Why Do Bullies Bully?

There are many faces that accompany modern-day bullying. Although the traditional image that comes to mind includes popular students tormenting their non-popular counterparts, the truth of the matter is that bullying can manifest in many different forms. In fact, although physical bullying does still exist and is quite problematic, cyber bullying via social media and text messages has also emerged as one of the most prevalent forms of bullying in this era.

School districts have become increasingly aware of the bullying epidemic and have sprung into action. Fortunately, over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the development of anti-bullying campaigns in American schools. Although many of these programs have been quite effective in reducing bullying, most of them have focused on teaching victims and by-standers how to get involved to prevent bullying. However, there is an entire segment of individuals who may be neglected in these programs–the children who are demonstrating bullying behaviors.

Bullying is not innate behavior, but is maladaptive behavior that has been learned. Therefore, part of the answer to the national effort toward developing bullying reduction programs should include an exploration of why individuals bully in the first place. Also, although most bullying occurs among young people, without proper intervention, young bullies often grow into adult bullies. Therefore, it is important to address the issue early on to avoid bullying in schools, at home, and even in the workplace.

One of the common reasons that children report that they engage in bullying activities is because they are themselves being bullied at home by a parent or an older sibling. Unfortunately, some parents are very angry and demonstrate poor conflict resolution abilities. As a result, they may lash out at their children in an inappropriate or bullying manner. Similarly, older siblings who are themselves being bullied at school may come home and demonstrate bullying behavior toward their younger sibling. The cycle is then completed as that younger sibling reacts to the bullying that he is subjected to at home by mistreating other children in school. The clear pattern here is that each of these people, including the parents, tends to use bullying as a means of feeling a sense of empowerment.

The desire to feel power is not the only characteristic of individuals who engage in bullying behavior. According to The Stomp Out Bullying Website, there are four different types of people who bully:

  • Bullied Bully: These are the individuals that we just explored. They may sometimes victimize others so that they can experience some relief from their own feelings of helplessness. They have been stripped of their own personal power by other bullies and in turn they bully others in an effort to regain a sense of empowerment. In their mind, their actions are justified because they too have been victimized.
  • Social Bully: These individuals often have poor self-esteem and generally feel bad about themselves. As a result, they pick on others in an effort to feel better about themselves.
  • Hyperactive Bully: These children struggle with social cues and don’t know how to socialize appropriately. As a result, they may behave and at times may become physically inappropriate.
  • Detached Bully: These individuals are often more calculating in their interpersonal interactions and they tend to plan their bullying tactics. They are typically well-liked by everyone except the people that they are mistreating. These bullies may engage in this behavior in an attempt to be a part of the “in crowd.”

It is important to note that some children are naturally a bit more impulsive, dominating, and aggressive than others, but that does not mean that they should be classified as a bully. Rather, they may need to practice more age-appropriate interpersonal skills. In contrast, individuals who have learned to bully others often demonstrate a desire to gain power or attention at the expense of individuals that they perceive to be weaker than they are. Unfortunately, these children have not yet learned how to sufficiently demonstrate kindness, respect, or compassion.

Although there is a lot of emotion surrounding anti-bullying campaigns, it’s really important to consider that bullying behavior is learned behavior. This means that it can also be unlearned. Therefore, in addition to empowering victims and by standards, prevention programs should also include coping skills, conflict resolution, and self-esteem components for the individuals who are actually doing the bullying. After all, children learn how to be bullies and in order to break the cycle, teaching replacement behavior is essential.

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