Why Do People Bully?

This is the conversation we need to have.


There have been many conversations in recent years about the effects of bullying, which I believe is highly important. As a child in elementary and junior high school who was bullied, I can say from personal experience that the effects are far reaching and long lasting. Two decades later I still have to work to overcome the effects bullying had on me, and I didn’t even have it “that” bad. I was teased from a young age about having to wear glasses, and my less than up to date wardrobe made me an easy target for my tormentors. Every day was a question mark. Would I be able to make it through the day without my bullies pushing me on the playground? How many times would I “accidentally” be run into or tripped? How many walks home would be ruined by my bullies yelling things at me the entire way? How many times would I be picked last in P.E because no one wanted me on their team?

There are lots of stories about bullying, like the one Chris Ayala wrote, recounting the merciless bullying that young people have to endure. However, there has not been enough talk about why people bully, and I think it is an important conversation we need to have.

We can mitigate the effects of bullying all we want, but if we do not get to the root of the problem, all we are doing is masking the symptoms of a bigger problem. Ask any doctor what happens when you try to cover up a health problem instead of treating the root problem. It never ends well for the patient and in my opinion, covering up the problem of bullying will end up hurting more people in the process.

Most people would agree that bullying is bad, yet it continues to happen. It’s kind of like smoking cigarettes. We all know the health risks associated with smoking, yet millions of people light up every day. Why? Its addicting. Cigarette companies make their product irresistible to people who already smoke and spend billions of dollars on advertising to make their product appeal to people who do not smoke. I think this analogy might apply to why people bully as well. Allow me to explain.

You spend your day being talked down to, maybe even emotionally abused by the people who are supposed to protect you. Or maybe your parents are non existant, too wrapped up in their own lives to worry about what is going on in yours. And when they are around physically, it is almost impossible to get their attention unless you do something negative. Maybe your parents are physically abusive, taking their anger out on you so you do the only thing that makes sense. You take your anger, hurt, frustration and unleash it on someone even less powerful than you; someone you perceive as different or weaker than you.

The difference doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as simple as not liking the clothes they wear. Or maybe they talk differently. Or they are an easy target for a list of reasons too long to debate here. But the effect is immediate. Their pain makes yours feel a little more manageable. You can deal with your dad beating the shit out of you if you can turn around and make this person feel even smaller than they already feel they are.

And the power? It’s intoxicating. It makes you feel like no one can touch you let alone hurt you. Other kids respect you, or at the very least fear what you might do to them. So they encourage you. Maybe they just stay silent when you are picking on someone else so that you won’t bully them. Maybe they join in with jabs—physical or otherwise—of their own. Maybe they just stay silent when someone in a position of power asks them about it. But the effect is the same. And so the cycle continues.

So what can we do to stop it? We need to train teachers and school professionals to better recognize the signs of an unstable home environment so they can be prepared to deal with the effects.
There needs to be more effective consequences to bullying that do not just include the child perpetrating the bullying, but their support system as well.

The anti-bullying site, nobullying.com, an online forum aimed at educating, advising, counseling and helping to stop bullying, reported in a February article titled, “Everyone Is Responsible for Bullying Solutions,” that the first step toward ending bullying is to create an awareness. There are some people who think that bullying is a natural aspect of growing up and that it is normal for kids to be teased and to be mean to each other. While this may be true, bullying itself is not something that should be ever be considered normal or tolerated. This is why it is so important to make sure that everyone is aware of bullying and the devastating effects it can have on children. Once people realize this, they can take the right steps to stop bullying from occurring, and even help prevent it from occuring.

There are bullying programs across the United States that are available to children but there have been few studies on whether or not these programs work. Dr. Deborah Tempkin of the U.S Department of Education wrote in a 2012 article titled “Effective Bullying Solutions: No One-Size-Fits-All Answer” that the first thing to keep in mind when looking at an anti-bullying program is whether there is evidence that the program or strategy works. She writes that evidence usually means that the program or strategy has been tested or evaluated and has demonstrated results, such as the program reduces bullying. She suggests that closely considering available programs and strategies might help you find the right solution for your school or community. And parents must be actively involved in these programs and in helping to create an awareness to ensure the safety of all children, not just thier own.

And finally, there needs to be consequences for people in a position of power who allow bullying to continue after they have been made aware of it. These people play a key role in ending bullying. They cannot turn a blind eye and must actively get involved until a solution is found.

The folks at nobullying.com agree: “Teachers, school administration and other adults have a responsibility to put a stop to bullying with a bullying solution. Too many adults look the other way because they don’t understand the serious repercussions bullying can have. However, if these individuals aren’t willing to be a part of the solution, they are contributing the problem. Children who see that adults don’t care about what they are doing are more likely to continue participating in the behavior instead of changing the way they act.”

There also needs to be a treatment program in place for chronic bullies. There is clearly something wrong with people who bully and punishing them is not going to be enough. I think a balance of punishment and treatment of the root cause of bullying is the only hope we have of effectively combating the problem and reducing the amount of people affected by bullying.

Header photo credit: www.supportingeducation.org

Liz Gunn-Baylus is a graduate of Mt. San Antonio College and an award-winning college journalist who served on the staff of the Mountaineer student newspaper. She is currently a student at Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona and plans to transfer to Arizona State University to pursue a degree in mathematics.

This story is a part of a special alumni series. Students who have graduated or transferred from Mt. San Antonio’s journalism program are featured weekly.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.