In Expert Interviews, Understand Bullying

Interview: the Scope of Bullying Behavior

Dr Lisa Pasch is a clinical psychologist with speciality areas in working with children, adolescents, and young adults. Additionally, she has concentration areas within family therapy and addictions. She is an expert in the field of bullying behavior and has given lectures on the topic to a variety of locations. She talks to us about the scope of bullying behavior. 

Dr Lisa Pasch

Dr Lisa Pasch

Is bullying increasing or decreasing in society?

While it is hard to determine the actual scope of bullying , what we do know is that a new type of bullying-like behavior has emerged. While all the technological advances in society have brought along wonderful additions, they have also allowed for the inception of CyberBullying. While the new technologies have not really introduced new psychological threats, they have made it harder to protect our youth in particular from those risks, as well as having exposed many more kids to threats that only a few might have experienced before. Cyberbullying has also allowed for a group of people to engage in bullying-like behavior that would never have done so in the past. Think of the people who would never have used physical aggression or taunted someone to their face (for a variety of reasons) who can now hide behind their computer screen or other technological devices. Due to this, it is my belief that this kind of behavior has generally increased.

What would you define as bullying behavior?

There seems to be so much confusion about what bullying is as there always appears to be a new definition, a new thought, etc. Bullying is a subtype of aggression directed toward the interpersonal dominance of another person. Someone is being bullied when (s)he is repeatedly and over time exposed to negative actions (aggressive behavior) on the part of one or more other person(s). A negative action constitutes a person intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict injury or discomfort onto someone else. It is important to remember that aggression can be physical (overt) or relational (covert). Cyberbullying can fall under either category.

What can be done to stop this Bullying Behavior from happening?

How to prevent bullying is in part determined by the setting in which it is occurring (school, work, etc). In general, however, research has shown that unless everyone works together, it will continue to be an uphill battle.

Personally and professionally, I believe we have to start with our very young children. Teaching children how to be empathetic to others will go a long way. If you can empathize with another’s plight, you are less likely to make fun of it, use the knowledge of it for personal gain, or derive pleasure from creating pain in another human being. Giving our children the gift of a good sense of self and sense of positive self-esteem will also help by taking away the need to feel better about oneself by making another feel badly. Additionally, teaching our children not to be bystanders while witnessing bully events and how to appropriately handle themselves if and when they find themselves in such situations is paramount to changing how our society handles bullies’ behavior.

Naturally there are things that can be done at other levels (within schools/communities with older children; within work places for adults) but that’s a lengthier conversation and involves detailed policy planning and implementation. Again though, in general, everyone in these places must subscribe to the same message, as one person in disagreement with the policies can potentially ruin the entire attempt.

Do children of different ages bully in different ways?

In regards to age differences, the overall consensus is that, although this has peaks and valleys throughout childhood development, This does tend to decrease with age. The agreement is that bullies behavior appears to peak in middle school and junior high school years (ages 10-14 approximately) and begins to taper off after that. This appears to be true all over the world. The quality (or type) of behavior appears to be very similar across the age span, but naturally the actual events can be different. What may contribute more to this behavior than either age or gender is an individual’s normative beliefs about aggression, but that is an altogether different topic.

Does bullying behavior impact children and adults of different ages in different ways?

This is yet another complex question to tackle with no real definitive answer. The best we can do sometimes is say “it depends”. As humans, we are so individualized within our level of resiliency; two children (or adults) could go through exactly the same things and have completely different outcomes. A strong willed, self-assured adult may face bully-like behavior in the workplace and not internalize it at all, seeing it as nothing more than “an annoying fly” type situation. However, an adult with already low self-esteem and other aspects of a “typical victim” is highly likely to internalize the bullying experiences and have worse outcomes than the previously mentioned individual. The impact of bully behavior appears to have more to do with the individuals involved than it does with age.

Are there likely to be long term impacts to a bully victims’ life?

The impact of bullies on a victim can be both long term and profound. Among adolescents who were bullied, the majority believed that the victimization caused them significant problems; including the loss of friendships and feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Victims of bullies have also been found to be at an increased risk for internalizing problems such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, truancy and dropping out of school. Victims of bullies are also likely to have pervasive avoidance and withdrawal behaviors.

Unfortunately, the negative impacts of victimization don’t end when the actual trauma does. Poor mental health in senior high school girls was found to be associated with victimization experiences from the past. Former victims also clearly differ from their peers on two dimensions; depressive tendencies and poor self-esteem (at all ages). Elevated levels in these dimensions can potentially be interpreted as a result of earlier, persistent victimization that had obvious effects on the sense of self within the young victim. In all likelihood, the victim had gradually come to take over the social environment’s (dominant peers’/bully’s) negative evaluations of themselves as worthless and inadequate people.

While the impact of bullies on a victim can be terrible, we also can’t forget the potentially detrimental effect on both the bullies and the bystanders.

Is it possible to treat a bully and help them stop hurting people?

It is hard for me to believe that there is anyone you cannot help. Naturally, what can be done and how effective it will be depends on several characteristics, including age and willingness to get help/alter behaviors.

If a child is determined to be a bully, it is important to react as immediately as possible and ascertain what may be done. The dominant way to assist the child is by helping them develop more appropriate social skills. Without getting into the lengthy specifics of what to do, it is important to have parents, schools and professionals all on board with a consistent plan that includes helping the child understand their actions, having consequences for the negative actions, and teaching empathy. The necessity of teaching empathy and proper friendship skills cannot be overstated.

Treating an older bully may create a more difficult challenge as their behaviors are likely more strongly rooted at that point. The basic principles, however remain the same. Teaching empathy, perspective taking and more appropriate social skills continue to be the most important tasks.

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