Bullying is not a new phenomenon. But, as times change, so does bullying. Bullies used to be the people who tried to scare you or intimidate you into doing something you didn’t want to do. They made fun of you in the hallways at school and loudly pointed out your perceived shortcomings. Maybe you would get a black eye if you didn’t run fast enough and get away.
Those simple days are over. Not only have bullies become more brazen and violent, but they have also taken to the internet to bully their targets in front of hundreds of millions of people, giving them some misplaced sense of power. And that’s what it is all about: power. It’s not enough to know how to confront a bully; it’s important to understand who they are and try to create a solution for your community.
Recognize Bullying from Teasing
Good natured teasing has always been a rite of passage among children. Maybe you pulled on the ponytail of the girl you had a crush on. Or, you had a friend pass a note to the boy you liked telling him he was goofy. Teasing is usually based on mutual trust and respect between the parties who have known each other for years. It’s never hurtful or angry. While it has the potential to cause hurt feelings, a teaser will apologize if he or she steps over a line.
Bullying is something else entirely. It can be as simple as yelling profanities or making threatening gestures. It can manifest as making inappropriate sexual comments to the opposite sex, or even groping the opposite sex. Bullying can be based on racism and prejudice (prejudice can include bullying people who are different than the norm – overweight, emo, intelligent, autistic, etc.). Bullies use the internet to harass and embarrass their victims. At its worst, a bully can beat someone so badly that the victim ends up in the hospital, or even dead.
Because bullying has gotten so out of hand in this modern age, it is essential that we teach our children how to confront a bully. It is important that bullies learn that their self-perceived importance and power are simply illusions fed by the fear of their victims.
Cyberbullying has become an epidemic. Thousands of children every year either attempt or are successful in committing suicide because of relentless bullying on the internet. Cyberbullying is so powerful because it gives the victim the sense that not only is the bully attacking him or her, but that the bully has the agreement of everyone on the internet. Teens and pre-teens have difficulty discerning between the actions of one person and the false assumption that everyone is in on the joke.
Cyberbullying is nearly impossible to stop alone. Because so many people are connected through cell phones, Apple Watches, iPads, laptops, and other digital devices, once the bully has released information or an attack on the victim, it is impossible to get that information under control. Once it’s on the net, it’s there forever. This permanence has the potential to damage a person’s reputation for the rest of their life.
Because cyberbullying is an uncontrolled, massive attack, a victim may not know how to confront a bully on the internet. Parents will suggest things like ignoring it, blocking the bully, or closing a social media account. And while these are all good suggestions, and it will keep the victim from seeing the attacks on their own digital devices, it doesn’t stop the bullying. Everyone around the victim will have access to the bullying and can exploit the victim by showing him or her the “latest” from the bully on their own devices.
Cyberbullying can include such activities as blatant harassment, where the bully continually posts negative – and often untrue – comments about the victim. A phenomenon called doxing or outing is when the bully reveals extremely personal or intimate information about the victim, causing traumatic embarrassment.
Similar to harassment is trickery. This is when a bully tricks the victim into revealing private, personal information about him or herself and the bully uses the information to publicly embarrass the victim. This type of manipulation is incredibly hurtful to the victim because it is likely he or she is tricked by a friend or acquaintance.
Masquerading is the process of creating a fake profile online for no other reason than to cyberbully someone else. The saddest part of masquerading is that the bully is usually someone the victim is very familiar with. It is an extreme violation of trust and privacy.
One of the more damaging types of cyberbullying is exclusion. This is when a group of bullies plan to exclude the victim and then make it clear he or she was excluded. For example, the bullies will plan a party and invite everyone in their circle, but they make sure to exclude one person from the invitation to make them feel left out and ostracized. Then the bullies go online and rave about how great the party was and how the victim wasn’t even missed.
Cyberbullying can even lead to stalking. It can start online with non-stop harassment, posting of embarrassing facts, posting of inappropriate pictures, making false accusations about the victim, and even threats against the victim. What’s most frightening is that cyberstalking often translate into real life stalking, a criminal offense.
In these cases, educating children on how to confront a bully would be the best course of action.
Understanding the Mindset of the Bully
Education begins with understanding what makes a bully tick. If a child grows up in a volatile home environment, they are likely to mirror those behaviors anywhere they go. Unless that behavior is corrected in a child, by a parent or guardian, the child will believe that their behavior is appropriate.
Bullies also have a lack of personal awareness. They simply don’t realize how they are behaving and how others see them. Because others are usually afraid of them or are afraid to tell the bully how they feel, bullies tend to think they are well-liked and popular. Until someone stands up to the bully and gives them the unvarnished truth, the bully will continue to operate as if he or she is simply a great person.
Bullies can also have a pathological need to be in control – to live life on their terms. If a bully’s life is chaotic, putting others “in their place” gives the bully a chance to exercise some level of control. This relieves the bully’s stress and anxiety for the moment. As long as those around the bully accede to the bully’s wishes, the bully will feel like he or she is in control of their everyday surroundings.
The primary issue with bullies is their low self-esteem. A bully will often act out on others to raise him or herself up. This is the bully’s way of trying to take back power and boost their sense of superiority. They pick on the weak to appear to be strong. Inside, the bully with low self-esteem is frightened of the truth being discovered.
If children are going to learn how to confront a bully, they must have an understanding of why the bully acts out. This will give them the chance to confront with compassion rather than sinking to the bully’s level.
Educating the Victims
Know that we know why bullies are the way they are, let’s talk about educating children on how to confront a bully. It starts by teaching children about empathy and compassion. These are two qualities that may seem absent in the bully. The bully gives the appearance of being heartless, domineering, and invulnerable. In truth, bullies are some of the most vulnerable among us.
Using role-playing is a great way to show kids not only how bullying looks, but how it feels to be a bully. Most will find that playing the bully gives them a false sense of power – but it helps them empathize with the bully. Once everyone in the group has been the bully, it’s time to talk about what feelings they had as a bully.
Many will respond with powerful, in charge, and mean. These are emotions the kids need to understand so that they can respond empathetically when they are ready to show they know how to confront a bully. Responding to a bully with violence and negativity is not going to work – they will simply feed on that and ramp up their bullying.
When your child feels ready to confront their bully, encourage compassion. Remind your child that most bullies are in pain or could come from a bad environment at home. Don’t encourage your child to have pity. Pity will ultimately enrage the bully further.
Prep your child with phrases and questions like the following:
- I understand that sometimes we all have bad days.
- Do you need someone to talk to? I would be happy to be that person.
- Did something bad happen?
- Do you need help with something?
- Are you angry at someone?
- I really hope your day gets better.
- Are you in trouble?
- I know how it feels to be lonely.
Any single one of these phrases can disarm a bully. Their rage is a manifestation of their negative emotions. And those negative emotions are usually based around their circumstances or relationships. Your child will simply be giving the bully the opportunity to talk about what’s bothering him or her. Will this work? Not every time. If someone has been a bully for ages, this will not likely work the first time. But, encourage your kids to respond to the bully’s negativity with compassion and kindness.
For responding to cyberbullying, there are multiple tactics. The first is to really think about what you are posting. A simple, off-hand comment about someone can be taken as cyberbullying. Simply saying, “Sarah’s dress was ugly” can be manipulated into a full-on bullying attack. Don’t feed the fuel of cyberbullies.
Don’t ever share passwords – even with your best friend. You never know when a best friend can turn on you. If that person has your passwords, they can wreak havoc on your social media platforms, or worse, give your passwords to everyone.
Also, think about who is seeing your posts. Is your social media account open to the public, or do you have tight security set up? The tighter your security, the less likely you are to be cyberbullied.
Finally, if you are under attack from a cyberbully, alert your parents, your school, and your friends’ parents so they know that what they are hearing is not true. Create this great group to help you stand up and say to the bully, “You won’t be successful.”
Gathering Others to Join in Standing Up
It’s one thing to teach your child about how to confront a bully; but, training groups of children about how to confront a bully will be much more effective.
When a community, like a school, has bullies in it, they are a negative force that seems impossible to overcome. Negativity can overwhelm positivity if the victims can’t help but give into the anxiety bullying causes and submit to the bullies. By the same token, an overwhelming flood of positivity can certainly subdue the negative actions of a few.
When your child witnesses an incident of bullying, encourage him or her to intervene (as long as it is not violent – no child should put him or herself in danger). If the child is successful in the intervention, other kids will see this and begin to realize that bullies don’t have to be in charge.
Have your child talk to others and explain to them the thinking behind a positive intervention. Encourage your child to ask the school counselors to help create a bullying awareness program at the school. Talk to kids about the best ways to create a helpful, encouraging environment. Help students realize that learning how to confront a bully isn’t about fighting back – it’s about caring and compassion for the one who is hurting.
If your child has a tight-knit group of friends, gather them together to talk about the bullies in their school. Have the kids brainstorm ideas about why the bullies have the attitudes they do. How well do the kids know the bullies? Are the bullies loners? Do the bullies tend to group together? What steps can the kids take to make the bullies feel like part of the class? The more options we give our kids, the better equipped they will be to bring peace.
Bullying is an epidemic. There are thousands of kids being bullied in our schools, on our streets, and on the internet every day. Thousands are contemplating or committing suicide because of relentless bullying. It will take the joint effort of caring adults and courageous kids to help stand up to bullies and learn the safest way to confront a bully.
If your teenaged child is dealing with mental health issues as a result of bullying by their peers, reach out to Beachside Teen Treatment Center for more information about what our facility can do for your family!