Q: Bullying isn’t just something that kids have to deal with while they are in school. What are some of the lasting effects of bullying?

A: Studies show that targets of serial bullying have greater difficulty forging lasting adult relationships. Specifically, they struggle greatly with trusting others, anger management, and especially resentment, which is one of the negative emotions that tether people to drug and alcohol abuse. A recent letter from the mother of an adult bullying survivor (ABS) puts a face to the under-reported problem. “Can you help my son? He has lots of anger, difficulty with social interaction and relationships, deep-seated resentment, self-hatred, is haunted by guilt and shame, and retreats into obsessive behavior when hurting.” Some never fully recover from what happened to them. 

Q: Many targets of bullying don’t speak out about it. How can parents tell if their child is one of them--or if their child is a bully?

A: Common signs of bullying include sudden outbursts of anger where they didn’t exist before, unexplained injuries, torn clothing and unexplained missing or broken personal items. A sudden drop in academic performance, a lack of interest in school and a desire to miss or leave school are also indicators.

Signs that your child is bullying are harder to ascertain. Signs could include how your child speaks about other people as if they aren’t fully human. One of the universal words used by bullies to describe others is that the targets of their disdain are “animals.”

Serial bullies will eventually be discovered, so look for patterns. They are adept at explaining away their behavior as “No big deal,” “I was just playing around,” and how the target is “such an idiot--no one likes her anyway.” If officials come to you and tell you that your child is suspected or guilty of bullying, your child is probably a bully. 

Q: You say that the traditional ways of solving the problem by trying to reform bullies are ineffective. What’s the right way?

A: Unfortunately, serial bullies are not easily reached through appeals to peace, love and understanding. They listen to power, limits and consequences. They need to see that the pain of continuing to abuse others is worse than the pain of giving it up. So bullies need to know why stopping is good for them. Explain to them that statistics show that they are headed for a life of crime if they don’t stop, as well as broken relationships and drug and alcohol abuse. 

Ultimately, serial bullies do not need more self-esteem. They need greater humility and humility is expressed by apologizing to their target(s).

Q: How can kids stand up to being bullied?

A: Since most bullying is verbal, they need to learn how to handle verbal attacks. They need to learn to appear more confident and assertive. And sometimes this means not responding to bullying and pretending that it doesn’t bother them. Bullies want a public display of pain, anguish and humiliation. Help your child learn how to not give this to them. And sometimes assertive but non-violent verbal comebacks are appropriate. One is, “Whatever.” It’s dismissive without escalating the dialogue. And it’s short. Bullies want a long, drawn out response. Don’t give it to them.

Martial arts can be effective as well in ways that some don’t realize. Instead of drawing a child into physical battle, martial arts can actually help a child carry himself or herself with greater confidence and self-assurance. It can help them put off a different “vibe” around peers, making them less likely to be bullied.

Q: 85% of bullying takes place in front of someone else. What role do bystanders play in bullying?

A: Bystanders have the most potential power of all four “characters” (Bully, Target, Authority and Bystander) in what The Protectors calls the “Theater of Bullying.” One study shows that if one bystander (they don’t have to be big or popular) stands up, using assertive but non-violent words while defending a target that the incident of bullying can end 58% of the time within 6-8 seconds. The Protectors takes this power and multiplies it by using the “Power of Two,” where two bystanders join together and defend others. This unique approach of turning bystanders into what we call “Alongside Standers” is changing schools across America and the world.