The Psychology of Bullying

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The Psychology of Bullying

School is a formative time, fraught with emotions and social peril. Unfortunately, one of the largest ways this manifests is through bullying. In 2017, approximately 20% of students aged 12-18 were bullied, and 30% of young people have admitted to bullying others. With the advent of the internet, it can be hard for adults to understand the new dimensions of bullying in modern times.

Stopping bullying altogether – though an important goal – is a bit beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let’s try to understand why bullying happens and how to mitigate its effects.

Why Do Kids Bully?

Bullying is a complex, multifaceted social phenomenon that has no single cause. However, some factors are clearly identifiable.

  • Societal norms. Much of society is built on hierarchical relationships; even in schools, submission to power and authority (though sometime necessary) is encouraged. In certain areas, bullying based on race, gender, or sexual orientation may even be taught or encouraged.
  • Home life. Bullies may lash out to gain a sense of power they lack at home, often due to neglectful or abusive parents.
  • Kids who aren’t engaged in school may simply have nothing better to do, or tempted by their baser impulses.

Of course, these factors can overlap.

What if Your Child is a Bully?

If you child is a bully, first understand that they aren’t necessarily a bad kid. Most children bully because they lack something, and as their parent you can stop it by identifying what they lack. For instance, you’re a child who wants acceptance from peers or attention may suffer from low self-esteem. Younger children may also not grasp how their behavior hurts others.

As the parent of a bully, the most important thing you can do is communicate. While discipline may be necessary, coming from a place of compassion and problem-solving is critical to stopping bullying.

What If Your Child is a Victim?

It’s important to note that a bullied child may be too scared to reveal they’re being bullied. So first, look for changes in behavior. If your child is quiet, withdrawn, or stops communicating with you, bullying may be the cause.

If your child tells you they’re being bullied, first praise them for speaking up and telling the truth. There are practical strategies a child can use to avoid bullies: stick with friends, or confide in an authority figure they trust such as a guidance counselor. They can also use anger management strategies (just like adults!) to avoid feeding the bully with the anger they thrive on.

Your child also needs a foundation of self-love and confidence to stand up to a bully. Support your child in pursuing their interests, especially group activities like sports or clubs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help children involved in bullying, whether they’re the one doing it or the one receiving. It can reveal root causes and chart a path to a happy future! If your child could benefit from therapy, contact Azevedo Family Psychology today.

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