Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Words Hurt

Are we labeling children when we call them a bully?

A few weeks ago I was asked to write an article on bullying. Something kept jumping off the page as I attempted to write the piece…the word "Bully.” The more I tried to finish the article, I just couldn't. Something was eating away at me as I tried to write. I felt like I was labeling a child by putting a stereotyping name on a person, as opposed to a behavior—albeit a very serious and concerning behavior. I was taken back to my Junior High School English class when we were reading The Scarlet Letter. I remember reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's deeply written book thinking,“that's not fair, that's not right, people shouldn’t do that to her (Hester).” That same feeling that was stirred in High School found its way back to me today. "What am I doing?" I asked myself. I have labeled a child "Bully" and yet, I know that bullying is a behavior—not a person. Many of these kids come from broken homes, they cry out for acceptance, they lack social skills, they need anger management, but most of all they need love…

With this relevation I placed the shoe on the other foot and stepped into the world of the child who bullies…I tore the label off of the child and wrote an article from a child's perspective, a hurt child. Although the current piece does not duplicate the article that I wrote, you can access it at the link below.

"What About Those Doing the Bullying? They Deserve Our Help Too: A Child's Plea" at http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/what-about-those-doing-bullying-t...

Why we need to be careful not to label a child

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with mental health disorders are three times more likely to be identified as children who bully. 

Did you know that children who bully are at risk of:

Children who bully are more likely than peers who do not bully to live in single parent households and to live with extended family members or with foster parents. Children who bully are also at an increased risk of criminal involvement. In a study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence approximately half of the men sampled who reported that they bullied other children during their teen years, also engaged in some form of criminal activity (i.e., theft, burglary and assault) when they were adults. Early intervention may help deter these children from going down the wrong path in adulthood.

Skills children who bully often lack include:

  • how to appropriately communicate with one another
  • how to express their feelings without belittling or putting someone down
  • how to make good decisions and learn how bad choices result in negative consequences
  • how to work through anger effectively
  • how to cope with frustrating and stressful situations
  • how to be empathetic to others
  • how to care for self and others

Not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it will take a village to change how children treat one another. Bullying is a very real problem plaguing our youth and it is all inclusive—from those children who have been targeted, to those who have watched it happen, to those who have initiated it. No child is unaffected by the grasp of bullying.

Bullying is a learned behavior and behaviors can be changed. So rather than using the word “bully” to describe a child, perhaps a more appropriate way to phrase it would be, "the child who bullies.” Hopefully, we can collectively agree that our words have power. And as many anti-bullying campaigns point out…"words hurt."

Disclaimer: Since writing the article I have worked hard to not use the word "bully" to describe a child. Some may claim it as an attempt to be "PC," but there is no "PC"—it's simply the right thing to do…

As always, thank you for reading.

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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