Myth: Bullying is a rite of passage. Kids need to handle being bullied because there will always be bullies to deal with.
Consider: Bullying has been around for a long time. Only in the last few decades have media attention and research closely examined the negative effects of bullying on victims and bullies. Only recently have we begun to understand the roots of bullying behavior. While bullying may never be eliminated, it can be significantly reduced with school and family interventions.
Bullying is a social disease. The cost to children's emotional and psychological well-being is measurable. Well-researched prevention and intervention strategies for victims, bullies and bystanders have life-long benefits. What if we had the same attitude about cancer or some other disease which has been around for a long time? What if we knew we could do something to make a difference but instead did nothing? We know that we can all make a difference in preventing or reducing bullying behavior.
Myth: You can tell who a bully is by looking at them.
Consider: Children who bully rarely fit the stereotype of the muscle-bound, hot-tempered, mean kid from across town. Sometimes children who are smaller in stature become bullies to compensate for size. Girls engage in social bullying by manipulating their victim's environment to isolate them or make them feel bad. Some children who bully have had difficulties with social skills. Some children who bully have a history of being abused. Some children who bully come from homes where they have been exposed to a high level of stress and chaos. Many children who bully are also very socially connected, popular and from "good families." The same high level of social skill that makes the bullying behavior easy is also what prevents adults from seeing it.
Myth: You can always tell a bully from a victim.
Consider: Children engaging in victim behavior and bullying behavior is actually quite common, especially in younger grades. The same child may be excluded from a playground activity one day and be the child name calling the next. This blurring of roles between victim and bully behavior makes it challenging to figure out who started the problem.
Myth: Teachers and others should be able to see bullying easily.
Consider: Bullies plan their behaviors to avoid being caught. Many bullies engage in bullying behavior in locations that are isolated, such as bathrooms or locker rooms, or in crowded places where they are less likely to be observed such as cafeterias, playgrounds or buses. Many kids who bully also know how to manipulate the adults in their environment, including parents and teachers.
Myth: Cyberbullying is less damaging than traditional verbal or physical bullying.
Consider: Cyberbullying has the potential to cause more damage than traditional physical or verbal bullying. The victim of cyberbullying may not know who is bullying them. Internet bullying behavior is most often anonymous. Kids who bully become bolder due to the physical distance and not seeing their victim's reaction. Kids who bully are often unsupervised in their online activities and bullying messages can happen 24 hours a day all week long rather than just at school. The victim has no safe place to be without threat of being bullied.
Myth: Kids who are bullied often ask for it.
Consider: Children who are victims of bullying are sometimes different. They may have a disability. They may sometimes have a temper and get upset easily. They may be socially awkward and not understand social rules for their age group. This may make them annoying to be around. They may also engage in bullying behavior themselves.
Myth: The best way to settle bullying is off school grounds with fists.
Consider: Settling bullying with an escalation of aggression or retaliation is often risky. The behavior might stop for a while but it also has the risk of resuming and getting worse. Escalating bullying behavior also makes it difficult to tell who started the bullying and sometimes both victim and bully get the same consequence. The best strategies include walking away, ignoring the bullying and telling a trusted adult who can help you.
Myth: A parent can tell if their child is being bullied.
Consider: Many children keep the bullying experience to themselves. They may feel ashamed. They may not want to tell and have their parents cause a scene to make it worse at school. They may feel that telling their parents is a sign of weakness. They may feel that telling will cause them to lose privileges with their cell phone or Internet or their freedom to be with friends.
Myth: Children bully because they have poor control of their anger.
Consider: Children bully other children in order to gain or maintain social power in their peer group. They target other children they perceive as weak or different from them. They target other children who are not able to defend themselves. They often use social situations to bully. When bystanders laugh or are silent, the bully's behaviors are socially reinforced.
Myth: Bullies are bad kids.
Consider: Bullies are our kids, too. There has been a shift away from labeling a child as a bully or even as a victim. The focus is more accurately on the behavior that is either consistent with bullying or with being a victim of bullying. This move away from labels helps remind us that we are trying to change behaviors. We are more than our behaviors. This helps us look at a person's other qualities and strengths to help build interventions rather seeing them as "bad."
Myth: No one can really do anything about bullying.
Consider: If this were true, we would all be stuck! It is true that no one person or group can stop bullying alone. The research consistently shows that much of the bullying that is done can be reduced. The research also shows that bullying is most successfully prevented or reduced when we come together. Remember:
- Successful bullying interventions include strong parent involvement.
- Bullying behavior is reduced when schools have strong prevention programs.
- Bullying behavior is reduced when children targeted by bullying behavior learn different ways to respond and to report the bullying each time it happens.
- Bullying behavior is reduced when other kids, those who are bystanders, intervene and stand up and become upstanders to the bullying behavior.
- Children who bully need to be held accountable and often need help to change this pattern of behavior.