At age 4, my son hopped in the car after school and said, “Mama, today I learned about bowling.” Confused, I asked for clarification. He said, “Bowling. It’s when someone does something mean to you over and over again. They’re bowling and bowling, and they keep bowling.” Seeing the confused look on my face, his 6-year-old brother piped up and said, “The guidance counselor came around today to talk about bullying. He’s saying ‘bullying.”’ Ah. That made a lot more sense.
Once it sunk in, I became sad thinking about my pre-kindergartener having to learn what a bully is. I also thought about how much bullying has changed since I was a kid—maybe not to a 4-year-old, but definitely to a bigger kid. Even though bullying looks different, one thing that remains true is that an involved and in-the-know parent is better equipped to help. Do you know the 5 types of bullies?
I’ll always remember a particular boy in my ninth grade P.E. class who decided the short kid with a few extra pounds would be his victim for the semester. The bully laughed at his attempts to play volleyball, tripped him as we ran laps around the track, and even hid his shirt one day so he couldn’t change back into his regular clothes. A few years later, I found out the bully had an older brother who regularly used him as a punching bag. The bully-victim, also known as the bullied bully, is being beaten up or picked on somewhere else in his life, so he picks on weaker kids to take back his power.
2. Popular Bullies
When I was a kid, there was the stereotype of the mean jock who picked on the nerdy kid just to get laughs. That might still happen, but more likely, the girl with lots of Instagram followers leaves a nasty comment on a classmate’s post, and other kids pile on in hopes the popular girl notices them. Popular bullies are usually either wealthy, athletic, attractive, or have such a strong personality that they intimidate not only other kids but also the adults in their lives. They get away with bullying because their peers, who should stand up for the victims, want to be accepted by them.
3. Relational Bullies
If you’ve seen Mean Girls, you know how relational bullies act. They gossip, label people, and call them names. Jealousy fuels their fire. They are called relational because in order to feel better about themselves, they need to feel superior to someone else. Many kids won’t stand up to relational bullies out of fear of becoming their next victim.
4. Serial Bullies
In my opinion, serial bullies are the scariest of them all because they are masters of deception and manipulation. A friend’s daughter was bullied her entire seventh-grade year because every time she went to the teacher (and eventually administration), the serial bully, disguised as a friend, convinced everyone it was a misunderstanding. On one occasion, she actually said she thought my friend’s daughter wanted her to dump ketchup all over her nachos. “I thought you said you liked it!” she argued, with an innocent blink of her lashes.
5. Group Bullies
I remember this type of bullying happening at a skating party when I was little. I watched from the sidelines as my classmates waved to a boy to come over and as soon as he’d get to them, they’d all skate away as fast as they could. Then they’d do it again. He kept trying to be part of the group, but they only wanted to see how fast they could get away. Group bullies are usually not bad kids one-on-one, but in the group, they lose their ability to think on their own. Gang mentality sets in and they resort to the excuse that “everyone was doing it.”
Why does it help your child to know the types of bullies?
First, your child will be able to see bullying for what it is. She won’t mistake it for friendship or social hierarchy. When our kids are able to recognize bullying, they’ll hopefully be less likely to accept it being done to them or someone else. Another benefit to knowing the types of bullies is understanding the bully’s motivation, which shows a child it’s often not about her but about the bully’s own insecurities.
A benefit to knowing the types of bullies is understanding the bully’s motivation, which shows a child it’s often not about her but about the bully’s own insecurities.
The last and maybe most troubling reason your child should know the types of bullies is to recognize if she has been a bully herself so she can stop the behavior. Ask your kids if they know anyone who bullies like the kids in these examples. If they have the courage to admit they’ve done it, support them in breaking the habit and offering an apology to the kids they’ve hurt.
Which type of bully do you think is the most harmful?
ASK YOUR CHILD…
Why would someone who is popular be a bully?