Dealing with the Problem of Bullying

  • Published
  • By Maj. Catherine M. Callender, Licensed Psychologist
  • 45th Medical Group

The problem of bullying is getting more and more attention as the consequences of bullying and the severity and frequency of bullying are increasing.
Whereas 15-20 years ago bullying might be limited to what a handful of children were a part of, the advent of technology and the ability for bullies to send out their hostile, malicious messages to masses of people at one time make it more destructive to victims than ever before. Additionally, before cyber bullying, home might actually be a safe haven for children, adolescents, and even adults.

However, cyber bullying enables the bullies to reach into people's homes and attack them there.

So, what can be done about any form of bullying? Solutions to the problem depend on understanding exactly what bullying is, what causes it, what perpetuates and exacerbates it, and what victims and bystanders can do to combat bullying.

Bullying is defined as aggressive, unwanted behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. In many cases, bullies do not have the social skills necessary to develop healthy relationships.

Subsequently, they attempt to garner a sense of belonging with others or power over others by using techniques that are hostile, manipulative, and destructive to other people. Although bullying is clearly reinforced by those who essentially "cheer" the bully on or participate directly in the bullying themselves, bullying is also reinforced by people who simply stand by and watch.

Bullies have the potential to view bystander apathy as support or as a sign that they [the bullies] also have power over the bystanders as evidenced by the fact that people are observing what is happening, and yet no one is doing anything to stop the behavior. The more powerful the bully feels and the ease with which he or she engages in bullying (i.e. no one does anything about it), the more likely the bully is to continue the behavior and to possibly escalate the viciousness of his or her attacks.

Those are the things that cause bullying, perpetuate it, and make it worse, but what can people do to stop or decrease the bullying behavior of others? It is not recommended that people jeopardize their own safety to intervene in a bullying situation, but there are a number of things people can do to assist the victims of bullies.

First, never stand by and watch what is happening. Even if a person is not actively engaged in the bullying behavior, their mere presence tends to empower bullies because bullies interpret that as acceptance of their behavior and a sign of the power they have not only over the victim but over others as well.

Secondly, it is important to get authority figures, such as teachers, supervisors, and the police, involved. The more people who are aware of what is going on, the more difficult it becomes for the bully to victimize others.

Third, without jeopardizing one's own safety, provide support to the victim. That support can be anything from a kind word during the day to a reassuring text message to befriending the person who is being bullied. When the victims of bullies know there are people who support them, that knowledge can go a long way to instilling hope that the problem will eventually be resolved.

Fourth, ensure authority figures are aware of the locations in which bullying typically takes place. The presence of adults in those areas can significantly reduce the opportunities for bullying to occur.

Finally, under unique circumstances, there might be an opportunity to distract the bully from what he or she is doing. Distraction strategies might include telling a person in authority what is going on and then letting the victim know he or she needs to go see that person.

When it comes to cyber bullying, many of the same principles apply. Refrain from making anonymous statements that support what the bully communicated. Consider "unfriending" or severing communication with other people who contribute to cyber bullying or other types of bullying. Report misuse of social media such as Facebook. Use social media to establish a culture of support versus the antagonistic environment bullies strive to achieve.

Some people may be thinking that victims should take responsibility and solve the problem themselves. It is true that victims should be encouraged to involve authority figures and do what they can to minimize bullying.

However, human beings do not engage in behavior they do not get some sort of reward for, and the powerful reinforcer for bullies is the apathy of others because they interpret it as silent support for their bullying behavior or as power they have over the bystanders.

So, the question to all of us is if we take this problem seriously, what are we actively willing to do to be a part of the solution? This article presented just a few ideas on how to mitigate bullying. Hopefully, it might prompt you to think of one thing you and/or your child can do to help decrease bullying in this community.