It is easy to be angry, and upset about the behavior of bullies. After all we know that their behavior has terrible outcomes for their victims. But empathy, and compassion for bullies, ought to be part of our approach to the problem of bullying.

Kids do not become bullies without system involvement. Remember without the bystanders, and the silent consent given by folks within their system, the bully would not have the ability to bully at all. In fact, the research is clear that the negative effect on passive victims are without question impactfull, but the most damage is done to the psychology of the “victim-bullies”. I will talk about victim bullies in another post because, in order to understand a victim bully I think it is helpful to get a better picture of the so called typical bully.

That bully is the kid who is having trouble with anger management. A kid who flies off the handle, a kid who has a level 9 response to a level 4 experience. That kid is also someone who has trouble managing her impulses. Calls out instead of raising her hand, or the kid who throws a ball and hits someone in the face, without thinking. Knowing that, we can also understand that they are kids who become easily frustrated, and have trouble following rules and are often found in the principals office, or receiving consequences or repeated rule breaking. One of the most telling issues is that these kids have a positive view of violence. (1)

So, the natural question arises: where do these behaviors come from? Nurture, nature, or somewhere in between. The answer is yes. Kids who become bullies share common risk factors-- lack of warmth and involvement of families, and at the same time too permissive parenting including a lack of limits, and clarity about what is, and is not, acceptable behavior. A mixture of both a lack of supervision combined with harsh, including corporal punishment. There is significant links between bullying and children who have been physically and sexually abused. (1)

I am not saying these kids need to be sat down and reasoned with, or coddled in any way. They need clear guidelines for what is, and isn’t ok. They need consistent enforcement of boundaries and limitations, and consistent positive or negative feedback for their behavior. They need love, love that says--”no”, and “lets go this direction”. They need to be taught, and yes I have seen children time and time again, learn to develop compassion, and empathy. They need a positive outlet for their dominance seeking, and place to learn safely how to manage their impulses, and perhaps a place where they can be strong and dominant while learning that true strength can be shown through kindness. That true power is self control. That physical strength must be balanced with mental strength. They need positive relationships with kids who are older, and more powerful, that they can model their behavior after. Bottom line, they need an extensive, full system designed around meeting these goals.

Of course that is where we come in.

I frankly, have had a lot of good outcomes with these bullies within the context of training them in martial arts. And really actually enjoy working with the kids. And I think without having a place for them to learn a new way of being they are going to have a hard time succeeding. This is where our “” comes in. One of the exercises I have done with kids over the years is ask the kids to describe what bullying is, which invariably is pretty easy for them to do: teasing, name calling, hitting, kicking, excluding, threatening, intimidating etc. And then I ask them, to raise their hand, if they have siblings. Most raise their hands. Then I ask them to raise their hands if they have done that to their siblings. . . At which point, I raise my hand because of course I did some of that to my siblings, and most of them follow suit. Helping us all to recognize our own inner bully, as it were, helps us to develop an understanding, I think, of not only the bullies in our lives, but also dis-empowers the mystique of the bully.

So: bullies, victims, victim bullies, or bystanders, community leaders, teachers, police, or religious leaders, lets get together and STOP BULLYING NOW.

Feel free to contact me for any information, questions or help, or how we can bring prevention education to you, your group/class, or your kids.

MeLisa Strongheart

M.A. Psychology

5th Dan master instructor

206 230 9050

(1) The Research cited for this article is from the Educational Forum on Adolescent Health: Youth Bullying

AMA, physicians dedicated to the health of America

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