The Basics of Bullying & How to Help Beat It

Hand with the words Stop Bullying written on palm

Bullying has been the focus of national attention recently, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon. Take the Bible’s David and Goliath, Back to the Future’s Biff and Marty McFly, Mean Girls Regina George or Harry Potter’s Drayco Malfoy. We’ve seen bullying behavior played out for centuries in pop culture, in books and some of us, unfortunately, may have experienced it in our everyday lives. (Does “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” ring a bell?)

Bullying is here, but if we have our way, it won’t be here to stay. It’s estimated between 22 and 40 percent of school-aged individuals have been bullied. And as frightening as those statistics are, some believe the notion that “kids will be kids.” Wrong.

We believe that “when you know better, you do better” – that’s why we’re breaking down the bully, the behavior, and the best way to help prevent it.

Basics of Bullying
Dr. Shawn Daugherty, director of clinical services and case management at HCA Healthcare’s The Medical Center of Aurora, says that one form of bullying is the act of social dominance.

“There is certainly the typical type of bullying that we’ve seen on TV growing up,” he said, “where there’s the classic instance of a child of larger size using their physical strength to frighten, dominate or be aggressive towards another individual to express social dominance, their own underlying fear or an attempt to gain social favor within the group, by targeting somebody that is perceived as weaker.”

Individuals who bully may use their physical strength, like Dr. Daugherty mentioned, but in order to be considered bullying, the behavior must also include the following:

  • An imbalance of power: access to embarrassing information, or popularity – to control or harm others.
  • Repetition: bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

With the rise of social media, the “repetition” behavior can happen suddenly and without warning. Someone will post a picture that is in some way embarrassing in an effort to upset, frighten or “get at” the individual in question and, just like that, it goes “viral.”

Dr. Daugherty noted that cyber-bullying is statistically on the rise, as social media has opened a door to bullying in a way that didn’t exist before.

In terms of other forms of bullying, he says, anytime a situation exists where a child feels intense pressure for social position or to be better than – which happens across socio-economic status, gender or cultural group – you’re going to see bullying.

Being Bullied? Warning Signs Below
The typical response to bullying, as we defined it – persistent, aggressive behavior towards an individual – may include, but are not limited to:

  • A decrease in concentration;
  • Sadness;
  • Anxiety;
  • A decrease in school performance; and
  • Social isolation

How Can You Help?
Dr. Daugherty suggests that parents or guardians can teach a child two sets of skills to combat bullying.

  • Assertiveness: The ability to say stop or leave me alone, and then if the unwanted behavior continues…
  • Understanding that it’s no sign of weakness or embarrassment to walk away and seek out the assistance of an adult.

“You also have to teach skills that can replace this social one-upmanship,” Dr. Daugherty explained. “Teach basic phrases that socially and culturally fit with where that child lives like, ‘that’s too much,’ ‘that’s over the top,’ ‘that’s uncool’ – something to express that particular behavior is not OK.”

“The quickest way to extinguish bullying behavior in a social environment is to not give it attention. Like fire needs oxygen, social dominance needs attention in order to persist,” he added.

Additionally, there will never be a substitute for structure in a setting that has multiple school-aged children together. Having someone present to monitor is essential, and if a problem arises, the attitude of the adult, should be one of gratitude for bringing it to their attention, not that the child is being a tattle-tale, Dr. Daugherty pointed out.

What about the bully?
Many children may go through developmental periods, where they feel frustrated, sad or socially uncomfortable and resort to bullying to gain strength or social position. That doesn’t mean, once a bully, always a bully.

“Children who are abused, in group homes or foster care settings, where the only way to survive is to be aggressive or diminish others, will act that out in school or other social settings,” Dr. Daugherty said.

It’s important to teach those children and others a different way of thinking. That’s why anti-bullying programs in schools are so important.

“Anti-bullying and character development programs that are being implemented in schools across the country focus on self-understanding, self-awareness and, most importantly, the ability to have power with someone rather than having power over someone.”

Research shows an estimated 25 percent decrease in measurable bullying behavior when anti-bullying programs are implemented in school settings.

Bullying Prevention Month
Bullying – now the focus of national attention – owns an annual designation, National Bullying Prevention Month, which has been observed in October since 2010.

Bullying is real, it’s here and no one is immune. But it’s not and should never be considered a “natural” part of life. With the right tools, education and empathy, we can help put an end to this destructive behavior for happier, healthier children. Because, “when you know better, you do better…”

Dr. Shawn Daugherty is a clinical psychologist for HCA Healthcare-affiliate The Medical Center of Aurora – North Campus. During his 15 years in the field, he has created and directed hospital-based child, adolescent and geriatric inpatient and outpatient counseling programs.

Visit here for more information on bullying, how to talk to your children about the issue and what you can do to help.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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