Peer Bullying: Causes and Prevention

What should we do to prevent peer bullying among children?

Peer bullying has social and psychological consequences for children, both for the perpetrators and victims. As part and parcel of our Kidly principle, we have drawn up a guide for parents who would like to understand and put a stop to this issue, or at least get a better idea of what’s going on.

Please read this article by Çağla Küçük, a psychological counselor, which will be a guide for us along this journey.

Peer Bullying: Causes and Prevention

Bullying is the systematic and deliberate negative behavior inflicted upon the powerless by the powerful. It causes significant physical, social, and psychological problems in the short and long term, and can be observed both among adults and children. This article will focus on peer bullying amongst children. To this end, we should first define a few terms.

There are three main factors at play in bullying:

  • The bully upsets, frightens, hurts, alienates, and saddens people with their actions and attitude. A bully might have many different victims over time.
  • The victim is the target of the bully. The victim loses their self-confidence, or may be reluctant to go to school, and they may feel frightened, ashamed, uncomfortable, anxious, and unhappy. Both the victim and the bully can be described as aggressive or proactive victims. Children in this group continue to be adversely affected by the bully and might choose to bully another child in the group so they can fit in. They alternate between being victims and perpetrators.
  • The silent bystanders consist of the silent majority who do not object to bullying and pretend not to see or hear it even when they notice it happening. This group has a lot of responsibility when it comes to preventing bullying, as due to being a majority they can have some influence on the bully and put a stop to their behavior. If they can put a stop to it, then they will also prevent being the target of bullying behavior in the future.

Types of bullying:
Direct bullying: Physical abuse (hitting, pushing, kicking over, destroying possessions, etc.), verbal abuse (shouting, calling names, taunting, threats, etc.), emotional abuse (exclusion, ridicule), sexual abuse (unwanted physical contact, sexual insults), cyber bullying (threatening messages, making repeated calls or sending messages, spreading rumors or gossip over the phone or online, distributing belittling images or recordings).
Indirect bullying: This type of bullying happens between children and is difficult to notice. It primarily focuses on harming interpersonal relationships, and the bully attempts to destroy the victim’s friendship ties.

Kids don’t become bullies because they enjoy it. There are many underlying psychological and cultural reasons for bullying. So why do kids who bully do it?

  • Because they feel like they need protection and they think adopting a tough and harsh attitude will protect them.
  • Because they want to be loved.
  • Because they want to mask their own fears.
  • Because they want to change certain attributes about themselves.
  • To mimic another bully they have adopted as a role model.
  • Because they are unable to develop methods to establish relationships and solve problems.
  • Because they cannot establish true friendships and they feel alone, even though they look like they are surrounded by friends.
  • Because they have been bullied and hurt in the past.

Kids who are victims of bullying may display the following types of behavior:

  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Lack of trust in those around them
  • Academic failure Panicked and anxious behavior
  • Difficulty falling asleep and waking up in fear
  • Uncharacteristic negative behavior directed at those around them
  • Disinterest in school activities
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Negative body image and lack of self-acceptance, as well as sudden physical changes caused by such reflections

What should we do to combat bullying?
Bullying is a major problem. It should be observed and taken note of by adults, and considered seriously. Children must be supported so they can implement solutions themselves, and they should be helped so they can know their own sphere of influence. For situations that are above a child’s ability to handle, teachers, school counsellors, school administrators, and parents must take the necessary action.

If your child is the bully:
You must find out which unmet needs are causing your child to compensate through bullying behaviors. The universal needs which must be met for a child are as follows: secure attachment, stability, being looked after, being accepted, freedom of movement, a sense of sufficiency and identity, freedom to express their needs and emotions, realistic boundaries and self-regulation, spontaneity, and play. It must be ascertained which of these fundamental needs require more focus, and family communication in relation to it must be increased. It might be beneficial to read stories about the subject together and have discussions about them, help the child establish the link between need-behavior-consequence and develop their sense of empathy, express to them that it is an important matter and you are focusing on it as a family with great care, and if necessary, ask for help from a therapist or psychiatrist specializing in working with children.

If your child is the victim:
It’s very important for your child to know that you are dealing with the issue with the utmost sensitivity. It is very difficult for schoolchildren of all ages to feel alienated and ostracized from their peer group. The thought of being made an outcast by complaining is the main reason why a child might remain silent despite being the victim of bullying. Assuring your child that you are on their side and making them feel confident that you will act with their wishes and requirements in mind will increase their candidness with you. Children who are victims of bullying can benefit from practices to increase their conflict resolution skills, self-confidence, and assertiveness. School counsellors and administrators can be asked to create peer support groups and focus on solving the issue. Children must be taught the importance of establishing boundaries and saying no, and must be supported in developing their assertiveness.

They should be taught to try the following steps in order:

  1. Saying no
  2. Giving warnings
  3. Giving reminders about the rules
  4. Informing the bully that they will request help if the bullying continues
  5. Asking for support from adults.

If your child is a witness to bullying, they must be taught to take the following steps:

  • Not participate in the violence
  • Not be a bystander, warn the bully and separating them from the victim
  • Ask for an adults’ help if behavior continues

It is very important for them to know they can be effective in preventing bullying. Because third parties are incredibly influential in every aspect of bullying. Children must be supported, encouraged, and directed on this course.

As adults, we must understand that both the child who is the bully and the child who is the victim have unmet needs, so we can provide them with the support they need. This is why we must establish safe spaces where children are free to express themselves and have long conversations with us. This will alert us to their requirements. Sometimes watching a film or reading a book can be useful in opening the door to talk about difficult subjects. Making use of such resources and establishing a dialogue with our kids will strengthen our hand when dealing with bullying, as with other issues. We must not overlook the fact that some experiences require both sides to receive professional help.

Çağla Küçük
Psychological Counselor

She is currently studying for her postgraduate degree in Psychological Support and Counselling at Bahçeşehir University, and she is trained in various schools of psychotherapy. As a school counsellor, she has worked with children, teenagers, and families. Currently she practices schema therapy with adolescents and adults.