While many families look forward to the possibilities the new school year brings, some children dread the arrival of September for fear they'll encounter the school bully. Paul Coughlin is founder of The Protectors, an organization that promotes faith-based solutions to bullying. In a recent interview with the 700 Club, Coughlin shared insights on the nature of bullying and how parents, teachers and peers can effectively intervene. 

Q: You say bullying is not always physical intimidation. What are some other forms of bullying?

A: Most bullying is verbal, not physical, which is why it’s so important to help our children learn how to not respond with a public display of pain or anguish, and if they do, to provide quick and effective verbal comebacks that defend their own dignity and at the same time do not escalate the problem. Another popular form of bullying is excluding and isolating other kids. 

Q: You believe that parents who coddle their kids are unwittingly making them targets of bullying. How so?

A: Coddling, or over-parenting, often makes children psychologically fragile and unsure of how they fit into the world around them. It tends to breed an insecure and non-assertive orientation toward the world around them, and non-assertive children are among the prime targets of bullies.

Q: Why are some kids singled out by bullies?

A; Most serial bullies are highly predatory and selective of who, how and when they intentionally harm another person over time. They target people who they are confident will not push back and accept their abuse. Such targets tend to be passive and unsure of themselves and have few if any friends who will defend them. 

Among the most bullied group of kids in any organization will be physically and mentally challenged children, most of whom have no real relationship to their bullies. Such people are targets because contrary to what many of us have been told, bullies possess  average to excessive self-esteem. Many believe they are superior to others. 

Some bullies are more brazen and audacious. Motivated by jealousy and envy, they will sometimes target more popular students. Why are they willing to take such additional risk? Their excessive pride and arrogance compel them to take great risk in their attempt to wrestle attention away from others. They possess an entitled mindset that causes them to believe that they are more important and valuable than others. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to reform. In some cases we should stop calling it bullying and call it what it really is: pre-criminal behavior. It’s worth noting that serial bullies are five times more likely to commit a major crime by their middle 20s, and four times more likely to abuse their future spouse and children. 

Q: On the other side of the issue, why do some kids become bullies?

A: Bullies tend to, but not always, have parents who are coercive and possess a dominating and superior orientation toward others. So their children grow up with parents who model bullying. Bullies can also come from homes where there is lack of adult supervision, especially male supervision. Some studies have connected inordinate consumption of violent media to bullying.

What can really help us understand why some people bully and others don’t is to think of the ring in the popular novel and movie series, Lord of the Ring. The ring represents dark power, and the more one puts it on, the more perverted that person becomes. Many kids try on the ring of bullying. They feel the rush of power, pleasure and even glee that comes from dominating and humiliating another person. C.S. Lewis called this the Diabolical Self. But most kids take the ring off. Their conscience catches up with them. Serial bullies, however, keep the ring on. The pleasure they receive from intentionally harming another is simply too powerful and pleasurable for them to resist.