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Bullying 101

BullyingI remember it clearly.  A kid at school (lets call him Ryan) had been antagonizing me all year.  One afternoon, I was sitting down, minding my own business, when suddenly he came over and spit right in my ear!  I was too dumbfounded to do anything, and Ryan went away laughing.  I stewed over the humiliating experience all day and all night.  The next day, when I bumped into Ryan, I unleashed a torrent of verbal punches that visibly cut him down and hurt him immensely.  It was way too much.

Decades have passed since that event, but I still look for Ryan on Facebook.  I want to let him know I’m sorry for that incident so many years ago.  He was never the same kid after that, and I know my actions may have had something to do with that.

We all have stories like this, don’t we?  Maybe you acted as the bully.  Or maybe you were the one being bullied.  Either way, those incidents of mistreatment have a profound effect on our lives.  As parents, it is impossible to protect our teens from bullies at all times.  But we can prepare them.  We can give our kids the tools to guard their hearts and minds from the damage of bullying, and help others do the same.  But first, we have to learn a little bit more about the problem.

Who is the Bully?

Boys and girls are inherently different, and this is clearly evident in the way they intimidate others.  Girls tend to inflict pain on an emotional and psychological level.  It happens when they exclude victims by freezing them out of the lunchroom seating arrangements, ignoring them on the playground, or shunning them when party invitations are handed out.

Boys aren’t as subtle when it comes to bullying.  Guys are more prone to insult their victims on the playground than ignore them.  Instead of isolating a non-athletic victim during a gym class dodge ball game, they might take relentless aim and target the child.  They tend to physically harass and intimidate others through displays of strength and superiority.

Male or female, bullies act as predators.  They focus on a weakness they see in others, and exploit it for the most damage.  When they see someone with their head down, shoulders slouched, and looking apprehensive, bullies are likely to go in for the kill.  I have found that a good technique to thwart the attacks of a bully is similar to fending off bears and mountain lions.  I tell my teens to stand tall, walk with confidence, and look people in the eyes when you speak.  These subtle, physical signs tell bullies that you are not a weak target.

Relationship and Communication

A good way to prepare our teens for the bullies they face is to instill confidence in the home.  Parents need to consistently demonstrate that their child is valued and loved.  Mom and Dad, there is no better way to prepare your child for bullies than to maintain a good relationship and keep the conversation going.  Honest communication is powerful.  Once teens get talking about the emotions that have built up inside of them, it helps them release negative feelings.  Set aside an afternoon every week to sit and talk with your teen.  Ask your son or daughter, Have you ever been bullied?  How did you respond?  How did you get over it?  Knowing that someone is listening and cares makes your teen feel valued and protected.

Stop the Bystander

Cracking down on the victimizers or teaching victims to stand up for themselves is not going to stop bullying in the long run.  The only way to end the bully epidemic is to stop the bystander.  Eighty-five percent of bullying takes place in front of other people.  Bullies are performing for an audience.  When others sit back and watch someone receive unjust treatment, it only fuels the bully’s compulsion to show off for their friends.  But according to a study by The Family Resource Facilitation Program, bullying stops in less than ten seconds when someone intervenes. 

Even if your child is not bullying others or being bullied, it is crucial we explain the importance of taking a stand.  Reward and praise your kids when they speak up for someone in need.  Model the courage needed to look out for those who are being abused.  Tell them stories you hear about people supporting victims.  Helping your teen develop a strong conviction against bullying is the best way to combat this growing problem in our schools.

Care for the Bullies

When looking for someone to blame, we often put the spotlight on the bully.  But in reality, the bully is often the one who needs our help.  Intimidation is a learned trait.  A child who is victimizing another child most likely had the same thing done to him or her.  They are living out what they have learned.  Many Heartlight students have told me that they had to bully others just to survive.

Bullies need our love and encouragement.  While we do not condone their behavior, we should seek to understand what is behind their actions.  If your teen is terrorizing other kids, don’t react by blowing up.  Ask them if the same thing was done to them, and then show how their actions are causing pain.  Many times bullies do not realize how much damage they are doing.  Once confronted, they usually express remorse.  Let’s be sure to love the bullied and the bully together.

Let’s face it.  Kids are not the only ones who deal with insensitive people.  Who hasn’t encountered a bully on the freeway, in the office, or in line at the grocery store?  We are hassled by aggressive and unpleasant people even as adults.  There’s never been a better time than right now to give your child the tools they need to prepare for a world of bullies.  It’s a lesson they will carry with them through life.

*Name has been changed


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at


Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.