Bullying Affects Everyone

In a Q&A with Vision & Values, Director of Student Advancement Allison Bobick discusses everything from the tell-tale signs of a bully personality to the impact of bullying on victims and bystanders.

March 04, 2013

Allison Bobick is one of the Graduate School of Social Work’s pioneers. Six years ago, she joined our school to teach a course on Values and Ethics. Soon afterwards, Professor Bobick assumed her current position, director of Student Advancement. 

In this role, she is responsible for all student professional development events, provides student counseling and continues to teach. Professor Bobick also maintains a private practice in New York City, specializing in anxiety and depression. 

In the recent past, she spearheaded a Touro Graduate School of Social Work conference that focused on bullying, a widespread, troubling phenomenon that school social workers are increasingly confronting. Professor Bobick shares her knowledge and insights about bullying. 

What prompted you to organize a conference on bullying? 

As director of Student Advancement, I’m responsible for community day events, such as conferences, for our MSW students. Bullying is a timely and significant topic for aspiring social workers. The recent reports of bullying-related suicides in the news prompted our selection of this topic. I have so much empathy for young people who, I presume, felt so alone and ashamed that they were compelled to take their lives. The very mission of the Graduate School of Social Work and of our profession necessitates a deep examination of this problem. 

Can bullying lead to greater consequences in the victim or bully’s life? 

Absolutely. Everyone is affected by bullying. Children who bully often have difficulty sustaining friendships/ relationships and are at a higher risk of being incarcerated for anti-social behaviors. The victims are at a higher risk for depression and suicide, and it’s also possible that they will release their accumulated rage in a revenge killing outburst. In addition, witnesses and bystanders can experience guilt and anxiety. 

How does bullying differ from teasing or horseplay? 

Bullying is a willful and deliberate hostile activity or behavior intended to harm someone else for pleasure. It is repetitive, pervasive and ongoing, and most importantly, bullying is about an imbalance of power. That means bullies target those perceived to be more vulnerable. 

Unlike adolescent teasing, there’s nothing benign about bullying. And while teasing can feel terrible and shaming, it doesn’t have the aspect of power and control, which are central to bullying. 

Do bullies share certain personality traits? 

They are people who derive pleasure from someone else's pain, have difficulty following rules and regulations, lack empathy, may be impulsive and feel empowered when they bully. 

Is it true that bullies’ own low self-esteem drives them to bullying to mask their own feelings of inadequacy? 

That’s a myth. Rather, they suffer from aggressive temperaments and a lack of empathy. Bullying is also a behavior that individuals can learn from peers, as well as in the home setting. It’s not uncommon for bullies to experience or witness maltreatment and neglect at home. 

Are males or females more likely to be bullies? 

Bullying occurs in both genders, but the types of behavior are often different. Generally, boys use overt tactics, such as pushing or verbally insulting or threatening. Girls are more likely to bully indirectly, such as starting rumors or leaving someone out of social plans. But these are generalizations, since both genders can bully. 

At what stage in life is bullying most prevalent? 

It’s most prevalent in the middle school years, but a 2010 study on bullying revealed that 1 in 7 students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade is either a bully or victim of bullying. Plus, more than 56 percent of students have witnessed a bullying act take place in the school setting. 

Is there a personality type that bullies are most likely to target? 

Bullies choose victims who have little social support, are isolated, may be shy or withdrawn and are less able to defend themselves. Bullies get their sense of power by 

making others feel small and powerless. It’s power and control they seek. 

Over the course of time, what’s likely to become of bullies and their victims? 

Bullying affects everyone. Children who bully are more likely to be incarcerated by the time they turn 25 years old. Meanwhile, victims fall into self-blame, believing they are somehow responsible for triggering the bullies’ wrath. Victims also experience long-term, low self-esteem and either they implode or explode at some point. Bullying may be so frightening and shaming that victims take their own lives, an act called “bullycide.” 

Please describe the different kinds of bullying. 

Bullying can be direct - as in touching, hitting, shoving, spitting, teasing, taunting and making racial slurs. It can also be indirect - such as getting another person to bully the victim, or excluding a person or hurting someone via character assassination. In recent years, there have 

been many incidences of young people committing suicide because they were called gay - whether or not it was true. Increasingly, students are also being taunted when they wished to keep their sexual orientation private. 

Spreading humiliating information or falsehoods via the Internet, including social media, is the essence of cyber-bullying. 

Besides schools and cyberspace, bullying can also happen in the workplace between supervisor and employee. Such bullying includes everything from the supervisor spreading rumors about the subordinate to excluding the subordinate from vital information or meetings. 

How can schools combat bullying? 

First, the school community - parents, students and faculty - must be made aware of the danger of bullying - as well as how to prevent and stop it. Children must be taught empathy, tolerance and respect for diversity. Bullies must be held responsible for their toxic behavior. Schools shouldn’t deny that bullying is occurring or seek to spin it into normal behavior. Schools should hold staff development conferences to discuss bullying and plan interventions. 

Each school should also have an anti-bully task force, with the school social worker playing a vital role, and a prevention program for both bullies and the bullied. The Olweus Intervention Model from Norway is the most comprehensive initiative and is in the process of being implemented in many school systems. 

What’s the school social worker’s role in bringing bullying to an end? 

Social workers in the school setting, as well as in the community, can make significant contributions. They can identify early warning signs of students’ bullying tendencies and help these students learn acceptable ways of managing their aggression. Likewise, the social worker can identify and help vulnerable children, those who are less assertive, may be socially different and lack inner strength and resilience. The social worker can foster a greater sense of self-acceptance and inner courage. 

With our clinical assessment and intervention skills, social workers are ideal for serving as the designated anti-bully coordinator in a school system. Since social workers embrace acceptance and diversity, we can serve as role models for treating all people - regardless of their differences - with dignity and respect. 

In addition, social workers can work with school professionals and parents to help them understand the forms that bullying can take and its dangers. Understanding is key to prevention. 

Last but certainly not least, we can alert school professionals to hot spots where bullying typically takes place - as in the lunchroom, the bathroom, the gym and outside areas, where students are alone and unsupervised. These places need to be monitored much more frequently. 

We need to supervise students closely so that we can head off the bullying that’s precipitated by anger. 

What are some other steps social workers can take? 

The social worker plays a pivotal role in heightening self-awareness and acceptance of diversity. There needs to be respect for differences - whether they relate to mannerisms, temperament, culture or appearance. That means, helping each and everyone not only take pride in their own uniqueness but respect the uniqueness of others. 

In the Graduate School of Social Work, we strive to teach our students to model such positive behaviors. 


From Vision & Values, Winter 2013