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Myths and misperceptions about school bullying
Overcoming stereotypes and false perceptions of school bullying and child bullying
See also myths, misperceptions and stereotypes of adult bullying and workplace bullying.

There's no bullying here
It's in schools which say "there's no bullying here" that you are most likely to find bullying. Bullying happens in every school; good schools are proactive in their approach and deal with incidents of bullying promptly, firmly and fairly. Bad schools deny it, ignore it, justify it, rationalise it, handle it inappropriately, sweep it under the carpet, blame the victim of bullying, blame the parents of the victim of bullying, say they've "ticked all the boxes" and make lots of impressive noises but take no substantive action. Bad schools (through their local authority or board) spend large sums of taxpayers' money on expensive lawyers to fend off legal actions for their negligence and breach of duty of care. In most schools which claim "there's no bullying here", the primary objective is to protect the school against bad publicity and to divert attention away from the fact that the head teacher does not have control of discipline, has poor interpersonal skills and is themself a poor teacher.

Ignore it
Never ignore bullying; bullies use provocation to elicit a response from their target and if you ignore it the provocation will get worse. When people say "ignore it" they mean "don't engage and don't respond". When bullying starts, recognise it immediately, keep a log of events, do your research, and get your parents and teachers involved. Be persistent. You have a right not to be bullied, harassed, assaulted or abused.

Stand up for yourself
It's funny how people who simply say "stand up for yourself" never, ever, tell you how to stand up for yourself. Even adults find it difficult to defend themselves against the onslaught of bullies, especially a serial bully.

Victims of bullying don't know how to defend themselves verbally or physically
Society, parents and schools do not teach children the skills of physical, psychological, emotional and verbal self-defence. This is because most adults don't know how to do this.

Victims of bullying become too flustered to deflect bullies with humour
Laughing at a mugger, rapist or paedophile will not deflect the actions of the mugger, rapist or paedophile. They might kill you for laughing at them though. A bully might kill you too, as in the case of Damilola Taylor. Bullies torment their prey for months, often years, and what appears like passiveness and fluster are more likely to be the outward signs of fear (of more violence), terror (of more violence), bewilderment (why me? [because you're available]), confusion (why don't the responsible adults fulfil their legal obligation of duty of care?) and trauma (cumulative psychiatric injury). Bullies are possessed of a verbal facility which is mistaken for intelligence but it's more about plausible lying, deception, cunning, superficial charm and a Teflon-like ability to evade accountability. Child bullies are adept at manipulating the perceptions of adults, especially the less capable adults and those adults with low emotional intelligence.

Victims of bullying typically do not retaliate
Children have it drummed into them from the moment they are born that they must not hit, punch, kick, bite, scratch, pull, push, poke or use any form of physical violence. Children are often punished - sometimes brutally and humiliatingly - for exhibiting any form of violent behaviour. Some adults then criticise children for not using violence when faced with a thug. Child targets of bullying also know (better than adults) that if they retaliate physically, the bully will feign victimhood (often with a convincing flood of tears) and the responsible adults will be fooled into believing that the target is the bully and the bully is the target. The (real) target is then punished by the adults whilst the bully looks on, enjoying every moment. Once the adults turn their backs, the bully starts on their target again. Targets are also people with high moral integrity, a well-developed sense of moral values, and a clear understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue. This is how we teach children to behave and how society demands that children behave. We should therefore not be surprised when targets of bullying display their maturity by going to great lengths to resolve the violent acts committed towards them with dialogue rather than with fists or feet. Trying to resolving conflict with dialogue is a hallmark of integrity and strength of character. Bullying is a hallmark of lack of integrity and weakness of character.

Bullying toughens you up
Bullying is in the same league as harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation and rape. It causes trauma and psychiatric injury and can, if untreated, cause a psychiatric injury of sufficient seriousness to blight a person for life, resulting in a lower standard of educational achievement, causing a poorer standard of health, preventing them realising their potential and thus being able to contribute less to society than would otherwise be the case - including paying less in taxes throughout their life. The symptoms of psychiatric injury caused by bullying are consistent with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Bullying is a rite of passage we all have to go through
Some people claim that harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation, rape and domestic violence are rites of passage but these are all unacceptable.

Bullying is part of life, you've just got to accept it
Harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation, rape, domestic violence and murder are all part of life but these are all unacceptable.

There's no law against bullying so it must be OK
The fact that the law hasn't yet been updated to reflect the knowledge and needs of society is not an excuse. A socially unacceptable behaviour is unacceptable whether or not there's a law against it.

People who get bullied are wimps
People who are targeted by bullies are sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, have high emotional intelligence, a strong sense of fair play and high integrity with a low propensity to violence. Bullies (who lack such qualities) see these as vulnerabilities to be exploited. Sometimes, behind the stereotyped "victim", is a child with a higher-than-average level of emotional maturity and a capacity to communicate maturely with adults. I prefer the word "target" to indicate the deliberate and intentional choices that bullies make. The word "victim" allows the bullies' army of supporters, appeasers, apologists and deniers to tap into and stimulate other people's preconceived notions and prejudices of "victimhood".

Only weak people are bullied
Only the best are bullied. People who are targeted by bullies are sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, have high emotional intelligence, a strong sense of fair play and high integrity with a low propensity to violence. Bullies are driven by jealousy and envy and have an obsessive compulsion to torment and destroy anyone who is better than they are - which is most of the population.

Bullies prey on the weak
This myth is popular in academic and some professional circles but the reality is that bullies target people for the following reasons:
a) bullies select a victim who is physically less strong than they are, for bullies are always cowards
b) bullies select victims who have a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue and who won't turn round and kick the bully
c) bullies select victims who have a low propensity to violence - which is what parents and society instil in and demand of children
d) targets of bullies go to enormous lengths to resolve conflict with dialogue not realising that bullies are too disordered, dysfunctional, aggressive and immature to respond to dialogue
e) targets of bullying go to enormous lengths to resolve the conflict with dialogue often without the assistance of adults and sometimes in spite of the adults who by their failures and inactions condone the bullying (bullies are adept at manipulating the perceptions of adults, especially those adults who lack knowledge, experience, wisdom and emotional maturity)
f) bullies are weak people - normal healthy people don't need to bully
g) bullies are dysfunctional, disordered, aggressive and emotionally retarded which they reveal by their compulsive need to bully
h) bullies are irresponsible people who refuse to accept personal responsibility for their behaviour and the effect of their behaviour on other people
i) bullies prey on people with a kind heart

Bullies are psychologically strong
Bullies are weak, disordered, dysfunctional and emotionally immature as evidenced by their need to bully. Bullies compensate for their weakness with aggression. What some people mistakenly see as "psychological strength" is really an aggressive determination to violate other people/'s boundaries with no respect, no consideration of others, no thought of consequence, and an endless fund of specious excuses and rationalisations for their aggression. A rationalisation is an attempt for put a socially acceptable face on a socially unacceptable behaviour. Many adults are taken in by this deception and manipulation.

Victims are unlikeable
Whilst it may be that in a small number of extreme cases the person targeted may have some allegedly undesirable characteristic, this is not a justification for committing violence against that person. Studies repeatedly show that 50-75% of children are bullied at school so the claim that up to three quarters of the population are "unlikeable" is self-evidently absurd. It is always bullies who are unlikeable, and it may be that people who make this claim are using projection.

Victims lack social skills
It is bullies who lack social skills and who are emotionally immature. Only emotionally retarded people who lack social skills need to bully; no-one else needs to.

Victims blame themselves for their problems
Bullies control those they target by using disempowerment and by stimulating artificially high levels of fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt. This is true of all abusers whether they are school bullies, sexual harassers, violent partners committing domestic violence, or pedophiles. It is also standard psychopathic behaviour to reflect every attempt at accountability back onto the accuser and to plausibly portray their victim as the guilty party.

Victims are afraid to go to school
This is a correct observation, but is a consequence, not a pre-existing condition. Most targets of bullying like to study but are prevented from doing so by the thuggery of bullies who enjoy causing harm to others. When a child is forced to attend school (under threat of sanction and prosecution of parents if they don't), and is forced to endure violent assault, intimidation and threat on a daily basis whilst the responsible adults repeatedly fail in their duty of care, it's hardly surprising that fear enters the equation. A child's self-protective instinct is often wrongly diagnosed as school phobia - a diagnosis which is incorrect, offensive, and tantamount to professional misconduct and collusion with the bullying.

Everyone is capable of bullying
Bullies love to hear this justification as it minimises their aggression and disingenuously makes their behaviour appear on a par with normal behaviour. The claim that "everyone is capable of bullying" is as accurate as saying "everyone is capable of rape" or "everyone is capable of pedophile behaviour" and "everyone is capable of murder". The difference is that whilst anyone is theoretically capable of any crime, the vast majority choose to not commit these crimes, whereas bullies choose to bully on a daily basis, and when held accountable, bullies choose to deny or justify or rationalise their bullying. A rationalisation is an attempt to put a socially-acceptable face on a socially-unacceptable behaviour.

Children who are bullied grow up to be tougher people
Bullying is a form of violence which is designed to cause the maximum physical, psychological and emotional injury. If a leg or arm is shattered it does not become "tougher" but is likely to be damaged throughout life. It's the same with a psychiatric injury. "I feel the people I bullied grew up tougher" is a specious rationalisation by which bullies justify and excuse their actions and convince themselves of the acceptability of their thuggery by abdicating personal responsibility for their violent behaviour and the consequences of their actions on others.

Bullies are tough people
Bullies are weak, cowardly and inadequate people who cannot interact in a mature professional manner and have to resort to psychological violence (and, with child bullies, physical violence) to get their way. Only weak people need to bully.

Violence on TV makes children violent
A lot of people watch violence on TV but only a handful of people are violent. Therefore, TV violence is not a cause, otherwise everybody who watched TV violence would be violent, which they are not. Claims and calls to ban violence on TV make a good soap box for gaining attention for the person making the claim but it won't solve the problem. If you ban TV violence, violent people will still commit violence; all that will happen is that they will modify their chosen expression of violence. It should be noted though that repeatedly watching scenes of violence can desensitise people, especially young people in their formative years.

Playing violent video games makes children violent
A lot of kids play violent video games but only a handful of children are violent. Therefore, violent video games are not a cause, otherwise everybody who played violent video games would be violent, which they are not. Claims and calls to ban violent video games make a good soap box for gaining attention for the person making the claim but it won't solve the problem. If you ban violent video games, violent children will still be violent; all that will happen is that they will modify their chosen expression of violence. It should be noted though that repeatedly interacting with violent games can desensitise young people, ie those at whom video games are targeted.

We operate a no blame approach here
This needs to be implemented carefully. In some cases, mainly the less serious ones, the bully can be turned into a buddy or protector; in other cases though, it would be like pairing a woman with her rapist or a child with a paedophile. The bully must always be held accountable, which is distinct from punishment. Those bullies who then continue to bully will need to be monitored and subjected to escalating sanction, including, ultimately, exclusion and punishment through legal remedy. This is the way that society has adopted to deal with offenders. The no-blame approach seems to be most popular with those adults who know the least about the psychology and dynamics of bullying. Child bullies are adept at manipulating weak or inexperienced adults and know that with such people "no blame" equates to "no accountability". When the no-blame approach is implemented inappropriately it can be like delivering an abused child into the custody of a paedophile. [More]

We follow the academic model of classifying victims of bullying as passive victims, provocative victims, colluding victims, and false victims
This model uses only negative terms to describe "victims", thus perpetuating the false stereotypes of victims somehow deserving to be bullied. The mindset that believes this is the same mindset that believes that women who are raped must somehow be responsible for inviting the rape, and children who are sexually abused also share responsibility for the abuse. The four categories identify only a tiny proportion of cases (probably around 1%) whilst ignoring the most common reason for being picked on: availability. The four categories represent only the most extreme cases which make newspaper headlines, on which this type of research seems to be based. Studies repeatedly reveal that up to 75% of children suffer bullying at school. Are three-quarters of the population passive, provocative, colluding or false? I think not. Bullies are physically violent, mentally violent, psychologically violent and emotionally violent, and always pick on children who are physically smaller or less strong than themselves, who have integrity, who are respectful, who are non-violent and who will go to enormous lengths to resolve conflict with dialogue but who are unaware that this approach does not work with bullies.

Children who are bullied are passive
Bullies target children who are calm, dignified, responsible and respectful, communicate easily with adults, and have a level of emotional development which is years ahead of the bully (whose level of emotional development is nearer that of a 5-year-old - or less). Targets of bullying are also non-violent, have a very low propensity to violence, and prefer to resolve conflict with dialogue. Bullies are driven by a seething inner resentment which is expressed through jealousy and envy. Bullies target children who have a higher-than-average emotional intelligence and who have high moral integrity which they're unwilling to compromise. Society, including parents and education systems, prefer children who are compliant, ie obedient, deferential, non-aggressive and quiet. This is regarded as "good behaviour" and thus indicative of a "good child" who is rewarded with approval. Children who are boisterous, ask lots of questions and who are reluctant to comply with the rules of the prevailing environment (regardless of how appropriate they are) are labelled aggressive, disruptive and defiant; this is regarded as "bad behaviour" and thus indicative of a "bad child". When a "good child" is bullied, he or she is suddenly labelled "sensitive", "passive", "timid", "meek" or "wimp". Those behaviours which formerly brought approbation are suddenly misappropriated to revile the child for their unwillingness to use violence in the face of aggression. This is especially apparent in those cases where the responsible adults are failing to fulfil their legal responsibilities for duty of care towards the child who is being bullied.

Children who are bullied are shy loners
Children who are bullied are often self-reliant and independent. Their level of emotional development is such that they don't need to join gangs, form cliques, wear the "in" clothes, sport the latest gadgets, or indulge in classroom politics. The bully works hard to separate, exclude and isolate those they target, usually by threatening their victim's friends with violence.

You're too sensitive
Sensitivity is often wrongly given a negative connotation. Sensitivity is a mixture of dignity, respect, care, thoughtfulness, tolerance, dislike of violence, empathy, care and consideration for others. Anyone who is not sensitive is insensitive. Bullies are insensitive.

You shouldn't sue for bullying because it prolongs victimhood
Bullying is in the same league as domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape and paedophilia. Many child bullies go on to commit at least one of these offences as well as other antisocial acts. Scandinavian research shows that 60% of school bullies will have a criminal record by the age of 24. Prosecuting the perpetrators and holding accountable those who have failed in their duty of care is very different to "prolonging victimhood". Many people (especially those who are emotionally immature or failing in their duty of care) become defensive and aggressive when faced with the "A" word: accountability. Whilst there will always be a few people who abuse the law of tort for personal gain, it is disingenuous to confuse this small minority (who may themselves be bullies feigning victimhood) with the majority of genuine cases. "Victimhood" should never be used as a smokescreen for abdication and denial of responsibility and evasion of accountability.

Bullies and victims are connected to each other, they are two sides of the same coin. We can think of bullying as a friendship that can't find a way to work.
Bullying is never "friendship" - bullying is a form of thuggery that results in long-lasting psychological injury, and sometimes suicide. Research from Warwick University (and elsewhere) shows bullying causes PTSD. At least 16 children commit suicide in the UK each year because of bullying which the responsible adults are failing to deal with. 6 out of 10 bullies gain a criminal record by the age of 24. To say that "bullying is a friendship that can't find a way to work" is to equivalent to suggesting that "domestic violence is a friendship that can't find a way to work" and "rape is a friendship that can't find a way to work" and "paedophilia is a friendship that can't find a way to work".

Bullies are popular children
Bullies are often surrounded by other children, not through popularity but through fear. The bully is rarely able to sustain a friendship (which is based on trust, dependability, loyalty and mutual respect) but instead forms alliances which are part of their strategy for power and control. A hard look at the bully and his or her cohorts will reveal a gang or clique mentality in which true friendship is absent. Some children side with the bully because they gain sufficient bravado to act like bullies themselves - which they are too weak and inadequate to do without the bully - but most children side with the bully for fear of otherwise becoming a target - a fear that is nearly always justified. Those children who do not join the gang or clique are then targeted by the bullies who gain power from numbers.

Bullies have high self-esteem
People with high self-esteem manifest their high self-esteem in enjoying only positive interactions with others. Bullies have only negative interactions with others; negative interactions are a hallmark of low self-esteem and emotional immaturity. The claim that bullies have high self-esteem seems to be a misperception (viewed from a distance) of arrogance, certitude, self-assuredness, invulnerability, untouchability, rule through fear, narcissism etc.

Bullies are tough people and we need tough people to run society
At least six out of ten bullies go on to become criminals. There's much anecdotal evidence to suggest that children who bully at school and who get away with it go on to be bullies in the workplace; bullying at work costs industry and taxpayers billions of pounds every year.

You'll never get rid of bullying so let's concentrate on teaching victims how to assert themselves
It is sensible to teach everybody strategies of self-defence, however, this must not be used as a smokescreen for encouraging bullies by failing to hold them accountable. Any anti-bullying scheme which omits accountability for the bullies is likely to have only limited success, and often no long-term success. It's likely we'll never completely get rid of harassment, discrimination, racism, abuse, molestation, paedophilia etc but we must never give up trying. Problems like bullying are solved by identifying and dealing with the cause, not by trying to hide, suppress or reduce the effects. Unfortunately, many people - and especially the responsible adults who are abdicating and denying their legal obligations - like to focus exclusively on the targets of bullying, thus distracting attention away from the source of the problem.

More information

Details of people, sites and organisations who can provide information, advice and support are on the links page.

For answers to frequently asked questions about school bullying and child bullying click here.

See also myths, misperceptions and stereotypes of adult bullying and workplace bullying.


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