Bullying is a pervasive issue in schools, affecting millions of children and adolescents worldwide. It encompasses various forms of aggressive behaviour, both physical and psychological, and can lead to severe consequences for the victims. This article will explore the topic of bullying in schools in response to the exceptional 2023 Bullying Awareness Week organized by SWAG (Student Welfare Awareness Group), as well as look into the psychological aspect of why individuals become bullies, its lasting effects on victims and role of bystanders in perpetuating bullying.

The Psychology of a Bully

Bullying is not an inherent trait; rather, it emerges from a complex interplay of psychological and environmental factors. Researchers suggest that the action of bullying often begins at a young age and tends to peak between the ages of 11 to 13, with approximately 20% of students reporting being bullied at school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While bullies may appear confident and powerful, they are driven by a variety of underlying motivations. One significant factor associated with bullying is a power imbalance. Bullies often target individuals who are perceived as weaker, younger, or smaller, as they seek to maintain a sense of superiority and control. A study conducted by Swearer et al. (2010) found that bullies tend to have higher levels of social dominance orientation and lower levels of empathy. This combination of traits can contribute to their aggressive behaviour, as they seek to establish dominance and lack the empathy to understand the harm they cause. Furthermore, bullies may engage in aggressive behaviour to eliminate perceived threats, whether in the form of competition or other challenges. They project an aura of confidence and determination, using fear to establish dominance. Unresolved trauma can also contribute to a child’s tendency to become a bully. Some bullies come from families where they have witnessed or experienced bullying and aggression, lacking necessary emotional support. Bullying, therefore, can be a learned behaviour, often stemming from a problematic past.

The Role of Bystanders

Bystanders play a critical role in the perpetuation of bullying. While they may not be directly involved in the act, their passivity or complicity can intensify the damage inflicted on the victim. Bystanders are not mere witnesses; they actively participate in the social dynamics of violence. Salmivalli et al. (2013) emphasize the significance of bystander intervention in reducing bullying. Salmivalli suggests that when bystanders intervene by supporting the victim or confronting the bully, the prevalence of bullying decreases. This highlights the importance of bystanders in shaping the dynamics of bullying.

Psychological Effects on Victims

Bullying has immense psychological effects on its victims, which can even potentially extend into adulthood. While short-term consequences such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are well-documented, research on the long-term effects is somewhat limited. However, recent studies suggest that the negative mental health impact of bullying can persist well into adulthood. A study done by Copeland et al. (2013) found that individuals who were bullied as children were at an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders in adulthood. This includes conditions such as anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. These long-term effects highlight the importance of early intervention and support that we should offer to bullying victims.

In conclusion, bullying is a pressing and deeply concerning problem in many schools, characterized by diverse forms of aggressive behaviour and enduring psychological consequences for its victims. Gaining insights into the underlying psychology of bullies and recognizing the critical role played by bystanders are pivotal steps in developing successful prevention and intervention strategies. To effectively address this pervasive issue and mitigate its profound psychological effects, an ongoing commitment to research and heightened awareness within our communities remains of utmost importance.

Lijie (Jeremy) Lu

Student at NLCS Jeju


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