Cartoon Network Middle East recently teamed up with Sony Music Entertainment Middle East to release a unique and impactful song featuring YouTube stars; the sisters Rawan and Rayan. The song speaks directly to children about the effects of bullying and shares positive messages around inclusion. But what makes a child become a bully?
For many years, research was thought to have shown that there was only one type of bully: an aggressive child with low self-esteem who came from a violent or neglectful home. The science behind this thinking, though, was mostly inaccurate. We learn more, we know more, and the answers change, as with all branches of science.
The Charming Bully
Academic researchers have adopted a definition of bullying that states that it is a form of aggression between individuals or groups that have various levels of power. And ‘power’ is the key. Indeed, children who grow up in violent homes but go to a school with an anti-bullying programme in a compassionate environment won’t automatically become bullies.
As a result, in addition to the direct and open antagonist, another more cunning kind of bully is now recognised. Youngsters who fall into this category are inclined to have improved social skills, are frequently charming, and liked by teachers. This is a long way from the usual stereotype of the crude, unsophisticated bully. This more calculating kind of tormenter can turn their bullying on and off to suit their specific requirements at any given time.
A Bigger, Badder, but Sadder Child
Research suggests that bullying is often more about the bully themselves, rather than their victims. A study, carried out in schools across Italy and Spain, looked at a bullying situation from the standpoint of the bully. A questionnaire was also handed out to the children, asking them to categorise their classmates as either a bully, a victim, or an outsider.
Those who were pigeonholed as bullies were more likely to respond to the imaginary bullying episode with statements that focused on how the event affected the bully themselves. These included declarations such as “I would feel great because I got the attention of other children” or “I don’t feel guilty because I don’t think about it.” Here we see the need for power and celebrity, as well as a complete lack of empathy.
Socially dominant bullies want to be the leader of the pack, and the way that they do that is to push other children down the ‘chain of command’.
Just Hit Delete
Bullying is no longer confined to in and around school. One common feature of bullying, as previously defined by academics, is that the hostility towards the victim is repetitive. However, the online world has seriously blurred this definition due to the potential impact of just a single instance of cyber-bullying.
There is such an enormous crossover between bullying at school and cyber-bullying that many researchers claim that it is now one and the same. This is fuelled in some schools by the dubious practice of allowing children to have phones with them in class. For it has been shown conclusively that school bullies persist with the stalking online. Calli Tzani-Pepelasi, an investigative psychology lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, explains: “They may be sitting next to each other but prefer to bully each other through social media, as that way their actions can be viewed by more and they feel a false sense of fame.”
Socially dominant bullies want to be the leader of the pack, and the way that they do that is to push other children down the ‘chain of command’
Be a True Buddy, Not a False Bully
But what action do you take if you suspect that your child is a bully? Discovering what the motivation is can be an excellent place to begin. Where is the child getting his or her ideas from? Why are they acting the way that they do? Furthermore, are your own actions influencing your child’s? Is your day-to-day approach to life and other people modelling that behaviour? A bully won’t stop until their mindset is altered.
A useful way to address school bullying is a ‘buddy system’, which is designed to cultivate peer support. Younger students are assigned an older mentor to show them the ropes when they start school. “The fact that younger students have the opportunity to model the right behaviour from the older students is one advantage of such a system,” says Tzani-Pepelasi. But having a caring school environment across the board is also imperative when it comes to tackling bullying. “It takes a lot of persistence, and consistency from the teachers and the school staff in general, as without them the system cannot function,” Tzani-Pepelasi concludes.
Unfortunately, at present sufficient help and support is not always available. And research has shown that the continuum of aggression from bullying to teen dating violence is real. Maybe saddest of all, however, is that the impact of bullying on victims can last for decades, leading to poor physical and psychological health. So if your child is being bullied, or you suspect that they are bullying someone else, act now! It can be a steep path to walk, but the alternative can be a lifetime of suffering for the victim.