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child bullying, school bullying, selecting a safe school

Child bullying and school bullying

On this page
Selecting a safe school for your child | Differences between child and adult bullying

Reasons for being bullied | Further information on child bullying

Each year, at least 16 children kill themselves in the UK because they are being bullied at school and no-one in authority is doing anything to tackle the bullying. Failure by a school to implement an effective, active anti-bullying policy is a breach of duty of care.

From 1 September 1999, all UK schools are legally required to have an anti-bullying policy. See the DfEE website and use the search facility, or see Appendix B: the legal framework for school discipline.

Selecting a safe school for your child

When selecting a school for your child, avoid any school where there is no anti-bullying policy and especially where the staff or head claims "we don't need an anti-bullying policy, there's no bullying here". It is in these schools that bullying is most prevalent. If the school has an anti-bullying policy, check that it's effective; some schools have a policy as a window-dressing exercise. A policy is only words on paper; it's effectiveness is in the commitment of the head teacher or principal. Ask the experts: talk to the pupils and ex-pupils in private and in confidence. Talk to the children who are artistic, gifted, of high integrity and non-aggressive - these are the ones most likely to be targeted by bullies.

Bullies are people who act outside the bounds of society and will regard the absence of an anti-bullying policy, or failure to implement a policy effectively, as encouragement and approval of their antisocial behaviour.

When judging which school is likely to be best for your child, don't be fooled by league tables; these show only exam results (euphemistically called "standards" by OFSTED and the DfEE) which are only one aspect of school life. Academic exam results are one of the poorest indicators of potential; many of the world's most successful people (eg Albert Einstein [physics], Soichira Honda [Honda Motor Corporation], Ray Kroc [founder of MacDonalds], Philip Green [self-made billionaire and boss of BHS]) left school with few or no qualifications.

To find out what a school is really like, ask for the following figures for the last academic year:

The figures will also give you a good indication to how wisely your council tax and other taxes are being spent.

Bullying prevents all children in the class from undertaking their studies; exam results will be lower than they could and should be.

Teachers are the largest number of callers to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line. For information for teachers who are being bullied click here.

Differences between child and adult bullying

The majority of information about adult bullying on this web site applies to child bullying. However, there are two main differences:

1). An adult is selected for bullying because they are good at their job and popular with people (the bully is a weak, inadequate individual who is driven by jealousy and envy). If there is a child in the class who is socially less popular than the rest then this child is likely to be targeted by the bully. If no such obvious child exists, then the bully will pick on any child they think is unable or unwilling to fight. A key factor in the bully's choice is any child who is unwilling to resort to violence to resolve conflict - in other words, a child who has integrity and good moral codes. Given that bullies are driven by jealousy and envy, any child who is bright and popular is also likely to be targeted.

Once bullying starts, many children will side with, or appear to side with, the bully because they know that otherwise they themselves will be bullied. The bully is a deeply unpopular child with whom other children associate, not through friendship, but through fear. Many studies which show bullies to be a popular child fail to make this distinction. Also, the education system is biased towards physical strength (eg undue emphasis on sport and rewards for sporting achievement) whilst artistic achievements are undervalued. Children (and adults) who are bullied tend to be imaginative, creative, caring, empathic, tolerant and responsible. Children (and adults) who bully are unimaginative, uncaring, aggressive, emotionally immature, inadequate (especially in social skills) and irresponsible.

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the child who learns to bully at school and who gets away with it then goes on to be the serial bully in the workplace. There's also a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the child who is bullied at school also goes on to be a likely target of bullying in the workplace. This has nothing to do predisposition to being bullied, it has to do with the innate qualities of good people.

2) By the time a person enters adulthood at around the age of 18, their behaviour patterns are set and only time or a traumatic experience can alter these patterns. However, people who are likely to be bullied have a considerable learning capability and thus have a greater capacity to modify their behaviour as an adult. People who are bullies or prone to be bullies have limited learning capacity (especially in interpersonal and behavioural skills) and will often exhibit bullying behaviours for the rest of their life. Emotionally, the bully remains a young child, and their attention-seeking behaviour is characteristic of a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum in order to gain attention. Serial bullies have sociopathic tendencies which include a learning blindness and an apparent lack of insight into their behaviour and its effect on others. The second major difference between adult and child bullying is that the child bully can be helped to develop better ways of behaving, provided that:

The child bully sometimes (but not always) comes from a dysfunctional aggressive home environment where he or she is learning by example. Remember also that bullying, like abuse with which it is closely associated, is independent of class or financial status. See my page on abuse for the kinds of parental behaviours that cultivate bullying (the page may appal you).

Reasons for being bullied

When bullying is reported or violent incidents or suicide hit the headlines, the reason the child was bullied is often highlighted as a principal cause of the bullying. In fact, the reason is spurious and specious (plausibly deceptive).

Reasons for being picked on include being fat, thin, tall, short, hair or skin colour, being quiet, wearing glasses, having big ears, small ears, sticky-out ears, crooked teeth, being from a different culture, having different likes or dislikes, the "wrong" clothes, unwillingness to use strength to defend him or herself, or any perceived or fabricated "excuse". These excuses have one thing in common: they are all irrelevant.

Each reason is a deceptive justification for the bully to indulge in a predictable pattern of violent (physical or psychological) behaviour against another child who is smaller, younger or less strong than the bully. The target is simply a useful object onto whom the bully can displace his or her aggression. In other words, if a child is picked on because they are allegedly "fat", then losing weight will make no difference; the bully simply invents another justification. If children are bullied for their dinner money, then introducing cashless swipe cards will make no difference; the bullies invent other reasons.

Do not be deceived into thinking that the reason for bullying has any validity; it does not. Ignore it. Helping your child to lose weight or have cosmetic surgery or wear the "in" fashions will make no difference. If you acknowledge the reason (eg telling overweight children to diet so they won't be bullied), you are unwittingly according the bully justification. Focus instead on why the bullying child needs to bully.

To tackle bullying you will have to liaise closely with the school and you may have to talk to the bully's parents. Establish first of all whether this is an isolated incident (in which case nipping it in the bud is likely to have a high probability of success) or whether the child bully has a history of bullying behaviour. Remember that most children will try bullying at some time (including yours!); most will realise that it's not an appropriate way of behaving and grow out of it quickly, especially if you help your child see why it's inappropriate and encourage and support them in learning better ways of behaving.

However, for the child growing up in a dysfunctional or abusive home environment, bullying becomes a compulsive and obsessive behaviour; the bully has to have a target onto whom he or she can displace his or her own aggression. The bullying child's parents may lack parental skills because they were brought up by parents who lacked appropriate behaviour skills, and their parents were brought up in that climate, etc. The cycle has to be broken. This is where schools can play a major role. Helping parents adopt better parenting skills can also make a major difference if this is done tactfully.

Ultimately, bullying is behaviour and behaviour is a choice. Therefore, bullying is a choice. Whilst a poor home environment, poor parenting, poor role models etc may be influencing factors in bullying, they are not a cause. Many children have poor home environments etc but do not choose to bully; therefore these factors cannot be used as a specious excuse for bullying. It is the bully's choice to bully, A bad choice, but a choice.

Profiles of bullies and targets

Bullies: aggressive, physically strong, easily and willingly resorts to violence, poor communication skills, poor social skills, low self-esteem, insecure, may have a dysfunctional home life, thrives on control and dominance, thinks it fun to torment and hurt children who are less physically strong, cowardly, exhibits attention-seeking behaviour and needs to be respected but can't distinguish between "respect" and "fear", needs to impress, disrespectful and often contemptuous of others (both children and adults), emotionally and behaviourally immature, jealous and envious, divisive and dysfunctional, disruptive, academically below average, often lies, cannot and will not accept responsibility, uncaring, lacks empathy, exploitative.

Targets: physically not as strong as the bully, has a very low propensity to violence and will do everything to avoid resorting to violence to resolve conflict, is artistic, imaginative, creative, academically above average, different (although this is a relative term), caring and empathic, easily forgiving, high integrity, high moral standard, unwilling to resort to lying and deception, often independent, self-reliant, has good relationships with adults, not powerful and eschews classroom politics.

Some people use the words "swot", "isolated" and "loner" to describe targets. I believe these have negative connotations which reinforce notions of "victim type". I prefer the words "academically a high performer and achiever", "tends to be independent rather than a socialite" and "often prefers to work alone and has no need to impress others".

I also prefer the word "target" to "victim". The word "victim" allows bullies and their supporters to tap into and stimulate people's preconceived notions and prejudices of "victimhood", ie that victims are "weak" and somehow bring the bullying upon themselves. "Target", on the other hand, correctly highlights the deliberate act of choice and selection by the bully. Other misperceptions and misleading stereotypes are explained on the child bullying myths and adult bullying myths pages.

Whilst it is often the target who is regarded as "weak and inadequate", it is always the bully who is weak and inadequate - as evidenced by the need to bully. People of strong character and high integrity don't need to bully.

For further information on child bullying contact the following organisations as indicated:

For more information on child and school bullying, see my pages on school bullying, child abuse, and links to child bullying web sites and organisations tackling child and school bullying.

Legal cases involving child bullying


Where now at School Bully OnLine?
Information on child bullying and bullying at school
School Bully OnLine Home Page | School bullying
Information for parents and teachers on child bullying
List of children who have died or been driven to suicide by bullying
Bullying myths | Who is responsible?
Answers to frequently asked questions
Child and school bullying news | Terrorism in the playground
Mobile phone bullying | Truancy | Bullying and special education
Bullying of gifted children | Educating your child at home
Action to tackle child and school bullying
Case law and settlements for school bullying
Links to organisations tackling school bullying
Books, publications, reports
Bullycide - the secret toll | Media reviews and reader feedback
Neil Marr and Tim Field's book Bullycide: death at playtime reveals
the hidden epidemic of child suicide caused by bullying and harassment

The authors Neil Marr and Tim Field

Home Pages
The Field Foundation | Bully OnLine
Workplace bullying | School bullying | Family bullying
Bullying news | Bullying case histories
Bullying resources | Press and media centre
Stress, PTSD and psychiatric injury
Action to tackle bullying | Related issues

Success Unlimited
Books on bullying and related issues
The spiritual meaning within trauma