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Bullying Basics

Identifying Bullying Behavior in Children and Teens
Identifying Targets of Bullying
Stopping or Preventing Bullying Behavior at School
The Bottom Line on Bullying at School
Why Adults Bully Others in the Workplace
Stopping or Preventing Bullying Behavior in the Workplace
The Bottom Line on Bullying in the Workplace
More Web Resources on Bullying

Why Children and Teens Bully Others
Bullying in children and teens seems to be a way for them to gain attention, respect, or power. If they get away with it, the pattern tends to grow

Identifying Bullying Behavior in Children and Teens
Bullying is not the same as fighting, "horseplay," teasing, or other appearances of conflict between children or teens. Bullying has four conditions:
  1. Bullies have unequal power over their targets. They are bigger, more influential, have group backing, or some other advantage over the target person.
  2. Bullies intend to harm, humiliate, or embarrass their targets.
  3. Bullies repeat their bullying behavior.
  4. Bullies appear "matter-of-fact" about their attack, while the victims appear rather upset.
It is helpful to view bullying as group behavior. A group may participate in actually bullying a victim or a group of bystanders may tolerate the bullying--also supporting the bullying behavior.

Bullying is not always physical, especially among girls. A bully may assemble a group of girls or boys to target a person and systematically humiliate, isolate, or embarrass the victim. In fact, part of bullying is picking a target and then isolating the person by making fun of the person, starting rumors, or other behavior. Often bullies will target a child who is already isolated or not fully accepted by others.

Bullying behavior, if not stopped during childhood, can progress into adulthood--into the workplace. Bullies can move into positions of authority because they are willing to destroy the reputation of potential competitors. In the workplace, they can become powerful sources of distrust, fear, and dysfunctional behavior.

Identifying Targets of Bullying
It is important to learn if your children are bullying other children or are being bullied themselves.
  1. Bullies tend to target children who are loners, isolated, or have problems that would also make them targets of abuse by other children.
  2. Symptoms of being bullied may include unexplained reluctance to go to school, fearfulness, sleep disturbances, vague physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches) on school days, or belongings that come home ripped or are missing.
  3. If you suspect that your child is being bullied, it is best not to ask directly, according to experts. Rather, ask indirect questions. "Ask your child indirectly how he or she is spending lunch hour, or what it’s like walking to school, walking home or taking the school bus. Ask if there are any children at school who are bullies, without personalizing it." -Goldbloom
Stopping or Preventing Bullying Behavior at School
Teachers, administrators, parents, children, and teens can play important roles in stopping and preventing bullying. The goal is not to get rid of bullies, but to get rid of bullying. Some suggestions include:
  1. Teachers need to make it safe for students to report bullying. Students should be able to report bullying anonymously. Teachers should explain to children the difference between playfulness and bullying or cruelty. Teachers should make it clear that cruelty, such as making fun of a student in class for wrong answers, is not tolerated.
  2. Children need to report bullying to adults. Children need to be taught the difference between "tattling" (causing trouble) and "reporting" (helping). If children think that reporting a bully is the same as tattling, they will not do it. Children also need to be taught the difference between "horseplay" or teasing among equals and bullying of a victim.
  3. Parents need to make it clear to the school that they take bullying seriously and that they need for the school to take action to stop the behavior. Parents should ask how they can help the school. Parents also need to help their children stay out of situations where bullies are picking on them. Bullies may attack regularly on a school bus, at recess, before school, after school, or in the lunchroom. Wherever the bullying emerges, experts recommend that parents work with their children to avoid the problem situation if they cannot solve it through school staff. It is also important to carefully protect your children from retaliation if bullies discover that your children were the source of information that caused disciplinary action against them.
  4. Administrators need to have clear policies on how teachers are to respond to bullying behavior. Administrators need to monitor and enforce those policies.
  5. Parents need to ask their children if they tease or make fun of other children. If their children do bully other children, and most do at some time or other, then parents can talk about the differences between bullying and playfulness.
  6. Children need to respond constructively when they see bullying. Children need to work with their friends to help distract the bullies from their cruelty, report the incident, or discourage bystanders from actively or passively encouraging an incident.
  7. Bullies need to develop their " emotional intelligence," according to Jane Bluestein. She suggests that placing bullies in roles of mentors and supporting them in those roles may completely change their relationships to those who are weaker or disadvantaged.
  8. Goleman's research on emotional intelligence, including its neurological foundations, suggests that children can be taught emotional intelligence by parents and teachers. For a long-term solution, all children need to be taught to improve their emotional intelligence at least as much as they need to be taught cognitive skills.
The Bottom Line on Bullying at School
When children drop out of school, commit suicide, or resort to violence, bullying is often an important factor. Sometimes it is the central cause. Just as schools and workplaces now have zero tolerance for drugs or weapons on site, they need to have zero tolerance for bullying.

In order to create healthy environments, schools and other organizations need to develop clear measures to distinquish the difference between bullying and other behavior that may look similar. For example, teachers, children, parents, and administrators need to be able to tell the difference between someone who is bullying a victim and someone who is just playing roughly, arguing, disagreeing, scuffling, or teasing a friend. Creating instruction on the differences will be a challenge. Assessing everyone's understanding of the differences will be an even greater challenge. Finally, policies to stop and prevent bullying need to be established and aggressively enforced, through a partnership of children, teens, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Why Adults Bully Others in the Workplace
Bullying is learned in childhood, but the form changes in the workplace. By adulthood, bullies have learned that they need to network with others, show a charming side to those in power over them, and to use any means at their disposal to isolate and discredit their targets. Bullies in the workplace target potential competitors, especially those who could make them look bad by comparison. Bullies in the workplace abuse others to gain power or promotions, as well as to keep potential competitors from replacing them. Bullies also choose victims in order to blame them for their own mistakes.

Bullies in the workplace prefer targets that are independent and task oriented. They want to avoid fighting with friends and colleagues of their victims. If potential competitors are popular, the first step of bullies may be to isolate them. Bullies may use lies, rumors, and deceptions to isolate their targets from supervisors, friends, and colleagues. For example, if a target is home ill, the bully may quietly signal to other staff that the target is out for mental health problems and the problems are not to be discussed. The bully may hint that the person is not going to be with the organization for long and that smart people will keep their distance in order to avoid risking their own careers.

Stopping or Preventing Bullying Behavior in the Workplace
UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line provides a number of suggestions and observations about bullies in the workplace. The following summarizes some of their key observations.

Bullies in the workplace tend to target employees who are among the most competent or who have high integrity. They also tend to go after employees who try to stop the bullying. Serial bullies are compulsive in finding victims, so those who try to stop bullies need to be very careful. If a bully targets someone, and the victim tries to appeal the behavior to supervisors or stop the bullying in other ways, the bully generally tries to eliminate the victim from the workplace, harshly and aggressively.

Serial bullies in the workplace tend to have antisocial and narcissistic personalities. Experts recommend against using mediation as a means of correcting problems with serial bullies. They tend to be very effective at telling lies in such arrangements, furthering their agenda. Serial bullies will often show great charm to those who are in power over them. They will also work carefully behind the scenes to isolate their targets by spreading rumors and presenting their targets as incompetent. Serial bullies will align with other serial bullies to enhance their power within the organization.

Serial bullies tend to select as targets persons who are not actively involved in office politics. It is easier to isolate and remove targets who are independent.

Serial bullies tend to project their own deficiencies on to their victims. Knowing this, the victims need to clearly label the allegations of bullies as projections during an administrative resolution of problems. The victims also need to closely examine the bully's past performance in the areas of accusation. By having facts about the past failures of the bully, it is much easier to make the case for projection. The experts at the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line say that the best strategy for combating bullies is to focus attention on the bully's past failures and then label the bullying behavior as projection.

If the targeted victim is successful in keeping the attention of supervisors on the past deficiencies of the bully, then the bully will generally counter-attack and try to prove that the victim is mentally unbalanced. If this strategy does not succeed, the bully will try a third strategy, which is to claim to be the victim of the victim's attacks. Bullies in the workplace are often very good at all of their strategies: isolating and attacking people, counter-attacking victims if they are charged with bullying, and playing victim themselves.

The Bottom Line on Bullying in the Workplace
Dealing with bullies in the workplace is often painful and difficult. Confronting them takes a great deal of courage and skill. Instead of confronting bullies, organizations often shield bullies in order to try to avoid losing lawsuits from victims. However, if serial bullies succeed, they can eventually consume much of the creative and productive efforts of any organization. Serial bullies in positions of power can destroy the effectiveness of government organizations, schools, businesses, and charities. It is therefore essential for any organization to have a clear process for identifying serial bullies. Once serial bullies are identified, swift efforts are needed to prevent them from building an offensive to maintain power.

In order to be effective in stopping and preventing bullying in the workplace, staff and management need to be able to tell the difference between bullying and other behavior that may look similar. For example, administrators and staff need to be able to tell the difference between someone who is bullying a victim, compared to someone who is demanding high standards, engaging in appropriate disciplinary actions, or engaging in other behaviors that could be mistaken for bullying. Organizations need to develop assessments to ensure that all staff and administrators understand the differences enough to apply them to most work situations. Policies to prevent and stop bullying need to be established and aggressively enforced, starting with top management.

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