Bullying an overview

What kids say about bullies

'Adam is always calling people who are littler than him names.'

'Darren always calls you names and he hits you when you walk past. Kids are sick of him.'

'Jason teases me just because I'm different and he makes me upset.' 'Kim spreads lies about me by email every week.'

'I hate the fact that I don't know who's spreading nasty gossip about me in the chat group or who is sending texts [text messages] to my phone.'

'I walked around the corner and Jeff kicked me for no reason.'

'Sally punches, pushes and pinches me and pulls my hair.'

'Sometimes Adrian criticises me at sport and upsets me.'

'I'm worried about getting into a fight with Debbie before camp because she would turn everyone against me, but I still want to be in her cabin.'

'Mike said, "I'm going to get you after school".'

'It's cool to bully at our school.'

'Bullies can smell you a mile away.'

About bullying

Every year, many parents pass on a simple, sound instruction to their child: 'If you are nice to people, they will be nice to you.' But some children get the wrong idea. They don't know how to be nice effectively- they are nice but vulnerable, or they seem polite but are more concerned with how they feel or appear than with showing genuine care for others. Naturally, other children may sense this lack of interest, and bully them in retaliation.

Children respect children who are friendly and real, who say what they think and feel, who stand up for themselves. But even if a child is friendly and real, some others may still bully him or her. The result is that many children will arrive at school each day feeling scared, frustrated and powerless. And sadly, the impact of bullying boomerangs back on the bully, who also suffers.

Bullying in school has always existed, and many regard it as a 'part of life'. But our community has received a wake-up call in the form of the number of suicides, violent attacks and murders that bullying creates. Bullying is a symptom of a dysfunctional social system.

While the focus of this book is students bullying students, bullying also occurs between students, teachers, parents and the school community, creating combinations such as parents bullying teachers, teachers bullying students, and so on.

Here are a few facts about bullying:

• Bullying involves psychological, emotional, social or physical abuse.

• The crucial feature is perception: the target feels powerless.

• The critical issue is the extent of the damage done to the target.

• About one in five students is bullied regularly, and around one in five bully regularly.

Where does bullying occur?

• In any school, poor or wealthy, private or state, co-educational or single-sex, small or large, religious or non-religious, conservative, traditional or progressive, day or boarding schools.

• At school: in the classroom, the playground, canteen, toilets, lockers, sporting facilities, change rooms, isolated corridors, school camp.

• Outside school: travelling to and from school, at after-school care programmes, playgrounds, shopping centres, discos.

• In cyberspace: text messages, emails, Internet chat rooms and websites, bulletin boards, digital photographs.

The bullying continuum

This bullying continuum illustrates the progressive escalation from harmless banter to bullying and criminal behaviours.

Social banter

Hurtful teasing

Mean, subtle body language

Aggressive physical behaviours, e.g. pushing, shoving, kicking Malicious gossip, e.g. online bullying, chat rooms Sexual, gender, racist, religious harassment Social exclusion - in person, electronic Mobbing Hazing Extortion/bribery Phone, cyber abuse Damage to property Physical violence Use of weapons Criminal act Murder

Types of bullying

There are four main types of bullying: teasing, exclusion, physical bullying and harassment.

1. Teasing

Teasing is verbal violence. It is the most dangerous and long-lasting form of bullying. The most common forms of teasing are related to appearance, sexuality and social approval. A word that is regarded as normal in one school (or country) may be really bad in another. Although the words vary, it is the intent, the audience and the social context that harm the target. The tease hurts because of the bully's mean, sarcastic manner, tone, facial expression and regular repetition. The main types of teasing are:

• harassing, yelling, insulting or nagging

• verbal demands or threats

• making a noise as the target walks past, and

• phone abuse, nasty notes, Internet, email, SMS texting and other electronic forms.

2. Exclusion

'Exclusion' or 'relational' bullying is based on social manipulation, and can be expressed openly - 'You can't sit with us' - as well as involving indirect, subtle, secret behaviours or nonverbal body language by the bully and others. A bully can manipulate the group without his direct involvement, by using the social structure to attack the target. The goal of exclusion is to create a group identity that becomes a powerful control mechanism. Each group member knows that if he tries to protect the target, he may be next. When a bully is devious, the teacher's presence is irrelevant - a raised eyebrow may be enough to frighten a target. Sadly, many teachers miss indirect aggression and thus deny its presence. Exclusion includes:

• pretending to be friendly to the target and then sporadically turning against him

• as the target approaches, the group giving him 'the silent treatment' and turning their backs

• the bully saying something to the target and walking off before he can reply

• pointing, staring, sniggering, laughing, making faces, mimicking, or whispering with others while looking at the target

Bully Bystanders

• threatening poses, menacing gestures, 'the look'

• excluding the child from the peer group, conversation, planned activities or games

• not sharing a seat while pretending to save it for someone else

• malicious gossip and rumours designed to make other children denigrate the target, e.g. exposing his secrets to others, and

• extortion and threats, e.g. 'I won't be your friend if you don't buy me a snack', 'You won't come to my party if you don't give me your project to copy'.

3. Physical

Physical bullying involves regularly attacking someone who is weaker. It can be directly aggressive, such as hitting, kicking and spitting; or indirect, such as by gesture, suggestion, stalking, and defacing or hiding property. It can include grabbing the target by his clothing and tearing it or being involved in fights in which he is defenceless. It includes:

• pushing, shoving, kicking, pinching, punching, bumping, knocking, hair-pulling, physical restraint, tripping up, and the use of weapons

• stealing books, lunch or other possessions from a desk or locker

• throwing someone's belongings around the classroom

Child Physical Restraint

• interfering with or damaging a child's clothes, belongings in his desk, locker or elsewhere, e.g. pushed over, broken or hidden

• taking away the chair as a child is about to sit on it

• locking him in a room or cupboard, putting his head in a toilet

• flicking water at the child from the tap, flicking bits of paper or rubber bands, and

• sabotaging homework or computer studies.

4. Harassment

Harassment generally involves repeated, annoying questions, statements or attacks about sexual, gender, racial, religious or nationality issues. It includes:

• subjecting a child to any sexual gestures, interference, acts of physical intimacy and assaults via touching, grabbing or pinching, e.g. fondling a girl's breasts, touching a child's bottom or other private parts, flicking a girl's skirt, urinating at someone

• pulling the target's underpants down in front of other students

• looking under the toilet door

• making direct or indirect comments about a child's sexuality: 'You're gay', 'You're a homo/lesbian', 'You're a girl' (to a boy)

Mother Hitting Child

• using intimidating language, e.g. 'Fuck off, 'Go fuck your mother', 'Your mother is a slut', 'Go back to where you came from'

• making unwelcome sexual advances or requests, and

• stalking inside or outside the school.

Gender differences in bullying

• Boys and girls bully equally and both can be targets. Boys bully boys and girls. Girls usually bully other girls, but can also bully boys.

• Boys often use bullying tactics to make a reputation and girls often do so to protect their reputation.

• Boys tend to be hunters who belong to large, hierarchical tribes. They typically bully openly and prefer physical bullying. They focus upon individual achievement and action, supported by their physical prowess. They are less interested in teasing, exclusion and indirect bullying.

• Girls tend to be gatherers who socialise in smaller, intimate friendship groups. They typically prefer teasing or indirect, less physical bullying. They use verbal denigration, malicious gossip and exclusion as powerful weapons to manage, manipulate and protect their small group friendships.

• Girls tend to be 'bitchy' or passive-aggressive, while boys tend to be 'macho' or aggressive. While males deny bullying, females hope others will intuitively sense it.

• Bullies (and targets) of both sexes usually have poorly-developed assertive communication skills.

The bullying game

Bullying is a game where some children systematically abuse their power. Bullies can go on a shopping spree at the beginning of every year looking for suitable targets. The bullying game may occur over a period of time, sometimes years, with the same players, or the target may confront a series of bullies. Some children are always targeted and others are serial bullies. Some children switch from target to bully and then back again depending on the situation. The bully may be nice in class but exclude in the playground. The bully may be a friend or someone within the target's social group. The group can invite the target to join them, alienate her from decent friends, and then reject the target. In some cases neither player enjoys this heartless game. They don't know how to change, stop or remove themselves. Some don't realise that they are bullying. Regardless of conscious or unconscious intent, they can do great harm and can cause significant damage.

In fact, the target can alter the rules of the game to stop getting hurt. She can remove herself, become detached, obtain assistance or use other techniques to block the bullying. Say to your child, 'Pretend the family has won a wonderful trip overseas. You will be absent from school for four weeks. Who will the bully hurt instead?' Guess what? Most children know who's next because they know who else is vulnerable. They know how the game works.

So how does it work? Let's look at the rules.

Rule 1: Bullies need a reaction

Most people know that you don't show your fear or anger to a horse or dog because it will react. The same applies to dealing with bullies. You may think it's amazing that bullies know whom to bully. But they don't. Research has shown that some pick on nearly everyone at the beginning of a year, until someone reacts. Perhaps bullies smell fear or anger like animals do and react out of self-protection. However, the target's behaviours inform the bully that she qualifies as a good target.

Bullies, like Customs officials, respond to the target's change in facial expression, body language, voice and actions following the initial attack. If the target remains neutral in a blank, trance-like, spaced-out state, the bully's power dissipates. But when a child reacts, her distress escalates the game and empowers the bully. Any sign of fear or anger from a target makes a bully happy. The target makes it easy for a bully to release frustrations, enhance her social status and make her day. The bully knows that the target can't protect herself- this reinforces the bully, who can automatically pick on the child without needing to search for a new target every day

Askyour child,'What do you say or do when she bullies you?' Look for common reactions, like, 'I do nothing, walkaway or I say something back'. Ask what happens if she refuses to play the bully's game! Then coach her to use some assertive techniques (see Chapter 11).

Parents and kids activity

Siblings banter and bully frequently. Later on, they make up under parental guidance or family cohesion. They know when they can play the game and when they can't. Similarly, there seems to be an odd ongoing connection or collusion between some bullies and their targets. Dr Debra Pepler has found an ongoing relationship between the bully and the target. The target rewards the aggressive bully by being submissive. In fact, some kids actually pester the bully. This creates a form of'dance macabre' where the behaviour of each reinforces the other. Other targets appear magnetised to the bully instead of just moving on: 'She is my friend even though she bullies me sometimes'.

Some children stay in the bully-target situation even when there are opportunities for them to get away, maybe because they need to release their anger, be provocative and prolong the encounter. They can also swap roles.

Parents and kids activity

Encourage your child to move away from the bullying game or give her strict instructions not to speak to the bully. She can then communicate nonverbally - but it won't last long.

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Rule 3: Let's pretend it's not happening

Most children need to belong to a group, so negative attention is better than none. In this game, the target feels obliged out of fear or favour to defend and protect the bully. Some targets prefer being bullied by popular kids than affiliating with the 'nerds'. They prolong their agony and allow the bully to continue her destructive behaviours. Thus it is easy for the bully to deny, with a look, gesture or words, that she was doing anything. This makes it difficult for teachers to identify the bully. The child denies what is happening or, once confronted, claims that it doesn't affect her. She pretends it was a joke or that everyone was just fooling around.

Adults need to identify and challenge these irrational thoughts. Perhaps you can demonstrate to the child that the 'nerds' are more likely to be successful in 15 years' time, not the bullies.

Rule 4: Let's make it easy for the bully

Bullies are lazy and don't want to think. They want to press a few buttons, have a quick game and obtain instant gratification. The average school bully isn't very creative or intelligent, and lacks verbal skills. She may tease a child about being fat, stupid or gay; the words belong to an average of just four to six different categories. Something the target does makes it easy for the bully to instantly identify her sensitivities. Then the bully uses whatever works to obtain the desired reaction. She wants the target to feel bad, and others to recognise her power. Once thwarted, bullies give up and look for someone else who is vulnerable.

Use the tease list in Chapter 12 to identify your child's sensitivities. Then discuss, de-sensitise her and provide her with options to respond.

Rule 5: Bullies prefer isolated targets

Bullies like picking on children who don't belong to a close, social group. Deep down, they are terrified of being excluded by the tribe, so children who don't belong to a group symbolise their own fears. Many targets are socially quieter, have social difficulties, are more isolated and lack a support network. Their peers can't protect them because they don't have a close connection with them, they

don't know how to help, or they fear retaliation. A lone best friend is insufficient to stop the average bully. When the target has a bunch of good friends, the bully has to confront her support group and tends to give up.

Parents and kids activity

Encourage the target to make a bunch of supportive friends (see Chapter 13) and ask her teacher to create a buddy support group.

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Rule 6: Witnesses have power

Like the cheering crowd at the theatre or the football, most bullying is conducted in front of peers, onlookers or bystanders. Some bullies are popular and have strong leadership skills. They are supported by their friends and can manipulate a crowd. If the peer group cackles, condones, colludes or collaborates, the bullying escalates. The group allows the bully to manipulate them to build her social power. Bystanders, peers and witnesses can support the bully and deny the bullying to a teacher. But if the peer group challenges the bully and condemns that behaviour, the bullying diminishes. The bully has to change her behaviour to maintain membership of the group. Schools, in turn, need to train bystanders to intervene fairly and responsibly. Students should request and expect assistance from their friends, or move on and make better friends.

Non-bullying interaction

• Family and friends banter all the time and label it 'fooling around' or 'chit-chat'. Children regard banter as being friendly, having fun and a group activity, just like rough play between lion cubs. Although bantering can hurt, children need to identify the difference between social bantering, rough play and nasty bullying.

• One incident of violence is not necessarily bullying.

• Children need to be flexible and socialise with a variety of playmates or friends and respect their rights to socialise with others. Although friendship groups change constantly, children should not be ejected or rejected.

• Children shouldn't be handcuffed to one friend; they shouldn't resent a friend who plays with other friends.

• Children should not ignore another child who has invited them to play, as that child may feel hurt and retaliate by bullying.

• When a friendship ends following an argument, children should move on instead of retaliating or prolonging the connection by bullying.

Key points

■ Bullying is an abuse of power

■ It ranges from social banter, teasing, exclusion and harassment to physical violence and crime.

■ Some bully for fun but don't mean to hurt, others enjoy causing pain and do it for personal gain.

■ Bullying can occur at school, in transit and in the local community.

■ Boys and girls may bully differently due to the different structure of their peer groups.

What to do

• Identify the signs of bullying.

• Help your child describe his or her bullying experiences.

• Help your child avoid the bullying games.

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