How to Deal With School Bullies of All Ages
Bullies can make our lives difficult at any age-
even when you're an adult
-but you don't have to sit by and take undeserved punishment from someone bigger, louder, or meaner than you. Here are a few approaches you can take.
Get out those Trapper Keepers and sharpen your No. 2 pencils-it's Back-to-School Week! Going far beyond the classroom, we're bringing you genius tricks and ideas on how to start routines, brush up on old skills or learn something new this fall.
To get some sound advice on resisting bullies, I spoke with
Jeffrey DeGroat, PhD, LP
, a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Michigan. He says
Ignore Them Up to a Point
The first option is to ignore the bully, says DeGroat. They're attempting to upset you in an effort to provoke a reaction from you. If you don't react, there's no reward for the bully. They want you to yell, cry, cower, look sad, do anything that suggests they're getting to you. It makes them feel powerful. If you ignore them completely the power goes away. If you can tough it out, they'll get bored and move on.
DeGroat notes that this is one of the most difficult approaches to bullies, but it's also one of the most effective. To help yourself out, he suggests you try this mental exercise:
One technique I often recommend to students is to imagine the bully is a 2-year-old child. Generally, if we have a 2-year-old calling us names, we ignore them because we do not see them as a threat. Therefore, by viewing a bully as a 2-year-old we recognize that their name-calling is not a threat, making the process of ignoring them even easier.
Choose to see them as something non-threatening and they'll start to feel that way. Of course, if their abuse is more physical in nature, or you feel in danger, consider a different approach, like...
Tell an Authority Figure Who Can and Will Help
DeGroat says a bully's power is often magnified if we feel too ashamed to tell anyone about it. Do not be embarrassed by your situation, and do not hesitate to let someone know what's going on. Go to a teacher, a counselor, or your parents, and explain the situation. Once you inform someone else, you're no longer alone in dealing with it.
The other reason it's good to tell an authority figure-especially someone at your school-is because you'll be protected if something happens. DeGroat explains:
Bullies may attempt to claim that you are the aggressor, in an attempt to protect themselves from getting in trouble. By reporting the bullying to the authorities, we are protecting ourselves from potential false accusations from the bully.
If you get into a physical altercation, your teacher or counselor will know immediately that the bully is lying about who started it because you told them about the issues before. I offer one piece of advice, however: tell the authority figure in private if you can. Don't raise your hand and tattletale in front of the whole class or you might make things worse (plus you'll get labeled as a snitch by everyone else).
Fight Back in Self-Defense Only
Your third last-resort option is to fight back. This approach is a bit more controversial, says DeGreat, but it can also be extremely effective. You're not just ignoring the bait a bully dangles in front of you, you're throwing it back at them. But DeGroat says it's only ever recommended if you discuss this approach with your parents and they're comfortable with it, and there's an important distinction to be made before you do anything:
Often times, bullies physically assault other students. While their targets might try to ignore these aggressive behaviors, or tell teachers about these aggressive behaviors, the bullies may persist. As long as the student and parents are comfortable, I indicate that the student has the choice to fight back in self-defense. I do not recommend the student fight the bully in retaliation, but self-defense , an important distinction.
What does "self-defense" mean, exactly? For one, you should never start a confrontation with your bully. Only respond to what they do. You also need to keep your focus on protecting yourself, not hurting them. The key is to show you're willing to defend yourself, not prove that you're up for fisticuffs. Think of it like this: you just want them to know that you won't make things easy for them. That's often all it takes.
DeGroat points out, however, that choosing to fight back in self-defense means you should expect to face consequences for your behavior. Many schools have a zero-tolerance policy for fighting, even if you're defending yourself, so be prepared for that. And again, DeGroat highly recommends you discuss this option with your parents first. If anything, them knowing how serious you are about handling your bully might motivate them to find other courses of action that are better suited for the situation.
Whatever approach you take, DeGroat emphasizes the importance of reaching out to someone you trust. That may be a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a teacher. Just having someone to talk to will keep you from feeling alone and powerless. And if the bullying is extreme and persistent, talk to your school counselor immediately, and consider talking to a mental health provider to help you work your way through what's going on in you mind. There are so many people out there than can help you help yourself, so don't hesitate to reach out.