The Bully Pulpit

Kids are bullied. It is a fact, plain and simple. Approximately 15 percent of adolescents and teens are bullied every year at school. Sometimes they seem to be bullied because they are new to a school. Sometimes children seem to be bullied because of their name. Sometimes children seem to bullied because they are not especially well coordinated and do not play sports as well as their classmates. Children are also reportedly bullied because of the clothes they wear. They can also be bullied under a pretext because of their height, weight, or the size of their ears, or nose or feet. Bullying is not only something that happens to boys and boys are not the only ones to bully. Girls can be mean too. They even call themselves names like “barracudas” or the “Mean Girls Posse” or some other appellation that suggests that they take pride in their ability to harass other children.  Many children seem to easily survive the torment of bullying – they may have very resilient personalities. Too many children are affected forever by the bullying that they are exposed to in their early years.

            Children test limits, it is part of the growth process. One of the ways they test limits is by challenging other children. But, bullying is much more; it is a type of abuse. It is not only insecure children from difficult home environments or teenagers who want to belong to some “cool” group that become the worst bullies. Recent research makes it very clear that there is no correlation between those teenagers and adolescents who are at-risk and the ones who become bullies. In fact, at risk children are as likely to be abusers as be among the ones abused. And, there is no clear correlation between what children are bullied about or bullied for and the amount they are bullied. Children who are not well coordinated may be less bullied than those who are even more physically awkward.

            According to the National Association of School Psychologists (U.S.) there are three primary underlying causes for bullying; lack of proper Adult Supervision often linked with aggressive discipline without consistency and proper consequences, a School Environment that does not foster respect and ignores bullying when it occurs, and a Peer Group that supports aggressive behaviors. There is also evidence that bullies have an aggressive temperament and a personality that has little empathy for others.  In short, bullies are raised in a home where they are more likely to be spanked or yelled at then nurtured, attend a school where the administration takes a passive or completely indifferent approach to aggression and bullying, are members of groups that support hostility and may have the type of personality or temperament that is reinforced by impulsivity and physicality. What can make bullying victims so much of a target are their own passivity and insecurity and sometimes even their anger. Their anger can turn them into more of a target for bullies. While some suggest that the best way to overcome bullying is for the victim to fight back aggressively others teach that the best approach is to learn to ignore the bullying and thereby not provide any form of reinforcement to bullies. However, a truer approach to the problem requires a broader approach. There are a variety of programs that help educators, parents and children cope with bullying all of which address the four primary underlying issues and all are effective.

            Bullying is not just a problem in childhood. There have been a variety of studies that report bullying in the work place as well. Often the workplace bully was a teenage bully or a victim of bullying. There is also a strong relationship between childhood victimhood and late life mood disorders and teenage bullying and antisocial behaviors and arrests in later years. When surveyed these individuals all report the same basic attitude – bullying is a part of life. In some situations individuals who were bullied in their earlier years indicate that when they attempted to report the bullying that they endured to their teachers or school administrators they were ignored or the entire situation was denied and swept under the rug.  

            If bullying sounds very much like abuse and how abuse is handled or ignored there is very good reason for that. Bullying is a form of abuse. The fact that being bullied is most often done by peers does not change the fact that is abusive. It is also not altered by the fact that many religious leaders, school administrators, teachers and parents try to ignore it or deny that bullying exists and is a serious problem. It is by far the time to admit that there are a plethora of problems that need to be tackled and simply ignoring them only exacerbates problems. Religious leaders attempted to ignore sexual abuse for decades. That problem is just now beginning to be addressed in the most halting fashion. Still there are many who deny or deflect that reality. It takes a spiritually mature leader to admit that all people have human weakness and these problems must be understood.  It takes a leader willing to take a stand and focus on issues. And, it takes a person of strength and sensitivity. We await such a leader.



About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."