Big bad bully
Bullying affects both the victim and the bully, here’s why it happens.
It’s not just a case of boys being boys. It takes a special type of person to intentionally cause pain to others. Although not at first obvious, bullies are also hurt by bullying, it’s not just their victims. And yes, females can be bullies too – they merely favour a different method of meanness.

While the majority of children are never involved in bullying as either victims or perpetrators, those who do bully, do it consistently. Bullying may begin in childhood, but it continues into adulthood and is the most constant of human behaviours.

According to world-renowned expert on bullying, Professor Dan Olweus, bullying involves “a pattern of repeated aggressive behaviour with negative intent directed from one child to another where there is a power difference”. By definition, the victim has difficulty defending himself while the bully intends to cause distress. The aggression can be physical or verbal. Bullies not only say bad things to you, they say bad things about you, and the older a bully gets the more their aggression becomes verbal. Often bullying that starts with the fist is later accomplished with a glare.

So, really, isn’t bullying just ‘boys being boys’? Isn’t it a problem that sorts itself out naturally? “No”, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. “The line between boys being boys gets blurred when a child is intentionally targeted, when a playground slap turns to a punch”, says Helen Rozkydal, a primary school educator. The effects of bullying can last a lifetime and cause a great deal of pain and misery.

Bullies do not understand the feelings of others and are unaware of what other children really think of them – they truly believe they are liked and respected. Bullies perceive provocation where none exists – an accidental bump in the corridor is seen as an act of war. These children believe violence is the only way to handle conflict and they have a strong need to dominate. These patterns of behaviour continue into later life. “Bullies get pleasure from hurting others”, says Shamos, “they endorse revenge and cannot relate to others. This continues as they get older and the rift between them and others becomes wider”. Bullies get what they want – but not what they need. “Bullies are angry and have low self-esteem. Controlling others makes them feel better about themselves”, says Rozkydal, “They need positive attention and a way to constructively express their frustration”.

The victims are generally quieter than other children and tend to be socially incompetent loners. “The victims avoid conflict at all costs and have no practice in dealing with conflict so they panic”, says Shamos. Victims are submissive – even before they are attacked, which may increase their chances of victimization. While no-one likes a bully, no-one likes a victim either. Victims make other children uncomfortable and this further isolates them amongst their peers. This social isolation may be more damaging that the physical bullying and these children tend to become depressed, anxious and avoidant. Most damaging is the fact that these “whipping boys” internalize the negative views other children have of them. Rozkydal observes that these children usually blame themselves for the bullying. Parents may observe changes in their children like loss of appetite, changes in sleeping habits, crying, stomach aches and not wanting to go to school.

Bullying is a covert underground activity in a kids-only world. All too often adults are not aware of what is happening under their very noses. “Parents and teachers need to ask their children how they are treated by peers and spread the word that bullying is bad for bullies”, says Shamos. Don’t expect kids to work it out for themselves – and never tell a victim to fight back because they really usually are weaker and smaller.

Many schools have anti-bullying policies in place – find out about them and act on them – good intentions are not enough. also offers workshops to educators, parents and learners about bullying and what can be done. Remember that it takes a lot for a child to admit to being bullied so take allegations seriously.

Do you think bullies are a natural part of growing up, or can the problem be prevent

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