How Bullying Starts
Bullying behavior is prevalent throughout the world and it cuts across socio-economic, racial/ethnic and cultural lines. Researchers estimate that 20 to 30 percent of school-age children are involved in bullying incidents, as either perpetrators or victims. Bullying can begin as early as preschool and intensify during transitional stages, such as starting school in first grade or going into middle school, says Sharon Lynn Kagan, Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Children learn bullying behavior from older children, from adults, and from television, says Kagan. Sometimes unconsciously, parents may repeat things their own parents said to them: "Why are you always late? Why do you always lose everything? Why can't you act your age?" If children experience put-downs or physical punishment at home or in school, and if they see emotional and psychological abuse go unchallenged, they believe this behavior is acceptable. Bullies like to feel powerful and in control. They are insensitive to the feelings of others and defiant toward adults.
Victims are often shy and tend to be physically weaker than their peers. They may also have low self-esteem and poor social skills, which makes it hard for them to stand up for themselves. Bullies consider these children safe targets because they usually don't retaliate.