Psychology Expert Offers Insight into the Hurtful Behavior of Bullies

Being a victim of bullying can have a devastating impact on your life. Years of research have shown that children and teenagers who are bullied are at a higher risk for a range of negative outcomes, including anxiety, depression, school dropout, peer rejection, social isolation, and even self-harm.

Bullying doesn’t just affect young people. Adults can also experience bullying, often in the workplace, and the effects can be just as harmful as they are for kids.

As a professor specializing in child and adolescent development, I have spent a significant amount of time studying the causes and consequences of bullying, as well as strategies for prevention.

First, let’s take a moment to define what bullying is: It involves mean-spirited and harmful behavior by someone who possesses greater power or social status than the victim. This could be a popular student at school or a supervisor in the workplace. The bullying behavior is typically repetitive and may include actions such as harassment, aggression, or even physical harm.

Bullying can manifest in various forms, including physical aggression (e.g., pushing, hitting), relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors, excluding someone from a friend group), or even sexual harassment and stalking. Certain individuals, such as those from the LGBTQ+ community, those who are overweight, or those with disabilities, are more likely to be targeted by bullies. Consequently, they may experience mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and engaging in self-harming behaviors.

So, why do bullies engage in this behavior?

Research suggests that individuals learn how to bully others from a young age through a process known as modeling and social learning. Essentially, bullies observe and imitate aggressive behavior they see in their environment.

The media also plays a role in promoting bullying behavior. When mean or violent conduct is glamorized in music, video games, TV shows, or movies, it can influence bullies to imitate what they see and hear, particularly if they perceive it as cool or rewarding.

Family dynamics also contribute to the development of bullying behavior. Children who grow up in households characterized by a lack of kindness, emotional closeness, and high levels of conflict, including witnessing their parents’ fights, may come to view such behavior as acceptable. Consequently, they may treat their peers in a similar manner.

Social dynamics within peer groups can also influence bullying behavior. When a child becomes friends with individuals who are bullies, they may adopt similar behaviors to fit in and gain approval from their friends.

Bullies engage in their behavior for various reasons. Some individuals bully others to feel better about themselves by putting others down. Others resort to force and intimidation because they have found it to be effective in the past. Some bullies struggle with regulating their emotions, leading to aggression when they become angry.

Furthermore, bullying can serve as a means for certain individuals to get ahead. For example, an adult bully in the workplace may spread rumors about a coworker to hinder their chances of promotion or success.

How can we effectively address bullying?

Thankfully, there are several strategies for putting an end to bullying.

If you or someone you know is a child or teenager experiencing bullying, it is crucial to confide in a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, principal, or counselor. These individuals can offer guidance and support and help determine the best course of action. Schools typically have policies in place to protect victims of bullying.

If you are an adult who has experienced bullying in the workplace, it is important to reach out to your human resources department or a neutral supervisor who can provide advice and assistance. Remember that you are legally protected, as employment laws prohibit harassment and discriminatory behavior.

Regardless of age, seeking support from friends or family members who are not directly involved in the bullying incident can be highly beneficial. Engaging in coping activities, such as exercise or relaxation techniques, can also contribute to overall well-being and resilience.

If you need immediate help, resources such as the Crisis Text Line (text 741741), the Stop Bullying Now Hotline (1-800-273-8255), or the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (dial 988) are available to provide support and assistance.

Lastly, it is vital to recognize that bullying is never acceptable. It is not merely a part of growing up or a reflection of sensitivity. If you are being bullied, remember that seeking help is the most effective way to overcome this difficult situation.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age, and the city where you live.

And because curiosity knows no boundaries – adults, feel free to share your inquiries too. While we might not be able to answer all questions, we’ll do our best to provide insights.

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