Why some kids are more likely to be bullied


BULLYING IS ALL about causing hurt to others. It is not a once-off occurrence, but it is repeated cruel treatment and has ongoing damaging effects on the victim.

The bully has a reason in his or her own mind for what is happening and gains satisfaction from treating others badly. The bully feels a sense of power through dominating others and does not have the normal sense of empathy with a person who is suffering.

Any pupil can be bullied, but some children are more at risk and prone to being bullied than others. Unfortunately, there are factors which may contribute to the likelihood of a child being innocent victim of a bully. These factors include:

being different in any obvious way to the general body of pupils in a class or school - e.g., having a physical disability, having an unusual tone of voice, belonging to a minority ethnic or racial group or even being timid;

lacking confidence and not being able to mix;

being very clever - other pupil's jealousy can result in them being called names like "swot" or "lick" (I have even heard of a child being upset because he was called "teacher"!); their possessions and work can also be damaged and vandalised by jealous peers;

being very weak academically or having special educational needs - children who are withdrawn for remedial work are often jeered with names such as "thick", "spa", "dummy", "header" and "donkey", which cause upset to children and in some instances lead to retaliation;

coming from a home where there are problems - a family member in jail, a parent who is a known alcoholic or drug user, a relative with an obvious mental problem who sometimes acts in a bizarre manner in public;

having an over-protective parent, resulting in names like "mammy's boy (or girl)", "mammy's pet", "softie", "sugar-puff";

being new in the class or neighbourhood - sometimes because another child becomes jealous of the attention which the new pupil is receiving or from fear of losing a friend to the new arrival.

Some children are bullied because of their hobbies, interests or pastimes. In one case in which I became involved, a boy who played hockey was mercilessly teased and taunted. The school which he attended had no tradition of boys playing hockey, and the other boys considered it to be a cissy's game and definitely not "cool".

The boy in question was particularly talented at hockey and enjoyed the game. He had also been a talented football player, but hadn't the time for both games. The problem only came to light when he suddenly gave up hockey and refused to discuss why he had done so; his parents made some quiet enquiries and got to the bottom of the story.

Working with the school, which took a sensitive but firm line, the issue was resolved and the boy returned to his hockey.

Children who have hobbies which are not in line with the majority culture in a school can become the objects of unwanted attention. They may be unjustly considered to be trying to make themselves different or to be "snobbish". The irony is that the strength, talent or very quality which we parents admire and promote in our children may be the ones which cause them to be unfairly picked on. Bullying can arise, too, with children who have particular mannerisms, spontaneous physical facial movements or jerks, or a prominent physical feature - be it teeth, eyes, ears, nose, lips etc. Wearing "old-fashioned" clothing, being awkward or clumsy, being too small or too tall may also be picked upon. At the teenage stage, in particular, young people are very sensitive about their appearance and growth. This heightened sensitivity may be played on by "bullies".

Children who are overweight can suffer terribly through name-calling and not being able to participate in some physical activities. They need plenty of support to recognise their worth and learn to accept themselves - and not react to cruel name-calling.

Having to wear glasses can cause major problems for some children and young people. Younger pupils have been known to break, to hide or to purposely mislay their glasses rather than wear them. If your child has to wear glasses, talk about it beforehand; and a choice of fashionable frames can make a the whole situation easier. Boys who do not participate in physical activities, or who are gengle, can be jeered about their sexual orientation. Words about sex and sexual orientation, such as "queen", "fairy", "slag", "slut", "fag" and "bender", are used openly. Young people can also be jeered because of their perceived lack of sexual experience.

A young person who becomes visibly upset at name-calling may become the focus of attention. He or she will be seen as a soft target, someone who is "easy to wind up".

We need as adults to do everything possible to stop the bullies, but the pupil who is being so cruelly treated may also need help. They will need to develop better responding skills, to boost their own self-esteem and to remain calm in stressful situations.

While nobody has any right to bully them, they can make it easier for themselves if they know how to behave in a manner which does not attract the attention of a bully..

It is helpful to think of a school as a community where everyone has equal rights, enjoys safety, feels free and lives and works in a helpful environment. Within this community, when someone bullies they step over the line of normal behaviour, they are guilty of abuse and the community (parents and teachers) takes action. Our response to bullying has to be quite definite and clear.

Bullying is totally unacceptable and there must be no ambivalence or equivocation about it.

Bullying is not normal behaviour; it damages the bully and the victim.

No child, irrespective of their behaviour or how they are perceived, deserves to be bullied.

Schools and families working together can do valuable work to minimise bullying; they can spend time working on strategies which will ensure children are safe and happy.