Bullying is a public health crisis in the United States, with as many as one in four children suffering at the hands of a bully every year. Like any health problem, the first step to treating it is to discover what is causing it. A team of researchers at Yale University has been working for over a year to understand the environmental and biological forces that give rise to bullying behavior in an effort to counteract it and redirect it in more positive ways. Their studies have yielded surprising results.
In a Bullying Situation, Nobody Wins
The study confirms what anyone who’s been bullied, or has a child who’s been bullied, already knows firsthand: Kids who are bullied have a higher risk of adverse health effects, both mental and physical. However, the study has also determined that bullies themselves often suffer negative effects from their behavior, and in many cases, the effects are similar to those often experienced by the bully’s victims:
- Low self-esteem
- Social isolation
If bullies don’t benefit from their behavior, and in fact suffer on account of it, why do they continue to do it?
The answer is complicated, but essentially, bullies either do not understand that their behavior is wrong or they do not know any other way to behave.
Surprisingly, Not So Different
The study discovered that there are often striking similarities between the situations of the children targeted for bullying and the bullies themselves.
Both tend to exhibit social awkwardness and an inability to understand the consequences of their actions or the effect their behavior has on others. Both bullies and their victims may have mental health challenges, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or autism spectrum disorder, that causes them to behave impulsively or prevent them from empathizing easily with others. Because of the similarities, the roles of bully and victim may fluctuate depending on the situation, so that today’s bully may be tomorrow’s victim, and vice versa.
Reasons a Child Becomes a Bully
Bullying is largely a learned behavior, which means that, with the proper intervention, it can be corrected. On the next page is Parentology’s list of five reasons a child may become a bully and strategies parents, educators, and mental health professionals may employ to try to reverse the behavior.