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Why Kids Bully?

Posted on March 17, 2013

Eye On Kids: Why kids bully

Dan Klein

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Bullying is a problem that has been around for a long time, but it’s one that continues to change, especially with emerging technology like social media.

Judith Myers-Walls, Purdue Professor Emerita of Human Development and Family Studies, says for most kids, bullying is an attempt to get power, acceptance and affection from people who matter to him or her. If they can be shown recognition and affection in positive ways, even in leadership roles the bullying may stop.

“We need to figure out what is driving the bully to use bullying behavior,” she says.

She says those who are bullied are often loners who are vulnerable and if they can be shown friendship and incorporated into a group, they lose their vulnerability.

But bystanders to bullying can be the most important group of people because they are the group the bully is trying to get acceptance and affection from.

“We need to help bystanders recognize their role, recognize that laughing or paying attention or applauding or somehow responding to what a bully is doing is feeding that bully,” she adds.

Bullying isn’t just a boy problem. She says while male bullying is usually more overt and direct, female bullying is more indirect and relationship-based, often through starting false rumors and gossip, “the ways that girls use things like ‘I’m not going to be your friend’ or messing up the friendships that a victim has.”

Myers-Walls says among the warning signs for parents to look for are behavior changes, school supplies going missing, and, of course, any injuries.

But she says parents can also be proactive about the problem.

“Overall the best thing for parents to do is to teach their kids to be sensitive, to facilitate relationships, to help them talk about problems in relationships, what can you do if you’re angry with a friend, if someone mistreats you, give them tools,” she adds.

That includes telling them who they can go to for help.

“Some of the basic principles still apply with all ages,” Myers-Walls says. “Teach kids to use words. Teach kids to express their needs. Help them know where they can get help and help them to think about other people’s feelings. That will help all three roles within the bullying complex.”

Myers-Walls says cyberbullying is somewhat unique. While cyberbullies often say or do things online they would never do in public, by posting them online, it becomes public.

She says bystanders can play a huge role by sticking up for the victims and taking the power away from the bullies. She adds parents need to learn social media basics as well to help their kids.

“That’s something that’s still new enough that it scares us a little bit more than maybe it needs to. It isn’t an entirely different thing. But because it’s new, it’s fairly intimidating. I think we are more aware, but it keeps changing too,” she says.

When it comes to cyberbullying, she says parents can help their kids by learning social media basics themselves.

“Caring about how somebody feels and thinking about someone else’s feelings are some basic skills that kids need in life overall and will help them avoid cyberbullying and cope with it when they see it happen,” she explains.

When they see it happen, kids should respond in similar ways to take power away from cyberbullies. She advises that they post positive comments about a victim or even just post a message saying ‘that’s not very nice.’ Perhaps even a child can do it with a friend.

“Say in the same medium where they saw it happen,” she says. “Something about, ‘I don’t think that’s fair, I like so-and-so, something that doesn’t let the bully get away with it.”

What can you do with any kids?
• Review your own behavior; model acceptance and kindness
• Teach empathy and facilitate relationships among kids
• Deal with the bully, the bullied and the bystander

What can we do if kids are bullies?
• Establish clear limits and expectations
• Monitor kids’ behavior, reward their positive interactions with others
• Teach conflict resolution and other social skills
• Find positive techniques to earn status and affection
• Place the child in positive leadership roles

What can we do if kids are bullied?
• Get involved, but be careful not to make them more vulnerable; try to use mediation
• Find situations for them to build confidence and assertiveness
• Teach social skills and give them tools and words to use when mistreated
• Teach skills in de-escalation of conflict

What can we do if kids are bystanders?
• Teach about the role of the bystander
• Build a sense of universal responsibility
• Teach them how to deescalate conflict
• Practice how to report and get an adult involved
• Encourage kids to reach out to rejected kids and take away the target

What is a situation you need to address? What will you do?

*Adopted from “No More Bullying: Creating Safe Spaces” by Judith Myers-Walls.

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