Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Understanding Bullying: The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Aggression Among Today’s Kids and Teens

The bullies of today look, sound, and act differently from the bullies of your own youth. Round-the-clock internet availability and 24/7 cell phone access have revolutionized the way today’s kids communicate while at the same time making it more difficult for helpful adults to be aware of when bullying is occurring. In order for parents to be able to help their kids cope with bullying experiences, it is critical that they have a clear and up-to-date understanding of what a bully looks, sounds, and acts like.

What is Bullying? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying occurs when a person or group repeatedly tries to harm someone who is weaker. Bully behavior takes many forms, from the “traditional” hitting, threatening, and stealing lunch money to what experts now recognize as “relational aggression,” which includes social exclusion, rumor-spreading, and using friendship as a weapon.

Who is bullied? 

It’s estimated that nearly one in three children are involved in bullying, as victims, perpetrators, or both—that’s approximately 5.7 million children each year in the United States. Bullies typically select targets that are unlikely to assert their rights and stand up for themselves. Studies show that children who are overweight, gay, or have disabilities (both physical and learning) are bullied at even higher rates.

Where does bullying take place? 

Traditionally, bullying centered in school settings, where kids had personal interactions throughout the academic day. Today, internet access, social networking, video sharing sites, cell phones and text messaging have completely altered the landscape of bullying. No longer limited to face-to-face interactions, bullies can act out their aggression without having to look their victims in the eye. This wide-open access has made bullying more cruel and relentless than ever before.

When does bullying occur? 

Likewise, bullying is no longer limited to the school day. Today, kids can’t rely on their homes as safe havens from bullying, when technology allows for 24/7 interactions. For those who are targeted by cruel peers, it can seem as if there is no escape from cruel teasing, taunting, and texting.

Why do people bully? 

Bullies victimize others in order to gain power and control for themselves. Their tactics cause their targets to feel the opposite way: alone and powerless. Bullies are often people who feel very angry on the inside and have learned to express their feelings by lashing out and making others feel powerless.

Signe Whitson, LSW is a child and adolescent therapist and national presenter on topics related to bullying, anger management, and child mental health. She is the author of Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Aged 5-11 to Cope with Bullying and How to Be Angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.

For more information on helping your child handle bullying effectively, please visit Signe's website at, Like her on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.

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