If you've ever found yourself asking, "Why do teens bully?," interview subject Karen Duling may have the answers. The founder and president of Bully Know More, Karen was once in direct sales. Those early management lessons drove home the importance of giving people positive reinforcement for a job well done. When she started on her Master's work at Sullivan University, it only made sense to take that philosophy one step further and look at how to stop bullying in schools and in the work place. In her work with Bully Know More, a company which seeks to put an end to bullying, Karen gives speeches and workshops on bullying topics in Louisville, Kentucky and surrounding areas.
Why Do Teens Bully: Interview with Karen Duling
About Karen Duling
LoveToKnow (LTK): Karen, thank you so much for agreeing to talk about bullies and what makes them tick. You had a dream to start workshops to teach kids not to bully each other, and you are now living that dream. Why did you want to offer these workshops?
Karen Duling (KD): I started studying bullying when working on my Master's in Conflict Management in 2008 at Sullivan University. I was very disheartened to hear of this growing problem and felt like if I could do anything to help, I wanted to. Some people are "left brain" people who are good with numbers. I am very much a "right brain" person who finds it easy to get along with others and understand where they are coming from.
LTK: Did you ever have to deal with a bully as a kid?
KD: Not really. I grew up in a different time and in a small town where everyone knew everyone else and the moms all knew each other. It wasn't as easy to "get away" with bullying then. The other thing that's different is that cyber bullying is new. It is worse than traditional (school yard) bullying because it follows people into their homes. When someone used to bully you at school, maybe five or ten people saw it. Now, when someone posts something on the Internet about you, it is there for the entire world to see!
Some Facts About Bullying
LTK: Can you define what constitutes bullying to clear up any confusion?
KD: Bullying is a repeated act (not just a one time event) in which the bully is trying to gain power from the "target." It is one-sided and mean-spirited (not "a joke"). Bullying can take different forms such as: verbal, physical, relational, sexual, or cyber.
LTK: Can you explain the different types of bullying?
- Physical bullying is where someone might hit, trip, elbow, kick or otherwise physically hurt you.
- Verbal bullying can be gossiping, spreading rumors, name calling, etc.
- Relational bullying is refusing to be someone's friend, leaving people out, not letting someone sit with you, etc.
- Sexual bullying is someone pressuring you to do sexual acts that you do not want to do.
- Cyber bullying is when someone uses technology to post things to scare/harass you or to post negative things about you. It can also mean sharing private information or pictures/video on the Internet, a social networking site, email, or text messaging.
LTK: A recent study in the UK found that many bullies actually have a negative view of themselves. Have you found that to be true? If so, how can parents and schools work to correct this problem in teens?
KD: There are times when people may feel bad about themselves, so they try to bring others down. This makes the bully feel more powerful and more popular if he or she picks on others. To correct this problem, we need to teach that everyone has feelings.
Why Do Teens Bully?
LTK: What is it that makes a teen want to bully other teens, do you think?
KD: Bullying is about power. They try to gain more power by bullying others. They feel a sense of power over the powerless.They do it to get attention from other kids - thinking this will make them more popular.
LTK: You've talked to a lot of kids during your workshops. Do bullies feel bad when they make another child afraid?
KD: Generally, no. Bullies are lacking in empathy and generally do not consider how others feel or how what they are doing affects others.
What Can Parents of a Bully Do?
LTK: What can parents do if they see this tendency in their child to help counteract it?
KD: Empathy and respect for others is something we absolutely can teach our children. Think of a typical two-year-old. If he wants a toy another child is playing with, he goes and takes it. The child is only thinking of what he wants, his needs. We should teach the child by saying, "No, no Billy. You cannot just take the ball from Johnny." Trying to understand where others are coming from, looking at things from their point of view, taking into consideration other's feelings are all things we need to continue to make sure our children are cognizant of [this issue].
LTK: Are there any exercises you recommend that can help make teens more aware of whether or not they are bullying others?
KD: They should stop to think if they would like to be treated the same way they treat others. The Golden Rule, "Do to others as you want others to do to you," is the best thing teens can remember. I do an exercise when I'm speaking in front of a group in which I have one kid squirt some shaving cream out of a can into a pie plate, and then I ask other student to put the shaving cream back in the can. Of course they cannot do it. It's the same with our words, or our posts on the Internet. We cannot "take back" something once it's been said.
What Can Schools Do?
LTK: Do you see school sports playing a role? I know some researchers have suggested when too much emphasis is placed on any area, be it sports or the arts, this can have a negative impact on the students that don't excel in these areas.
KD: Yes. When too much emphasis is put on sports, and the other teens look at the team players as being "heroes" or something, that isn't right. I never had any talents that in high school would get me recognized. I couldn't sing, I wasn't athletic. My mom kept telling me that everyone is good at something and I would find what I was good at. Little did I know....the thing that people always made fun of me for doing (talking) is what would later be my career! The point is, everyone has some "gift," something they excel at. One person might be able to sing beautifully, another can throw a football, and yet another in your class could end up being a famous author or scientist or teacher! No one should feel like they are better than someone else just because they can do one thing or another.
Other Factors that Play into Bullying
LTK: Do you feel that violent video games and movies play a role at all in teen bullying and violence?
KD: Certainly we have all been de-sensitized by watching violence on TV, even seeing news and the horror of 9/11 repeated over and over. When we see enough death and violence that is not real, it might be hard for some teens to separate reality from fiction. Too often, teens don't realize that one action they do can impact their lives forever. Just like we try to teach teens that one night of unprotected sex can change their life forever by giving them an unwanted pregnancy or STD, there are teens who have been bullied and it affects them so much they choose to end their lives. That is so sad. I want teens to know that middle school, high school, and even college aren't like "real" life. It does get better! No one should ever feel that they have no other choice than to end their life.
LTK: How does an audience play into bullying in middle school and high school? Do you think the bystanders who egg the bully on create an environment that makes bullying acceptable?
KD: Absolutely. Too often the bystander is afraid the bully might turn on them, or they want to be popular, so they "join in." We can teach our teens that if they are bystanders and witness bullying, they need to support the person being bullied - or at least try to help get their friend away from the situation.
LTK: Anything you'd like to add?
KD: Telling is not the same as tattling. Just like if you saw a pick-pocket at the grocery store taking wallets out of old ladies' purses, you would probably not feel bad about telling someone (your mom, or the store manager). It's the same with bullying. When you report the bullying to a teacher or a parent, it is not tattling. It is important to let adults know what's going on. I have an acronym I use to help remind students what to do when they encounter a bully. Teens love to text, so here it is:
- T - Tell the bully to stop.
- X - Exit - get away from the bully (as soon as you safely can).
- T - Tell an adult (teacher, parent, etc.).
Bully Know More
Karen continues to give presentations to educate teachers, administrators, students, and parents about the dangers of bullying and how to stop the pattern. You can learn more about her ongoing work at her website BullyKnowMore. LoveToKnow Teens thanks Karen Duling for taking part in this why do teens bully interview.