Dealing with Bullying
Authors: Tom McIntyre (Dr. Mac) and Alexis Franks

"I would walk 3 or 4 blocks out of the way in order to approach the school from a direction where I hoped the bullies wouldn't be standing.  If they were around, they'd comment on my weight, my breasts, my clothes, and even spit on me.  Even now the memories bring me pain." Recollection of a woman who was maltreated by fellow high school students on the way to school..


    "One day, arriving home in tears, my father asked me what happened.  I told him that Stevie, the neighborhood bully, refused to let me play in a game that day, pushing me away.  This was just one of the many ways that Stevie controlled the neighborhood.

     Dad took me to the basement where we filled an old duffel bag full of clothes.  He hung it from the rafters and told me to hit it.  Over and over again, I practiced hitting that bag... hard!  Proud of my punch, my Dad then said: "Are you gonna let that kid push you around any more?"  I assertively said "No" and went back outside powered by a head of steam.

    Prowling through the neighborhood, I finally spotted Stevie up in a small tree.  The sight of him enraged me!  The hierarchy in this neighborhood was about to be shuffled.

I ran over to the tree, reached up, grabbed his pant leg and dragged his ass out of the branches.  He landed with a thud on the ground where I kicked and beat him until he begged me to stop.  He got up, fell back into the arms of a couple of other wide-eyed kids who had gathered, rubbing his forearm across his bloody lip.  He listened while I told him if he ever gave me crap again, I'd beat him even harder.  He never bothered me again.  In fact, we became close buddies as often happens after combatants fight.  It's a strange male trait.

     After that day, I became known as "GIANT killer".  I guess that the success in my first stand and deliver, the great nickname, and the adulation of others, spurred me go after bullies wherever I saw them.  There was David, the new big kid who moved into the neighborhood who felt my wrath when he tried to extort me for money, and heard my threats if he played too rough with the younger kids.  Jackie D., another bully, took a blow to the kisser after refusing to get back in the batting order when he cut in front of Jackie (a younger boy), and then repeatedlly pushed the smaller boy down to the ground as he bravely tried to take his rightful place at home plate.

I now had an ingrained behavior pattern when the stimulus presented itself. As a young adult I intervened when I saw a man grabbing the clothes of a woman and throwing her about on the street corner.  I ran over with a friend, pushed the man back and told him to leave her alone.  My friend attended to the lady who told us it was alright... that this ruffian was her boyfriend.  We stood stunned as she entered the car with that guy.

Another time, now in my early 50's, I saw a gang of four cycle-riding teens chasing a frightened man on a bike who was delivering Chinese food.  The man rode his wheels up on the sidewalk and where he was then surrounded by the threatening youths. I broke inside their ring and told them "Back off! We don't put up with this crap in this part of town."  They backed off and rode away when other pedestrians stood behind me in a show of solidarity.  They hated bullies too. Ah... the power of the group when harnessed for good."

   The above three events are recollections of Dr. Mac


What Is Bullying?
Bullying can be defined as ongoing verbal, physical, or written harassment/abuse that occurs in community and/or school settings.  Bullies use aggression or threat of it, to gain dominance over peers.  They tend to repeatedly target children who are "different" in some way.  Non-assertive youngsters who will not defend themselves (or seek assistance) can also become prey.

     Nearly all children experience bullying to some degree (Didn't you?).  It occurs most often in younsters between the ages of 10 to 14 years.  It certainly exists among older kids as well, however, it's nature tends to become more subtle.

     Physical bullying tends to occur when adults are not present to prevent or stop it.  When adults are present, the bullying tends to take a verbal form of intimidation and condescension if the adult is distant, or non-verbal/non-physical (e.g., threatening looks and gestures, silently mouthing words) if the adult is near.  However, the influence of the adult depends greatly on his/her awareness, prestige, and power.


Who is a Bully?
A person (child, youth, or adult) who engages in repeated intentional actions that hurt others physically or emotionally.


Facts and Figures

A review of the literature shows the following:

More than 1 in 3 girls, ages 10 to 18, report that they don't fell safe at school. Then consider that boys are more fearful in school than are girls

Perhaps the above findings can be explained by this finding: 27% of students 10 to 14 years of age and 31% of students 15 to 18 replied that they "agree" or "strongly agree" that it is acceptable to hit or threaten someone who makes them angry.

More than 16% of U.S. school kids say that they have been bullied by another youngster during the current school term.

Bullying appears to be most prominent during ages 11 to 14.

There appear to be no differences in bullying rates between rural, suburban, town, and urban areas.

Of students aged 12 to 16 years:
    -62% reported being bullied through the belittling of one's looks or speech.
    -60% report being the subject of rumors
    -56% report being hit, slapped or pushed
    -52% report being the subject of sexually inappropriate comments or gestures
    -26% report being belittled about their religion or race

15% of absenteeism is believed to be due to avoidance of bullying

60% of former bullies have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24.


Characteristics Of Bullies
It's important that teachers, parents, and members of the community be aware of the signals that suggest a child might be a bully.  Some of the common indicators  include:
        -Lacks empathy and concern for others
        -Demonstrates a strong need to dominate and subdue others
        -Hot tempered, quickly becomes enraged
        -Teases others in a hurtful manner
        -Picks on others who are weaker; not done in self defense
        -Intimidates others through threats or reputation
        -Commits acts of physical aggression
        - Defiant, oppositional, and aggressive towards adults
Recent research is shedding more light on the bullies. For example, bullies are more likely to be in the middle or lower status levels of their social groups, and use coercion in an attempt to increase their status in their group's hierarchy. The leaders in a social group are likely to be in conflict with leaders of other groups.

Is My Child a Bully? Questions for Parents (and teachers) to Ask Their Children

1. Have you ever tried to make someone cry or feel scared?

2. What did you do to hurt someone or make them feel bad?

Do you or your friends make fun of anyone at school?

Do you or your friends make fun of anyone outside of school?

3. How often do you try to hurt other kids? Daily? Weekly?

How does it make you feel when others are afraid or you?

How does it feel when you make another person feel bad?

Does anyone do hurtful things to you? (tease, insult, touch wrongly, exclude you from groups, send hurtful e-mails/texts)

If so, how does that make you feel?

What do you do during recess? Lunch?


Causes Of Bullying
Opinions regarding the etiology of bullying vary.  Some believe that bullies learn their intimidation tactics from their parents/guardians, and are displaying behaviors that serve a function in their home environments.  Others believe that certain environments directly or indirectly reinforce aggressive behaviors demonstrated by children.  Aggression may allow the child to avoid tasks (negative reinforcement) or gain privileges/rewards (positive reinforcement).  As a result of being reinforced, the behavior is maintained and strengthened.  A third belief is that bullies have a poor social perception of situations.  They may interpret other people's behaviors as being hostile towards them when in fact, there is no such intent.  For example, if another student accidentally knocks over a bully's pencil or book, this event is viewed as having a hostile intent.  The bully then retaliates.

     Bullying has long-term effects on both the victims AND the bullies.  Victims are at risk for developing low self-esteem, anxiety, and/or fear as a result of having been bullied.  In extreme cases, victims have committed suicide in order to escape the continual harassment.  The victim's academic performance may be negatively affected as well.  On the other hand, children who bully other children are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system at an early age.  They are also at risk for becoming involved in illegal drug use and other anti-social behavior.


The Victims
  Bullies tend to harass children who are vulnerable in some way.  Dressing differently, being from a under-represented cultural group, learning more slowly than others, or being unskilled in a valued ability can make one a target for bullies.  Weaknesses and differences are exploited by these aggressors.

     What makes victims so vulnerable to bullies?  There seems to be three factors that contribute to becoming susceptible to being preyed upon.  One factor is poor social skills.   They have difficulty interacting productively with their peers or fail to pick up on social cues.  This lack of social awareness and interaction skill contributes to them being viewed as odd or different.  While most children will simply avoid the youngster who is seen as undesirable as a friend or playmate.  Bullies may attack these socially unskilled youngsters.

     This lack of desirability can lead to a second common trait of victims; few or no friends.  Since they have no friends (or not enough), they lack a support network when bullies engage in harassment.  New arrivals to a school may not have made friends yet, increasing the chances that they might be viewed by bullies as easy prey.
Finally, the third contributor to victimization is a tendency to be non-confrontational.  Failing to verbally (or physically) assert oneself can encourage a bully to continue intimidation behaviors.  Members of small non-confrontational groups may also be viewed by aggressive youngsters as potential victims. Common non-assertive reactions (i.e., crying, giving in to demands, asking for lenient treatment, and avoidance) often bring on repeated incidents because bullies are able to engage in their coercive actions. They are reinforced by these non-assertive responses.

     Victims of bullying can be classified as "passive" or "proactive".  Passive victims did nothing to provoke the bullies', but are singled out.  They then agree to the demands of the aggressor.

     Proactive victims tend to be socially unskilled youngsters who irritate other children.  This behavior seems to attract others to pick on them.  What makes proactive victims different from socially unskilled bullies who victimize others is that the proactive victims are not accomplished fighters.  They do not fight (or fight well) when verbally or physically confronted by others.  Also, since socially irritating proactive victims "provoke" incidents, others (both children and adults) often feel that the attacks are justified.  Proactive victims are commonly diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder...See the link on this condition).  It is believed that the hyperactivity is a contributing factor to the irritating (to others) nature of their behavior.  Children who are diagnosed as "oppositional" or "conduct disordered" could also become potential proactive victims because they share some of the symptoms of ADHD.

     In order to identify and help children who are victims of bullying, it's important for parents and teachers to notice signals that suggest a child might be a victim (or be at risk for victimization).  Some signals are:

-Underdeveloped social skills
         -Shyness or lack of assertiveness
         -Few or no friends
         -Never or infrequently invited to parties/gatherings of other children
         -Small physical stature

-Missing belongings
         -Missing money, or what would be bought with those funds
         -Unexplained bruises, cuts, and abrasions
         -Torn, bloodied, or dirtied clothing

-Feigning illness to avoid environments where bullies are present
         -Fear of going to school
         -Skipping school or cutting certain classes/activities
         -Avoiding unstructured settings (Lunch, recess, bus loading/unloading)
         -Drop in grades
         -Carrying weapons

     Victims need to learn how to seek help from adults.  They may also need to improve their social skills to assist them in making friends.

School Approaches To Bullying

    To many adults, bullying is viewed as an unavoidable right-of-passage through childhood.  It may be that bullies will always be around. However, as educators and parents become more aware of the negative effects of bullying, they are trying to find more (pro)active approaches to reducing it's presence in schools, sparing many the long-lasting hurt, or for bullies, an errant life.

While everyone has served in the three roles of aggressor, victim, and bystander, when repeated patterns happen in any of the roles, intervention is necessary on a systematic and individual basis. Educators cannot sit by while the children in their charge are harmed, do harm, or allow harm to others.

A sad, real-life incident: In an American State that requires all school districts to have an anti-bullying curriculum in place, a small city has none. Incidents of bullying are ineffectively addressed.

Example 1: Moving two bullies to another classroom to distance them from the victim, although the two classes still combine for instruction several times per week when the bullies continue their actions under the noses of teachers who have received no training in the matter. Other pupils fearing for their safety, fail to interrupt the bullies or support the victim.

Example 2: In the city's middle school, a hallway supervisor on patrol enters the student bathroom and finds two boys attempting to force a third boy into giving oral sex. The district fails to notify the parents of the victimized child, and fails to engage in any productive responses until word of the incident reaches the community (Did they think that middle school students wouldn't talk about it?). A community meeting is held at which worried and angry members of the community are dissatisfied with the few answers that are provided in-between statements that issues can't be discussed for legal reasons. Two months later, no anti-bullying programming has yet been implemented.

     Increasingly, communities are exploring school-based bullying intervention programs to help reduce bullying or eliminate it all together.  There now are many effective strategies for countering bullying.  In addition to providing warnings and protection to all, a good anti-bullying program implements immediate disciplinary consequences for intimidation and aggressive behavior, and re-orientation instruction for the bullies, their victims, and bystanders.  However, for the programs to succeed, adults and children must be aware of signs and interventions. From that point, they then need instrucxtion in how to prevent, detect, and react to bullying.  Many of the strategies found below are derived from the Colorado Anti-bullying web site at


     Once it is established that a youngster is a bully (or that bullying is a problem in a school), it's important for parents, teachers, and members of the community to promote positive pro-social behaviors and decrease anti-social ones. There are curricula, that combined with self-change strategies, counseling, and monitoring, can produce those outcomes in aggressive youngsters. Comprehensive programs also include education and training for victims and bystanders.

Strategies For School Administration
t is paramount for school administrative personnel to increase awareness of the effects of bullying and reduce it's presence in their schools.  The first step is to create a bullying prevention committee.  The committee should contain teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, parents, administrators, and students.

 The committee should assess the prevalence of bullying in its schools by:
        -Having students complete surveys
        -Conducting naturalistic observations (non-intrusively observing settings)

        -Reviewing records

        -Interviewing involved parties,


     After the committee has gathered information about the level and types of bullying in its school, it should search for an anti-bullying program that is suited to the needs and characteristics of this particular school setting.

     School administration should also increase awareness of bullying in the local community.  This approach might involve holding a conference day that involves staff, parents, local merchants, community leaders, police, and students.  This instructional event could help people understand the effects of bullying, how to recognize it's presence, and how to intervene when they witness it.  Students might devise realistic presentations (skits) or engage in other activities that help to promote awareness of bullying.

     Knowing that bullying is most likely to occur during unstructured times of the days (i.e., transitions, recess, lunch, hallway passing to next classes, etc.), supervision of students should be increased on the playground and in the cafeteria and hallways.  Having more supervision during these times not only helps to reduce bullying, but also improves intervention response time if an incident should occur.

     Finally, it is important to remember that parental participation is an integral part of successful anti-bullying programs.  Parents should be informed of the bullying program used by the school (or under consideration).  They should also be aware of the procedures used by administration in order to address and react to bullying incidents.  The school administration should also encourage parents to become involved in the program (and in the school operations in general).


Classroom Strategies

 Teachers serve on the front line in the campaign against bullying.  Here are some tips you can use to keep bullying at bay:

 1. Discuss the rules with the students, or better yet, involve them in making the rules.  Students are more likely to abide by and promote rules they helped to create.

2. The rules should be written in a positive manner.  Instead of focusing on what the students should NOT do, give them rules that identify the desired behavior. (See the link titled: "Creating you own behavior management plan") For example, instead of "Don't disrespect others", word the intent as "Talk nicely to others".

3. When making rules, it's also a good idea to discuss the consequences for failing to follow them.  Create consequences that will help the bully to learn pro-social skills.  The consequences should be something functional.  For example writing: "I will not hit Jane." 250 times on a sheet of paper is not functional.  While indicating what not to do, it provides no description of the desirable behavior.   In that case, the bully doesn't really learn anything new.  It neither identifies or promotes an alternative behavior (such as "When I'm angry, I will use I messages to express my feelings.").  The bully should be taught  to accept responsibility for his/her actions, and engage in more appropriate actions. (Perhaps through Life Space Crisis Interviewing)

4. Hold regular classroom meetings so that students and teachers can clarify or change bully-related rules if necessary.  This gathering can also help students and teachers become more aware of bullying and what they should do if it happens to them.  Every classroom dynamic is unique and that factor should always be considered when creating rules and consequences. Sometimes rules also have to be modified because of that uniqueness.

5. Develop and/or use a curriculum and materials(see the resources listed below) that actively promote positive assertiveness, communication, respect for others, camaraderie (See the link on "positive peer pressure"), and friendship within the classroom.

6. Talk regularly with parents and inform them of how their child is behaving and performing school.  Inform parents of any bullying occurring to or from their child, and discuss how actions taken to help their child are or are not working.


What To Do In The Midst Of Bullying
Once aware of a bullying incident and which child is the aggressor, speak to the bully.  Let the offender know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated in school.  Remind him/her that everyone has a right to be safe in school (including him/her).

     Very often the bully will deny or minimize his/her involvement in the situation.  Regardless, describe to the bully what s/he did and why it is not acceptable.  Discuss the consequences s/he will have to face as a result of the behavior, and advise the bully that s/he will be closely monitored by staff in the school.  Document what happened. The document should establish who, what, when, where, and why of the bullying occurrence as well as how the school handled the incident.  Encourage other staff to closely monitor this student.

     It is also important to have a serious talk with the victim as soon as possible.  Make sure that the bully is not there.  Use a concerned and supportive approach.  Find out the victim's story and document his/her version as well.  Assure the victim that consequences will be given to the bully and if the bully or anyone else bothers him/her (the victim) again, s/he should inform staff so that they can help him/her handle the situation.

     Arrange a meeting with the parents of both the victim and bully.  Depending on the situation or the parents' preference, the meeting can occur with parents of the bully and victim together, or at separate times/places.  Administrative personnel should be present.  Security personnel might also be asked to wait nearby.  School personnel should discuss consequences the bully will face as a result of his/her behavior and ways parents can help to prevent this event from happening again (but not by bullying their child bully).  Anger management and social skills training should be offered for the bully.  The school may also want to suggest ways to help the victim become more assertive and advocate for himself/herself when confronted by a bully.  Social skills training for the victim should also be considered.  If the bullying continues despite interventions, it would be a good idea to discuss moving one of the students to another classroom (if they are classmates).  If possible, move the bully instead of the victim.  However, it's important to discuss this move with both parents before it is undertaken.

Building Self-Esteem
Victims often have poor self-esteem previous to, and/or develop self-doubting after the bullying incidents.  It's important to help them build their self- confidence and boost their self image.  This transition is often accomplished by encouraging them to explore hobbies or topics that interest them.  Consider whether these interests could help them interact more with people.  For example, if a child is interested in martial arts/self defense, perhaps his parents could encourage him to participate in a club that would encourage his/her interest in the sport and help him/her meet children outside of the school setting.  Remember, whatever after-school activity is encouraged, it should be one that the child truly wants to do.  If the child is a quiet or inward soul, it may be a good idea to select programs that meet in small groups or are individualized to the his/her needs.  This approach can help the child focus moreso on the activity and positive socialization than competitiveness and who is doing the task better.


   Bullying is all too common in our society.  Given the strong negative effects on the present and future of both the aggressors and victims, it is important for educators to intervene promptly and productively.  The resources provided below can assist in those efforts.




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- National School Safety Center and National Educational Service.  Set straight on Bullies. (video)
- Informational and anti-bullying videos for kids can be found at
and (search for "bullying")

Web Sites An easy-to-read page (with links) for teens (and anyone who uses social media) regarding how to avoid bullying, hackers, lurking adults who pretend to be teens, etc. Thanks to Kayla in Mr. Miller's CCS Valley Middle School Computer Club for the find! This site offers a comprehensive overview of bullying and provides suggestions for schools to reduce it. All about online safety, cyber-bullying, and avoiding online predators. (Thanks, Kendal!) This site contains a vast array of articles concerning "cyber-bullying" via electronic devices. (Thank you to Ms. Britton's students for sending this link!) This page is written for youngsters and discusses types of cyber-crime, and provides a long list of resources regarding all aspects of cyber-bullying and cyber-crime. (Thank you to Ms. Powell's Girl Scouts for providing this link!) An excellent overview of bullying with links to other sites that address certain aspects of bullying. provides many techniques for handling and reducing bullying provides a vast array of ideas and information regarding bullying Information on bullying and what can be done.  offers advice for dealing with bullies. contains a listing and description of multiple web sites addressing bullying...many for the kids who are being bullied. describes bullying toward gifted and talented students . tips for parents on keeping their children safe in many different ways. If your child has been bullied, but the school fails to take action, here are your legal rights.

C'mon pup.  Don't run from that pit bull(y).  Stand up to it!
Fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page

* Alexis Franks, the co-author of this article, graduated from Dr. Mac's masters program in behavior disorders in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.



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