There are several reasons why someone may be bullied. They include everything from personality differences to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What’s more, anyone can be a target of bullying – even strong, athletic, and popular children.
However, there are certain characteristics that might increase a child’s chances of getting bullied. It’s important to remember that these children shouldn’t try to change their characteristics to avoid bullying, and I will explain why.
For 40 years, I tried to join different groups and changed my personality so many times in the hope of being accepted – without any luck. In the end, I did not know who I was anymore. Looking back now, I remember the people who accepted me for who I was and wanted to be my friend. I pushed them away because I wanted to be in the ‘cool group’. This group had the most fun, did the best things and seemed to get everything given to them. What I learnt is: just be who you feel most comfortable being, and you will attract the people who like you for being you. It took me hitting rock bottom to help me make that decision to just be me.
I hit rock bottom in 2006. I was kicked out of taekwondo after dedicating 27 years of my life to one martial arts organisation. At the same time, I did not receive a well-deserved promotion at work, and mum died after suffering dementia for over eight years. What kept me going is a message my father gave me before he passed away in 1994. He said, ‘Life will test you, challenge you, shake you or break you, but how strong you stand will make you. Always stand strong.’ The results speak for themselves.
Nonetheless, it’s helpful to know that there are several types of children who are often the target of bullies. These are characteristics or qualities that might make bullying more likely:
- Successful students – If your child is intelligent, determined or creative they may receive positive attention from their peers, which may make the bully feel inferior or that their abilities are being overshadowed. The bully wants to make the successful student feel unsure and doubt their abilities, which will reduce their ability to excel in their chosen field.
Suggestion – I recommend keeping an eye on your child’s school work and their test results and look for differences. Looking back at my school days I realise some of the best students received poor results because they were put under pressure by other students.
- Vulnerable students – If your child is introverted, anxious, depressed, has a stress-related condition or is submissive, they are more likely to be bullied than children who are extroverted and assertive. In fact, some researchers believe that children who lack self-esteem may attract children who are prone to bullying. Bullies select these children because they are an easy target and less likely to fight back. Most bullies want to feel powerful, so they often choose children who are weaker than them.
Suggestion – I recommend keeping an eye on your child’s attendance at school and their enthusiasm to get up in the morning and get ready for school. This could indicate a problem at school they may not want to talk to you about. It took 10 years of bullying before I decided to let my parents know what was happening.
- Isolated students – Many victims of bullying tend to have fewer friends than children who aren’t bullied. They may be rejected by their peers, excluded from social events, and may even spend lunch and recess alone. It is amazing the difference one friend can make because without a friend to back them up, these children are more likely to be targeted by bullies because they do not have to worry about someone coming to the victim’s aid.
Suggestion – Invite your child’s school friends over to your house or local park and provide an environment where they can build a strong bond through sharing, caring and participation.
- Distinctive physical appearance – Almost any type of physical characteristic that is different or unique can attract the attention of bullies. It may be that the victim is short, tall, thin or obese. They might wear glasses or have acne, a large nose or ears that stick out. It really doesn’t matter what it is, the bully will pick a feature and distort it into a target.
Suggestion – The best way to combat a bully who targets this type of person is to take away their audience. Encourage your child to walk away from them and go and stand near a teacher or adult. The bully won’t continue if the child has a bigger authority figure nearby.
- Popular students – Sometimes bullies target popular or well-liked children because of their popularity or social standing. The bully is looking to discredit them by spreading rumours, engaging in name-calling, and sometimes even resorting to cyberbullying in an effort to destroy their popularity.
The world has changed and we need to remind our children every day to show empathy, have more patience and understand that whether someone has an illness, disability or different sexual orientation or racial background, we need to respect them for being a part of our community. If we do not stand together now and reduce bullying to a manageable level, we will lose our humanity.