In Bullying Facts, Bullying Help, Bullying Resources, Health Professionals

Bullying and Criminal Behavior: A Possible Link?


In this article, we look at some statistics and research involving bullying and its tendency to turn into criminal behavior. While not everyone who bullies or is bullied as a child becomes a criminal later, the statistics on some instances are staggering. For example, we know that most of the “school shooters” who have been the instigators of such violent crimes as the Connecticut or Colorado massacres, as well as countless others, were perpetrated by people who were victims of bullying in their youth. Learn about Bullying and Criminal Behavior. 

In this article from NY Daily News, it is described how a teenager came to school with a gun, meaning to target 2 other teenagers who he believed were bullying him:

Luckily, a cool-headed teacher talked him into giving up the weapon. But many of these scenes have not ended as well.

This is a very enlightening site regarding the strong tie of bullying to school shootings and the relation between Bullying and criminal behavior.

Bullying and criminal behavior: The Link to Violent Crimes

In this article, it states that about 75% of school shootings were from kids who were bullied, at one time or another.

With so much evidence that correlates bullying to felony violence, it is time we sat up and took notice. It is most interesting to note that the victims later become the criminal. We have to delve deeper into the human psyche to see just how this can happen.

Bullying and criminal behavior: A Possible Explanation

The mind is composed of all of our experiences, from birth to our current age, and is comprised of a myriad of emotions, experiences, and ideas, which are largely formulated in our younger years. Our mothers and fathers nurture us with love and discipline, varying in degrees. We get our sense of belonging largely from family and our identity from who our parents are. This may explain the strong identity diffusion of adopted children, and why they often suffer throughout life with a sense of not truly knowing who they are.

As we get older and go to school, our identity shifts from our parents to our peers. Psychologists tell us that the peer group is the single most important factor in accepting who we are. Cooley’s “mirror image” theory even went so far as to suggest that we ARE who our peers say we are. While we know this in not true in adulthood, we still have some sense of value from the way employers, fellow employees, spouses, siblings, and others treat us.

Likewise, kids who are bullied draw some of their identity from the way they are treated by their peers. If the experience is good, we tend to think we are ok. We develop close friendships with others and are generally happy with who we are. But, when these experiences are bad, we develop very negative emotions toward ourselves and begin to hate who we are. This is referred to as “anger turned inward,” and often is the precursor to suicidal thoughts, though this is not always the case.

In some cases, after the victim of bullying by peers has time to think about the situation, their anger changes and turns outward, toward peers and others who have done them wrong. Then we have a situation where anger festers and becomes directed at a target, perhaps more than one target-the people who they think are responsible for their low opinion of themself.

With time, if left unchecked, this festering anger can lead to action…action which once could never be considered even in their minds, but begins to take shape. Enter media influence. We will talk about this in much more detail in a later article. But overexposure to violence in media, especially interactive games and other such media, can lead to a gradual desensitization. With this desensitization comes a free will and a sense of freedom that empowers them to plan something to get revenge. In the game, they feel powerful due to their eradication of the enemy. Some may then start transferring this emotion onto those who have hurt them.

Little things, slights and insults, or other things get exaggerated in the mind of the victim and they finally reach a point where they make up their mind to get even. Once this has gotten to this point, it is very difficult to reverse. But if the person gets help at this point, they may still be able to deal with their anger in a positive way. But, left unattended the anger worsens and grows more intense, and the scene is now set for disaster.

With full intent to do the most devastating thing they can think of to teach a lesson to the ones who bullied them, they get access to a weapon, usually a gun, and begin their mission of violence.

This is a very sad and horrible story, and is spoken in general terms. But it is an attempt to explain what happens to the mind when someone is determined to get revenge. They reach a point of no return it seems. They often give up on their favorite things, desert friends and things they previously liked, all to focus on the evil they think must be destroyed, to teach them a lesson.

So the question is how do we prevent such a horrible tragedy? The answer is to stop the bullying before it creates this scenario. Understand that we are not in any way saying that victims of bullying have any right to attack or kill others, for any reason whatsoever. Nor do we want to empower people who are bullied to take the law into their own hands, seek revenge for wrongs done, or anything else. We are simply stating that kids who are bullied often do later get revenge.

As we stated before, not everyone who is bullied does this. But, of all the school shootings, 75% of them are from people who were bullied. This is a sobering thought, and gives us even more reason to hit bullying head on, and make sure it doesn’t happen in our schools.

More Statistics on Bullying and criminal behavior

Over 250,000 kids are physically attacked every month in U.S. schools. (Bullying Facts & Statistics, 2013) This fact alone is scary. If this many kids are being bullied, what are the chances that just one of these will become clinically depressed over it. And of these, how many will become dangerously suicidal? And of these, how many will have thoughts of revenge and turn to homicidal fantasies to deal with the feelings. This does not have to happen.

Counselors are the first line of defense in helping the bullied from feeling like this. But not all of them come to the counselor for help. Some are scared. Some think nothing will be done. Let us only hope that of those 75% of the shooters that were bullied, that none of them used as their rationale that “nothing will be done, so I have to do it myself.”

More on Bullying and criminal behavior in relation to violence

Nothing ever justifies violence. But we must intervene once someone is picked on and bullied. These people are demeaned by the experience and schools must make sure that they are allowed to express their feelings of anger in safe ways. There are a number of ways kids who are bullied may express their emotions in a safe, productive environment:

1) Make teachers more aware of the signs. It is often elementary teachers who will see the signs before anyone else, simply because some habits start so young. Unfortunately, these teachers are also the least knowledgeable about the signs of suicide or homicidal tendencies in kids. It would be beneficial to send elementary teachers to regular trainings on these issues, and how to recognize signs of violence before a child gets to this state of mind. If it could be addressed early, it is possible, it could be curtailed. I have studied a lot of Forensic Psychology, especially serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Later Ted Bundy shared that his addiction to pornography and negative media was the primary road that led him to his actions. But I can’t help but wonder also if one of his teachers had noticed his behaviors earlier, and knew the signs to look for, if they could have made life different for him, and for all of his later future victims. Teachers should be trained in psychology enough to recognize the signs of personality disorders, and negative thinking toward others, while it is still early enough to do something about it. Thinking can be changed, but only if it is known.

2) Hire a school psychologist. While this may not be feasible or affordable for every school system, it is a great idea if it can be worked out. While the school counselor can offer a great deal of support, even therapy to victims of bullying, it is a school psychologist who is licensed to test and evaluate students, to determine if there is a more serious problem. A clinical psychologist is best, but having an on staff school psychologist handy is a good way to ensure that seriously disturbed individuals are identified early, before tragedy has a chance to occur.

3) Provide regular on-campus updates. Whenever an instance of violence occurs or when new information about bullying is put out by media, have teachers trained immediately on the new information. Not only will this keep teachers abreast of new ideas by professionals, but it will also serve to keep bullying fresh in their minds, and promote a sense of awareness.

4) Have group therapy for victims and bullies. The school counselor or the school psychologist can provide this. Have the school counselor hold regular sessions of group therapy with victims of bullying and bullies. At first have them meet in a separate group, to get their feelings out. This is done because, often the two groups will have conflicting values and goals. They will also see the world in different ways. The bully will see it as they feel powerful when they pick on others, and they think it’s funny. The victims will feel ashamed and isolated for not standing up for themselves. Both of these are valid emotions and must be dealt with accordingly. But at first, handle them in separate groups to avoid conflict. With time the two groups may be brought together, so that the two groups can confront each other in a positive manner, to express their feelings. The counselor must remain in control of this at all times, to avoid further conflict or later retaliation.

5) Continue to hold parent meetings. At all times, parents and community must be involved, so that everyone will be working toward the same goal. Explain to parents the process of the group therapy in a separate meeting, or announce that the school is doing this, in order to combat bullying.

These tips should serve to get schools started toward working to combat bullying in their school. It is most important to remember the important link between bullying and criminal behavior, and that often the two do work together in some way. In a later article, we will discuss “When Bullying Turns Criminal,” a look more into the act of bullying itself and when it would be considered criminal behavior, such as physical violence, or threats.

If you visit the prisons, it is hard to find a prisoner who has been convicted of a violent crime who does not state that they were abused, beaten, or abused in some way as a child. Again, this does not excuse their behaviors. But we learn from our environment and experiences. So how could it not affect who they become?

It has been said that if you treat a child with care and love, they will become a loving person. And that if you treat them with harshness and criticism, they will become a harsh critic. This is probably pretty close to the truth. Freud’s theories aside, it is easy to see why the first thing that is asked when someone comes to a psychologist for help is to “Tell me about your mother.” On the other hand, the next question should really be, “Tell me about your peers.” Peers are the biggest influence, second to the parents once a child reaches school age. So we need to do all we can to ensure that this experience is positive one.

We know we cannot control everything someone experiences or does. It is impossible to go around with them everyday, and make sure no one picks on them. Part of this is a lesson in life. Life is not always fair. There are good, bad, and indifferent people in school who will have varying experiences, opinions, and regard for us, just as there are in the real world when we grow up.

No one ever said that we will have life handed to us on a silver platter, or that it won’t get tough sometimes. But character is built from such experiences, so if we get through these rough spots, we are stronger for it.

So the job of the schools is to ensure that students have an environment in which they feel safe, and one in which they are not afraid to come to school personnel, counselors, administrators, and others, to express their feelings. Create a sense of oneness in the schools and at home which allows freedom to express disappointment, anger, joy, fear, or pain. If we do this, then we allow students to feel like they have a sounding board for their frustrations, and it will be harder for them to feel they have no recourse but to take up arms and get revenge.

Finally, schools should know the statistics, and parent should too. There are other resources too numerous to mention which illustrate the correlation between school bullying and gun violence, as well as other types of violence. So bullying can link to later criminal behavior, not only for the victims, but for the bullies.

We have not spoken as much about the bullies in this article, since we have been focused on the victims. But many of the bullies also become criminals later in life. They tend to be distrustful and intimidating toward others, having trouble keeping jobs and relationships and many report they are generally unhappy. Here is a study done by the University of Texas at Dallas which points to the fact that bullies often grow up to be criminals. This is probably mostly due to a learned preference, in which they learn they can get what they want or need by intimidating or controlling others.

Some crimes many are later involved in are burglary, theft, and assault.

Final Word on Bullying and criminal behavior

Knowing the facts is half the battle. The truth is bullying is not a victimless crime. Bullies grow up to engage in criminal behavior quite often, and those who are bullied commit even worse atrocities it seems. This should be sure and compelling evidence, once and for all, that bullying must be stopped in its tracks the minute it starts, and never allowed to continue.

The most harmful type of bullying is probably the type that keeps continuing. Despite attempts to stop it, bullying often results in repeated offenses, especially if the bully believes he will never be caught or punished.

We need to remember as parents and school personnel that we are teaching lessons to the bully, as well as to the victim when we react to it. Our decisions, whether proactive or negative, may help shape and determine the way the victim and the bully learn to react to their peers and their environment, long after they have left the school doors for the very last time.

More education of school personnel may lead to higher degrees of success in recognizing the warning signs of both bullying and tendencies toward violence early in the game. But we must understand the importance of stopping bullying in order to win this war.

To read more about how you can combat bullying , return to this site on a regular basis and learn how you can take an active part in the battle against bullying. The war is waged every day somewhere in the United States. The more we know about it, the better we can handle it, whenever it occurs.

Learn more about Bullying and the Law

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