In Bullying Help, Health Professionals

The Psyche of Bullying, Motives of a Bully

Kids have been bullying each other for generations. The latest generation, however, has been able to utilize technology to expand their reach and the extent of their harm.  Although the bully has been a stock character in different media (movies, game characters, etc) for years, something has recently changed. The bully has jumped off the page and out of the screen, and into everyday life and legislation and pediatric practice.

“The bully is no longer simply a representation of a moral lesson or a source of humor  We have come to recognize the bully as a real person with complex needs and motives who can inflict great harm on others, not to mention on his or herself.” [Did the Ugly Duckling have PTSD? – A Pediatrics Publication]. Before one tackles the psyche of bullying, one must understand the motives of a bully.

In a 2005 U.C.L.A. study, 41 percent of teens reported between one and three online bullying incidents over a one-year time period.  Today, 80 percent of teens say they have been involved in some form of cyber bullying as a victim, a bully or a bystander.  That means cyber bullying has nearly doubled in the last eight years.  It is becoming so common that many teens say it is a normal part of their lives and there is nothing they can do about it.

The conditions surrounding a (cyber)bully, what are the real motives of a bully? 

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time and can take many forms. Many young people who bully see their own behavior as justified. Many are viewed by peers and teachers as popular at school. A bully is co-created in childhood when a child is bullied in school by other children, parents or teachers. It can come in many forms and some children just like to be a bully if they feel they have no control in the homes in which they grow up. So they take out their anger at parents on children at school unconsciously. They are doing to children what they would really like to do to their abusers.

“They like a crowd,” said Richard Sarles at the annual meeting of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry. The onlookers could stop the bullying, but they may fear retaliation from the bully if they interfere, or they fear being labelled a snitch or tattletale.

On the other hand, when looking for the motives of a bully, one must understand that cyber bullies aren’t as obvious. They also think they are being clever, when in fact, others can see that they are suffering deep inside. Unmet needs, wants and desires in childhood can also manifest a bully. Often, teens have various accounts or “avatars” and they behave differently depending on the “voice” they are using at the time.  They may pretend that they didn’t engage in cyber bullying because the action was taken under another assumed persona.

We often wonder if bullying and cyber bullying are conditioned behaviors, or results of specific circumstances. There have been several attempts at explaining this behavior, out of which evolved the Dominance Theory and the Ecologic Theory, among several others.

Motives of a Bully : Dominance Theory

The dominance theory of bullying involves a hierarchy based on who can access and control the resources.  When transitioning from elementary school to middle school, children need to reassert their dominance. Research has shown that the most common time for bullying behavior is in middle school, when children both redefine their identities and adjust to the onset of puberty, Dr. Sarles said. Their surging hormones allow for variation in size and development that can foster bullying behavior.

As for cyber bullies, elementary students may indulge in simple name calling and hitting of each other. However, middle school students are usually given the opportunity to have cellular phones purchased by their parents usually at the urging of the child. The use of computers in schools for elementary students may consist of navigating through educational programs; while middle schools and high schools use computers for development of programs, papers and have more freedom to interact with various websites.

Motives of a Bully : Ecologic Theory

Going beyond the bully-victim paradigm, this theory includes all factors that allow bullying to develop, flourish and persist, with several factors related to the family, victim, bully, onlooker and bystanders, school administration and personnel, as well as the community being one of the elements of the environment in which the bullies are born and fed. Ecologic theory suggests that school and playground designs may foster unsupervised areas where children and adolescents are vulnerable to bullies, and that the lack of action, or the passive manner, on the part of parents, teachers, principals, and other school personnel and members of the community allow bullying to persist and continue, growing to be a phenomenon.

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