10 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Bullying

Boy pulling girl's hair in school classroom
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You might have certain well-established ideas about bullying. But some of those beliefs might not be true. Here is a list of the ten most common myths and misconceptions about bullying.

Myth #1: All Bullies Are Loners and Have No Friends

There are actually many different types of bullies. So it's a mistake to assume that all bullies are the same. Some kids bully others because they too have been bullied, while others bully to climb the social ladder. Still, other kids bully people simply because they can.

Frequently, bullying is motivated by a desire for social power. In other words, the bully is a social climber and wants to increase his or her status at school. Bullying is viewed as effective because it controls and manipulates the social order at school.

Myth #2: Bullies Struggle With Self Esteem

Research shows that not all bullies pick on others because they feel bad about themselves. Instead, some of the most aggressive kids are also confident and socially successful. They have realized that bullying helps them gain more attention, have a wider social circle and maintain power at school.

In fact, the rewards kids get from gossiping, spreading rumors and ostracizing others can be significant. For this reason, it is extremely difficult to get bullies to stop, especially in middle school.

Myth #3: Being Bullied Makes You Stronger and Helps Build Character

Bullying in no way builds character. On the contrary, it tears down character and increases the target’s vulnerabilities. Kids who are bullied suffer emotionally and socially.

Being bullied can cause kids to feel lonely and isolated. And they may struggle with self-esteem and experience depression and moodiness. Bullying also leads to struggles in school and more illnesses. They may even contemplate suicide.

Myth #4: Kids Are Bullied Because They Have a Victim Personality

While it is true that some characteristics, such as being shy or withdrawn, can increase the chances that a child will be bullied, kids are not bullied because of their personality. Kids are bullied because the bully made a choice to target them.

When people try to explain bullying by indicating that a child has a victim personality, they are blaming the victim for the bullying. The blame and responsibility for the bullying fall on the bully, not the target. Additionally, labeling kids by saying they have a victim personality lets the bully off the hook and implies that if there were something different about the victim, the bullying would have never happened.

Myth #5: Bullying Isn’t a Big Deal, It’s Just Kids Being Kids

Contrary to popular belief, bullying is not a normal part of growing up. And it is a big deal. Bullying can have serious consequences. Aside from affecting the target’s academic performance, mental health, and physical well-being, bullying also can lead to suicide. What’s more, some of the emotional scars from bullying can last a lifetime. For instance, studies show that adults who were bullied as kids often have lower self-esteem and struggle with depression.

Myth #6: Kids Who Are Bullied Need to Learn How to Handle the Situation on Their Own

Adults often brush off bullying with a shrug. The idea is that kids should “just deal with it.” But kids cannot handle bullying situations on their own. If they could, they probably would. Anytime adults are aware of a bullying situation, they have an obligation to address it some way. Without adult intervention, the bullying will continue.

Myth #7: My Children Would Tell Me If They Were Being Bullied

Unfortunately, research shows that kids often keep silent about bullying. While there are a number of reasons why kids don’t tell, most of the time they are either too embarrassed to talk about it or too worried that the situation will get worse.

As a result, it is very important that parents and teachers are able to spot the signs of bullying. It’s never a good idea to count on kids to keep you in the loop. Even kids with excellent relationships with their parents will keep silent about bullying.

Myth #8: If My Child Is Bullied, the First Step in Addressing Bullying Is to Call the Bully’s Parents

In most cases, it's not a good idea to contact the bully’s parents. Not only will a conversation likely get heated, but it also might make a situation worse. Instead, the best course of action is to start with the teacher or an administrator when reporting bullying. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy that outlines how to deal with bullies. Make sure you request a face-to-face meeting and follow up to be sure the issue is being addressed.

Myth #9: Bullying Doesn’t Happen at My Child's School

When a shocking story about bullying makes the headlines, it's easy to adopt the mindset that something like that would never happen at your child’s school. The unfortunate truth is that bullying happens everywhere and not recognizing that could put your child at risk. Instead, be on the lookout for signs of bullying and keep the lines of communication open with your child. Bullying happens everywhere regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status.

Myth #10: Bullying Is Easy to Spot

Bullies are smart. They know where teachers and other adults are most of the time. As a result, bullying frequently happens when adults aren’t around to witness it. For instance, bullying often takes place on the playground, in the bathroom, on the bus, in a busy hallway or in the locker room.

Additionally, bullies are talented chameleons. In fact, the most relationally aggressive kids are the ones who are able to appear charming and charismatic on cue. What’s more, these children are smart socially. They use the same skills to manipulate teachers, administrators, and parents that they use to wound their peers. For this reason, adults need to look to bystanders for help in reporting bullying.

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