The Phoebe Prince bullying case in South Hadley, Mass., has put bullying in the national spotlight. After months of alleged bullying by classmates that reportedly included verbal assaults, online harassment, and social exclusion, Prince, a 15-year-old high school student, took her own life.
Although most cases aren't as extreme, bullying takes its toll on children across the U.S. every day. For every 100 kids in middle school, eight are bullied every day, seven are bullied every week, and 33 are bullied once in a while, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Building a Bully
Bullies seek power at someone else's expense. They harm that person over and over -- emotionally and/or physically -- to get it.
"It involves a more powerful person and a less powerful person, and is a form of aggression where one or more children repeatedly intimidate, harass, or harm a victim who cannot defend himself," says Robert Sege, MD, chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a contributor to the American Academy of Pediatrics' updated policy on bullying.
Bullies are shaped, in part, by these factors:
- Uncontrolled anger. "The No. 1 predictor of bullying behavior is anger, particularly in kids who have no way to manage it," says Dorothy Espelage, PhD, a professor and university scholar in the educational psychology department of the University of Illinois at Champaign. Angry kids, she says, are more likely to show bullying characteristics -- even if they have high self-esteem, and even toward their own siblings at home, which is often where bullying begins.
- No consequences. If adults don't nip bullying behavior in the bud, it may worsen. "A lack of adult response early on in the bullying behavior emboldens bullies," says Peter Raffalli, MD, a child neurologist at Children's Hospital in Boston. "It fuels the bullies by basically saying to them that it's OK because the adults don't care, and aren't interjecting to put a stop to it."
- Home life. Domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse, anger, and hostility at home -- directed at them or someone else -- can help build a bully.
- Media and video games. Seeing bullying behavior in the media and video games can be a bad influence if it shows that behavior being rewarded.
Other factors include "low impulse control, a low frustration tolerance, a need to control or dominate, anger issues, an opposition toward authority, and aggressiveness, " Raffalli says.
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