Bullying is about the abuse of power. Children who bully abuse their power to hurt others, deliberately and repeatedly. They are often hot-tempered, inflexible, overly confident, and don’t like to follow rules. They often lack empathy and may even enjoy inflicting pain on others. They often desire to dominate and control others, perceive hostile intent where none exists, overreact aggressively to ambiguous situations, and hold beliefs that support violence.
In the preschool years, bullies often rely on direct verbal bullying and physical power to control material objects or territory. They may lack the skills to interact in more socially appropriate ways.
In the elementary school years, bullies are more likely to use threats and physical force, combined with direct verbal bullying, to make victims do things against their will. At this age, some children begin to use indirect bullying to exclude peers from their social circle.
In the middle and high school years, bullies rely on direct verbal bullying such as name-calling and making threatening remarks, as well as physical bullying such as pushing and hitting. Although both boys and girls engage in physical bullying, girls are more likely to participate in indirect, relational bullying, such as rumor-spreading and social exclusion. They often use the Internet or cell phones to send these hurtful messages. While boys tend to rely on bullying to enhance their physical dominance, girls tend to use it to enhance their social status.
Sometimes children bully in groups. Children may join in because they look up to the bully and want to impress him or her, or because they are afraid and do not want to be attacked themselves.
Examining the Effects on The Bully
Besides hurting others, bullies damage themselves. Each time bullies hurt other children, they become even more removed emotionally from the suffering of their victims. They learn to justify their actions by believing their victims deserve to be bullied. They also learn that the way to get what they want from others is through force. Bullies often fail to develop the social skills of sharing, reciprocating, empathizing, and negotiating that form the basis for lasting friendships.
As they mature into adulthood, children who have bullied others often show higher rates of:
- Antisocial behavior
- Carrying weapons to school
- Dropping out of high school
- Convictions for crime
- Difficulty controlling their emotions
- Traffic violations
- Convictions for drunk driving
Adults who have been bullied as children may be more likely to allow their own children to bully others, thus raising a new generation of bullies.
Bullies need not experience these devastating long-term effects if their patterns of behavior are changed before they become habitual and entrenched. Bullying prevention strategies are most effective when applied early to children who are young or have just begun to bully—the earlier the better. Although it’s never too late to change a bully’s patterns of behavior, these habitual patterns are usually much more difficult to change in later years.
Beginning in the preschool years, adults can teach children important bullying prevention skills and guide children as they practice using these skills. Social skills that form an important foundation for bullying prevention include:
- Solving social problems
- Sharing voluntarily
- Interacting assertively
- Showing empathy toward others