Do you know what it feels like to be bullied? I Do. Being repeatedly bullied changes you. It can either leave a mark or induce change.
As a new freshman in high school I turned the corner and quickly scanned the hallway. Experience had taught me what to look for and how to look for it. Repeated bullying teaches you how to scan a sidewalk, a playground, a gymnasium, a room or a hallway. Never make direct eye contact and never, ever stop listening. While most children look for their friends, those who are bullied see sudden movement and hear the shuffle of feet and always know where the closest exit is. As I walked down the long hallway I approached a group of boys. They leaned on open lockers and their laughter echoed off the tile floor. Laughter was always more worrisome than loud talking. I drifted over to the other side of the hall and softened my shoulders as I shifted my books to my other arm. You always kept one arm free when passing a bully. The laughter did not change and I sighed silently as I turned the corner and began scanning the next hallway.
For the observer bullying is often difficult to recognize. It can happen everywhere and anytime. For the one who is being bullied, bullying is always recognizable. It includes both spoken and unspoken actions, words and behaviors. A tilt of a head, a look in the eye, a sudden turn, a push, a trip, a sound or a series of words all indicate unwanted and unsought after aggression that has been directed at you. When you are young it starts with simple name calling, teasing or taunting. When these behaviors are repeated and are associated with one child trying to control or scare another child it becomes bullying. Threats of physical harm, rumors, embarrassing false stories and inappropriate sexual comments soon follow and you change. Not everyone becomes a victim but everyone changes. You notice social behaviors including how others avoid you or leave you out of games. You learn how to recognize the bully as well as those who assist and reinforce those who bully. Knocking, tripping, punching and hitting become a sport and if you are smart enough you learn how to scan and disappear.
There is no single reason why a child becomes a bully. Fear, anger, inadequate attachment, lack of control and low self-esteem are common themes. A lack of compassion and respect for others and the pursuit of social power and attention are also commonly seen in those who bully. Bullies may be well connected to peers or they may be loners who are isolated and easily pressured by others. Bullies tend to be aggressive and have difficulty following rules. They resort to dominating behaviors when they become frustrated and often think badly of others. They view aggressive behavior in a positive way and tend to have friends who bully others. In adulthood bullies often continue to have problems both at work and at home.
Children who are bullied tend to be different from others. They may be smart, sensitive, short, tall, overweight or just “different”. The way they dress, the words they choose or the way they act turn them into magnets. Bullies are drawn to these children and search for targets who are weak, depressed, anxious or unable to defend themselves. Bullying soon follows.
The best way to eliminate bullying is to talk about it and model appropriate interpersonal behavior. Bullying must be recognizable and understood if we are to prevent it. Bullying can be prevented by keeping all lines of communication open, urging all children to seek help if bullied and for those who are not bullied to be encouraged to step in and stop bullying before it happens. In this way all children will benefit. We must be clear, consistent and concise about how aggressive behavior harms both the giver and the receiver. We must never tolerate bullying and must model in our daily lives the use of effective non-physical positive discipline techniques that encourage appropriate behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior.
Being bullied changed me. I became a protector of others and along the way learned how to protect myself. Listen to your child and search for those children walking down the hall who know how to disappear. Your support, your teaching and your words of encouragement can allow an invisible child to hear the laughter and not the shuffle of feet.