The ‘Circle of Bullying’ and Signs a Child/Teenager is Being Bullied


To truly understand the bully experience, it is important to understand that bullying may not be confined solely to the bully and the victim. Other key people may be involved, some in an active role and others in a passive role and researchers refer to this phenomenon as the ‘circle of bullying’ and comprises of:

  • The bully
  • The victim

and possibly

  • The bystander
  • The assistant
  • The upstander
  • The bully victim

Who are the Bullies?
Please refer to YouTube video and blog post #16

Who are the Victims of a Bully?
Whilst any child/teenager may be the victim of a bully, it is thought that kids are usually bullied because of social status, appearance or are seen as being ‘different.’ According to O’Moore and Kirkham (2001), victims of bullies are usually shy, have low-self-esteem and feel isolated from other students. Identified risk factors include:

  • are less popular
  • Have low self-esteem
  • May be of a different ethnicity and/or religion
  • Don’t get along with others, they may be annoying, provoking, antagonizing
  • Are perceived as weak, different or unable to defend him/herself: hearing impaired, self harms, mental illness, physical disability, LBQTG, obese

An important point to mention is that even if a child/teenager has any of these risk factors, it does not mean he or she will be bullied. Fostering a child/teenager’s self worth

Who are Bystanders?
Many people believe that bystanders are just as bad as the bully. Their passive participation sends a message to the victim that bullying is acceptable, and they don’t care. This is not necessarily true, there may be those who want to help, but unless the kids feel they will be supported by the teacher, school staff and other adults then there is little chance they will intervene. Interestingly, research is showing that “even bystanders are often deeply affected by bullying that occurs in their presence. They tend to become desensitized over time to the pain endured by the victims and to develop rationalizations for the bullying rather than seeing it as clearly wrong or undeserved. In fact, when witnessing bullying incidents, bystanders spend as much as seventy-five percent of that time reinforcing the bullies’ behavior. The result can only be the coarsening of school culture and the further isolation and victimization of the bullies’ targets” (Packman et al., 2011). There are three types of bystanders:

  • Those who ‘enjoy the show’
  • The sidekicks and wannabes
  • The silent majority

Who are Upstanders?
An upstander is a child/teenager who stands up to a bully. An upstander intervenes. When popular kids use their power to stand up to a bully it encourages other kids to stand up. Research has shown that 57 percent of bullying stops when a peer intervenes.

Who are Assistants?
The ‘assistants,’ usually do not start the bullying behaviour, but acts as an ‘assistant’ to the bully by encouraging the behaviour and occasionally joining in.

Who is a Bully Victim?
Recently, there has been an increase in school and workplace shootings related to bullying. The perpetrator, a bully victim. A bully victim is the most dangerous of all bullies. Firstly, he/she was a victim of a bully and nothing was done. Secondly, a bully victim usually has poor social skills and problems with schoolwork and is almost always rejected or isolated by peers. Consequently, he/she will experience more intense behavioural and emotional problems that children/teenagers who are the victim or the bully.

Thirdly, a bully victim can be aggressive and may seek retaliation against those involved in the bullying incidents e.g. school shootings: Columbine, Parkhurst. Children/teenagers who are bullied on-line and at school are twice as likely to exhibit aggressive behaviours and seek revenge. Research has found that school shooters shared a significant number of traits and behaviors that are chillingly characteristic of school bullies or their victims, including poor coping skills, lack of resiliency, alienation, dehumanization of others, lack of empathy, intolerance, exaggerated sense of entitlement, low self-esteem, and anger management problems. For example, Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, left a suicide note which read: “your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time are dead.”

Signs a Child/Teenager is Being Bullied

  • Disruptive behaviour (children with poor communication skills (hearing impaired, learning disability) may become uncooperative and difficult with everyone.)
  • Failing grades, homework/assignment not completed
  • Becoming anxious or stressed about going to school (or the place where bullying occurs)
  • Lost or damaged possessions
  • Clothes being ripped, missing or dirty
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises
  • Not eating at school (could indicate loss of lunch money)
  • Arriving at school late or skipping school
  • Becoming anxious near home time
  • Faking illness to miss school
  • Loss of friends
  • Not playing with or seeing friends at playtime or after school
  • Sitting alone in class
  • Asking to stay inside at break times
  • Staying near the teacher on duty during breaks
  • Becoming withdrawn and not taking part in class
  • Taking a weapon to school
  • Verbal, written expressions e.g. poetry, music, art
  • Complains of headaches, digestive problems, sleeping problems, weight loss, loss of appetite (3 to 4 times more likely)

Children/teenagers who are bullied and do not receive help are at an increased risk of: substance abuse, mental health problems (depression, anxiety), academic problems, behavioural issues (violence), death by Bullycide, or may become a bully victim. Up to one-third of gay youth have attempted suicide, 29 percent of victims reported they had suicidal thoughts and/or had attempts suicide whilst 38 percent of bully victims reported suicidal thinking and wanting to die.

Pacman, J., Lepkowski, W.J., Christian, R., Overton, C., and Smaby, M. (2011). WE’RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT: A STUDENT DRIVEN ANTI-BULLYING APPROACH, Education Vol.125, 4, 546-556

In my next Blog #19
I will discuss how to help a child/teenager who is being bullied and how to deal with a bully

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