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Put a Stop to Teenage Bullying Behavior

Bullying has been occurring for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t make it an acceptable behavior. Recently, the U.S. has experienced an increase in school shootings by students. Scarier yet, we’re learning that the teens committing the violence are blaming it in part on being bullied by their peers. According to Sherryll Krazier, PhD, executive director of the Coalition for Children, our best defense against this “trend” is to understand bully characteristics, learn what to do if you’re being bullied, and recognize methods we can use to prevent this potentially devastating behavior.

What is bullying?
Bullying in adolescence can take many forms: physical, emotional, verbal or a combination of these. It may involve one person bullying another, a group of youths against a single youth, or groups against other groups (gangs). It is similar to other forms of victimization and abuse in that it involves:

  • an imbalance of power
  • differing emotional tones: the victim will be upset whereas the bully is cool and in control
  • blaming the victim for what has happened
  • lack of concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the victim
  • a lack of compassion

What type of people are bullies?
Bullies are very often young people who have been bullied or abused themselves. Sometimes they are teens experiencing life situations they can't cope with, that leave them feeling helpless and out of control. They may be teens with poor social skills, who do not fit in, who can't meet the expectations of their family or school. They bully to feel competent, successful, to control someone else, to get some relief from their own feelings of powerlessness.

Who gets bullied?
Not all teens are equally likely to be victimized by bullying behavior. Those who are more prone to be “picked on” tend to have the following characteristics:

  • low self-esteem
  • insecure
  • lack of social skills,
  • don't pick up on social cues
  • cry or become emotionally distraught easily
  • unable to defend or stand up for themselves

Some teens actually seem to provoke their victimization. They may tease bullies, make themselves a target by egging the people on, not knowing when to stop and then not being able to effectively defend themselves when the balance of power shifts to the bully.

Teens who are NOT bullied tend to have better social skills and conflict management skills. They are more willing to assert themselves about differences without being aggressive or confronting. They suggest compromises and alternate solutions. They tend to be more aware of people's feelings and are the ones who can be most helpful in resolving disputes and assisting classmates to get help.

What should I do if I’m being bullied?
Remember there are alternatives to responding to bullies. Don’t get involved with bullies in any kind of interchange. Don't take it personally; it's really the bully’s problems that are causing the situation, NOT you.


  • don't react
  • walk away, get help if pursued
  • agree with the bully, saying "you're right" and walk away
  • be assertive and calm
  • report the behavior if it continues

How can we prevent bullying?
Characteristics of bullying can begin as early as preschool and elementary school. While in the early years, parents and other adults can play a major role in recognizing and preventing bullying behavior. However, when bullying reaches the junior high and high school levels, there are actions you can also take to prevent bullying.

During the teenage years, cliques are commonplace, and groups form with specific identities (such as jocks, brains, populars, nerds, goths, outcasts…the names change with the times). Teasing and joking are universal, and as long as it’s mutual it’s OK. But when it’s done on purpose to be harmful, that’s bullying.

Adolescents who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of their peers. Teens can assertively speak up on behalf of classmates being bullied. "Don't treat her that way, it's not right." "Being cruel is not a good way to solve problems; let's get help and talk about what happened." An important key in preventing bullying is think of your teachers as protectors, not regulators. Don’t be afraid to talk to your teachers if you know about classmates who are being bullied or who are bullies. The code of ethics should be that everyone deserves respect.

Adapted from The Safe Child Book by Sherryll Krazier, PhD, Fireside Books/Simon and Schuster, 1996


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.
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