over time. Bullying even once is not okay.
Bullies nearly always play to an audience. Sure, sometimes a bully will corner you in an empty hallway and make threats or actually carry them out. But bullying is usually done for other people to see. Bullies don’t just want to prove their power over you. They also want to make sure that other people know that they have—or think they have—some sort of control over how you feel and act, where you can and can’t go, who you hang out with or what games you participate in. Bullying is usually very public. It is important to recognize bullying when you see it.
Many kids are reluctant to talk to teachers and other faculty because they don’t want to be accused of ratting out another kid. Here are six reasons why bringing adults at school into the mix is a good idea:
The staff supervises
Principals, teachers, aides — these people have been asked to keep control over what happens at the school. They run the school, not the bullies and cliques. They are the people who have been trained to handle certain situations, and many of them have a lot of experience dealing with taunting, harassment, verbal attacks, and even physical abuse among students. It’s important that you respect their authority. You show this respect by helping them maintain order at school. You’re also letting people know that you understand how authority works at the school and that bullies aren’t in charge.
Teachers can set rules
If there’s a problem with bullies at your school, principals and teachers can come up with different ways to tackle the situation. Certainly one of the first steps might be to make bullying against the rules at your school. Students who are caught doing it to others might be seriously punished.
Also, there are many programs and policies, like the anti-bullying pledge, that teachers can use to educate students about the negative effects of bullying. If the staff starts to think that bullying is a big problem at your school, they have the power to call assemblies, create classes, and make up policies that can reduce the harassment.
Principals and teachers can talk with other students
If you talk to adults at some schools, they’ll tell you that they don’t know about any bullying going on. But if you talk to the kids, they’ll tell you a very different story. They see bullying going on around them and don’t think the adults are doing enough to stop it.
But before your principal can do something about it, he or she has to know what’s really going on, right? And that mean that the principal needs to be able to talk to you and to your friends and classmates about how they are being treated at school. But sometimes students are not willing to talk to teachers and other people on the staff. Maybe you don’t think you can trust them. Or maybe you think they don’t care. I can’t say for sure if you’re wrong about both of these ideas. But I’ll tell you that you need to try.
And many times, when one student approaches a teacher or principal, that person will do his or her best to work out the situation. And that may involve sitting down with the other kid to try to work out the problem. Okay, so you might be afraid to go to that big fifth grader and ask him to sit down and talk about his problems with you. But when the vice principal shows up, it’s another story! She has ways of making him talk. And adults can also act like the umpire in a baseball game when handling a talk between two kids: They can let you know when you’re being fair, when you can’t interrupt, and when you have made a very good point.
Adults can work with other adults
If kids at school are harassing you, your principal and teachers can reach out to other adults to help you solve the problem. That might mean going to a counselor to help you talk about your feelings. Or a teacher talking with other teachers about keeping an ear out for nasty gossip in and around their classrooms. Or the principal talking to the school security chief about increasing patrols around the schoolyard.
Adults can keep your parents aware
Maybe it’s not easy for you to tell your dad that you’re being picked on at school or online by some classmates. Maybe it’d be easier if you told someone at school and asked if they could help you tell your folks. Talking with adults can provide you with someone more experienced and more mature to help you talk through the situation with Mom and Dad. Perhaps they could work with you to come up with the right words to say. Or maybe they could sit with you and your parents as you talk it out.
School staff sets the tone
Adults can send a very powerful message that bullying won’t be tolerated at your school. They certainly can punish the bullies who pick on weaker kids. But they can also come up with ways to work with the bullies to try to straighten out their behavior. Instead of just tossing out kids who bully or throwing them in detention, teachers and principals can reward students who work to stop bullying. There might be prizes or trips or other cool gifts for kids who help let it be known that bullying is not going to be allowed. Bullying should not be written off or excused as a “part of growing up.” It is up to all of us to make certain those bullies who repeatedly intimidate, harass, and physically abuse others are stopped and not allowed a place in our lives or the lives of others.
Jay McGraw is the best-selling author of Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies, The Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens, Closing the Gap, Daily Life Strategies for Teens, Life Strategies for Teens, and the Life Strategies for Teens workbook. Jay spent his adolescence learning and living the Life Strategies that his father, Dr. Phil McGraw, calls the "Ten Life Laws."