The Definition of a BullyBy Jennifer Shipp
A bully is someone who uses a perceived power imbalance to intimidate another person. Sometimes there is a real power imbalance such as when the principal’s daughter threatens another girl at school by saying, “I’m gonna make sure you don’t have any friends.” Or when a very large, older boy threatens a smaller younger boy. In both of these situations one person has more power than the other person. There are tons of situations like these that happen every day in our schools.
The good news is that even kids who seem to have all the power still have weaknesses. Discovering those weaknesses is a key to defeating the bully. A bigger boy who terrorizes a smaller boy still has weak spots (his belly, his groin, his neck, his eyes). He may not be very smart or he may be emotionally imbalanced. Teaching kids how to use these weaknesses to protect themselves can make a big difference in the final outcome.
Popular girls who terrorize less popular girls are likely to have many emotional weaknesses, but unfortunately, studies have shown that the most popular girls tend to be the most manipulative. In other words, less popular girls are more down-to-earth. The less popular are more likely to form solid, non-manipulative bonds with friends and future spouses. Popularity is really only valuable while kids are still in school.
Power differentials can also happen when kids reveal embarrassing information to other kids. My grandma used to say, “When your friend becomes your foe, then all the world your secrets know.” From this proverb I learned to keep my mouth shut about information that other kids could use to embarrass me. It’s a good piece of wisdom to live by.
Sometimes friends can even be bullies. Kids who feel like they need a friend in order to survive the challenging social environment in school may cling to buddies who simply aren’t good for them. Bully-friends may say mean things to keep their side-kick down or they might purposefully manipulate or embarrass them. Kids who don’t feel like they could find a new friend may choose to stick with a bully-friend who treats them poorly rather than trying to find a friend who will be supportive. In fact, some kids actually prefer this negative type of friendship relationship because their familiar with it from their home environment. Maybe their parents relate to each other like bully-friends, making fun of each other and saying off-hand remarks to keep one or the other partner down. A child who prefers to be treated poorly, who constantly attracts this sort of “friend” likely has a lot of experience with these kinds of relationships.