Why Kids Get Bullied — And What To Do About It

Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.
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Kids who get bullied face three challenges, a new study says.

The factors involve a child’s inability to pick up on and respond to nonverbal cues from their pals.

In the United States, 10 to 13 percent of school-age kids experience some form of rejection by their peers. In addition to causing mental health problems, bullying and social isolation can increase the likelihood a child will get poor grades, drop out of school, or develop substance abuse problems, the researchers say.

“It really is an under-addressed public health issue,” said lead researcher Clark McKown of the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago….

In two studies, McKown and colleagues had a total of 284 children, ages 4 to 16 years old, watch movie clips and look at photos before judging the emotions of the actors based on their facial expressions, tones of voice and body postures. Various social situations were also described and the children were questioned about appropriate responses.

The results were then compared to parent/teacher accounts of the participants’ friendships and social behavior.

Kids who had social problems also had problems in at least one of three different areas of nonverbal communication: reading nonverbal cues; understanding their social meaning; and coming up with options for resolving a social conflict.

A child, for example, simply may not notice a person’s scowl of impatience or understand what a tapped foot means. Or she may have trouble reconciling the desires of a friend with her own. “It is important to try to pinpoint the area or areas in a child’s deficits and then build those up,” McKown explained.

This is smart and helpful but it doesn’t address a large issue — kids who bully. What options are there for a kid who’s being bullied? Shout back? Get into a fist-fight — or worse? Girls, especially, socialized to use their tongues, not their fists, as weapons of choice, can be extreme cruel to one another verbally, but how many of them would dare throw a punch at one of the mean girls to settle it?

As someone who was viciously bullied, daily, for almost three years in high school, responsibility for fixing the nightmare can’t solely be laid at the feet of the victim. Far too often, teachers and others in authority simply turn a blind eye instead of confronting the bullies and addressing their behavior.

I didn’t turn to drugs or drop out of school, although I spent many afternoons heading home in tears. Without a group of really good friends, and the knowledge that the hell of high school would not last forever, I could never have survived it.

2 thoughts on “Why Kids Get Bullied — And What To Do About It

  1. April Peveteaux

    I agree. Where are the how-to guides for parents to ensure they aren’t raising a bully? The tips for teachers to recognize and diffuse a bully? An intense social pressure to not be an a-hole? Kids who are getting bullied shouldn’t be the only ones stepping up.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    The kids who are bullied have enough to cope with as it is. It creates a real sense of mistrust in authority when adults know a child is being singled out and don’t step in to confront the bullies.

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