Truths and Myths About Bullying Targets
One out of every five (20.2%) students report being bullied.
41% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that they think the bullying would happen again.
– National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019
The bullying problem isn’t going away. Our organization has been overwhelmed this year speaking with parents and caregivers of bullying targets. We are advising families in the Denver-metropolitan area and across the state. We have been able to offer advice to families outside of Colorado as well. The reasons why a child is bullied are varied and wide. Almost any child can become a target of bullying however there are certain populations of students whose characteristics increase their chance of becoming a target of a bully. It is important to note that a child who is targeted should not try to change those characteristics as bullying is about a wrong choice made by the child who is the aggressor.
Very Well Family identifies groups of children most likely to be bullied as the following:
- Successful, intelligent, determined and/or creative children – Kids who are good at what they do, or are successful oftentimes will get bullied. Children in this category become targets because the bully may feel insecure or jealous. Jealousy may arise from the attention children receive for their talents or determination, or jealousy may arise from the abilities these children possess.
- Vulnerable children – Young people who are introverted, anxious or submissive may find themselves more likely to be bullied than their peers. Children who bully are careful at selecting whom to target and will oftentimes find those who are less likely to fight back. Research shows that children suffering from depression or stress-related conditions are more likely to be bullied and it will make those conditions worse.
- Children who isolate – Many targets of bullying will have fewer friends than their peers. Research shows that if a child has at least one friend, the chances of them being bullied reduces. Parents and teachers can help isolating children by assisting them to develop social skills and friendships. Peers can aid these children by befriending them and asking them to join them in activities.
- Popular kids – Adolescents who are well-liked or popular may be bullied because they pose a threat to the child who is bullying them. Children in this category often experience relational bullying where the aggressor is attempting to spread rumors, shun or discredit them.
- Youth who have a distinctive physical appearance – Almost any physical characteristic that is unique can attract the attention of bullies. The best way to combat this type of bullying is to take away the audience. Children who are upstanders can make a powerful impact with this type of bully.
- Kids who have an illness or disability – Children who are on the spectrum, have ADHD, dyslexia, Down syndrome or any other condition that sets them apart can fall prey to bullying. Also in this category are children who have food allergies, asthma or other ailments. The best deterrent to this type of bullying is a school culture where this type of mind-set is frowned upon.
- Adolescents who have different sexual orientation or gender identity than traditional models – Some of the most brutal bullying has happened due to a child’s sexual orientation. This type of bullying left unabated can result in hate crimes. A school environment who offers strong support networks for LGBTQ+ children can reduce this type of bullying and provide a safe haven.
- Religious or cultural beliefs – There is rise to this type of bullying when specific cultures or religious bodies make the news in a negative way. This type of bullying generally stems from a lack of understanding and tolerance.
- Children of a differing race – Here again, children are bullied because they look different from their peers. This also stems from a lack of understanding and tolerance.
Children who are bullying targets need to be reminded that they are not to blame. Characteristics of individuals are exploited by bullies and used to cause harm. No child ever deserves to be bullied.
There are many myths about bullying. It is important to learn about these falsehoods and understand why they are untrue. Bullying can create trauma for the target, and the following assertions can further increase the pain for children.
The following are statements about bullying that are indeed untrue and hurtful:
- Bullying is just a stage or a normal part of life. Bullying is not normal and acceptance of it gives the bullies more power.
- Bullying will make kids tougher. Research has shown it often has the opposite effect and will lower a child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Bullying often creates anxiety and fear for a child.
- People are born bullies. Bullying is a learned behavior and can be changed. As human beings, we do not come into this world with hatred and scorn.
- Some people deserve to be bullied. No one ever deserves to be hurt or harmed by bullying.
- Reporting a bully will make it worse. Notifying caring adults in charge will allow them to take appropriate measures to stop the bullying. Statistics state that only 25-50% of bullying targets will talk to an adult about the bullying.
- Bullying is easy to recognize. Physical bullying, if done where an adult is present can be easy to recognize. Bullying that is much more difficult to recognize is relational bullying such as shunning, gossip, starting rumors, and leaving peers out on purpose.
- Ignoring bullying will make it go away. Ignoring a bullying situation or being a bystander will make the situation worse. This sends a message that the behavior is acceptable and can further emotionally torment the bullying target.
Knowing that certain populations of children are more likely to be targets of bullying is important information. As adults we can be vigilant, observant and ask questions of our youth. Also of importance is to dispel myths about bullying. It is not a normal or organic behavior. It is a not a character-building exercise or a right of passage. For many adolescents, bullying leaves long-lasting scars and paves the way into anxiety, depression and a multitude of mental and emotional turmoil. It is not time to turn away from bullying targets, but rather listen, comfort and act. Our youth is counting on us now more than ever.
By Dru Ahlborg
Bullying Recovery Resource Center