When I was a freshman in high school, I weighed about 120 pounds. I had thick glasses. I liked to read, was quiet, didn’t play sports, and kept to myself. Every day, this senior who weighed about 300 lbs. would delight in swiping at my face as we passed in the hall, knocking my glasses off. The frames on my glasses broke, and then I would go home and tell my mother that I dropped them. She would yell at me, telling me how much they cost, and she can’t’ afford to keep buying me new ones, and why do I keep dropping them, and so on and so forth. If I told her the real reason, she would have called the school, the bully would have been called in for a talk, then I would get it 10x worse from his and his senior friends. My father’s advice was slam the little bastard in the head if I ever mentioned I was getting bullied. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? I am not sure exactly how I was supposed to accomplish slamming that big 300 lb. bastard in the head without standing on a ladder and swinging a ball peen hammer. Of course, that would have been excessive, and I would have gotten in trouble. Nowhere was safe- not at school not at home. This was not a happy time for me.

Introverts tend to be quiet, solitary, and can be observant, sensitive, and bright. These are not desirable qualities in middle school. In middle school, there is typically an emphasis on power, control, domination, and developing manhood and toughness. Unfortunately, being tough and growing into a man is often interpreted as license to abuse, harass and beat smaller and weaker kids mercilessly.

Bullying can start in elementary school, can peak in middle school, and may decline in high school, as people grow more mature, and the smaller kids develop physically, and are no longer such a desirable target. Bullying can have serious short term and long term effects. Bullied kids may feign illness to stay home from school. In severe cases, using drugs or alcohol to cope, siding into depression, and PTSD may result. In the most extreme cases, bullying can trigger suicide or homicidal behavior. Many schools have zero tolerance policies toward bullying, but are unclear how effective they are. My experience as a clinician with kids that have been bullied is that the reaction of the schools is ineffective. The schools response can actually make the bullying worse. The victim of the bully may finally strike back, and is then suspended or otherwise punished by the school. Where were the teachers and administration when this skinny 14 year- old was getting his head bounced off lockers, called vile names, hit, spit on, intimidated, or greeted with 300+ hateful emails when they opened their inbox?

I am of the opinion that in most instances, the bullied victims are going to have to take responsibility for their own safety and comfort in school.

What makes you a target of bullies?

Start by understanding that Introverts have certain characteristics that can make them vulnerable to bullies during their developmental years:

The teen years can be hard on an introvert. Bullies target those that look weak, hesitant, or uncertain. Introversion is not synonymous with being timid or weak, but introverts are not loud, boisterous, and outgoing. In the early to mid-teens, other than this behavior can be interpreted as shyness, timidity, or a lack of confidence. Personality is not fully developed until the late teens or mid-twenties, and shy, timid withdrawn kids may grow into confident and self-assured, but still quiet introverts. Our environment also shapes our personalities. If the majority of your social experiences while you are growing up consist of abuse, how much are you going to want to socialize with others? You may become avoidant of social situations. Social skills may deteriorate, or not develop, which can make social situations even more uncomfortable.

Introverts also prefer solitude. They like physical activities as they are growing and developing, but also prefer quieter activities like reading. They probably don’t have- or desire- a multitude of friends. But being athletic and having loads of friends is what makes you popular as a teen. In the locker room, conversation is going to be about girls, sports, girls you had sexual experiences with, (most of which occurred in the imagination of 14 year old boys rather than in reality) how much you bench press, girls you would like to have sexual experiences with, the party you went to over the weekend, how drunk you got, and the fight you won. There probably will not be a whole of discussion about literature, philosophy, the economy, or politics. Any effort to discuss the great book you are reading will be very out of place, and met with derision, and a contemptuous shove. If you don’t respond to this physically you will be marked as weak, and an easy target. Word will get around fast, and you will be bullied. These are the realities of middle school. Another reality: I do not recommend trying to fight a bully. Chances are they are better at violence than you and you will get hurt. However, learning how to defend yourself is another matter, too complex to go into here. Please see the resources at the end.

What you can do:

If you are the parent of a bullied child:

  • Be very insistent, adamant, and clear to the school administration that they must take effective action immediately, not just to keep your own child safe, but to create a safe environment in the school for all the students. You may be more effective if other parents of bullied children add their voice to yours. I had a supervisor who was fond of saying that things sound better when they are sang in chorus.
  • Foster and maintain a relationship where your child or teen can tell you anything. Give them an anchor, and a safe place at home. The effects of bullying can be ameliorated by having solid supports at home.

If you are the one getting bullied:

  • Hang in there. Middle school and high school will not last forever.
  • Don’t cave in and try to be someone you are not by pretending to be more extraverted, but some compromise may be required. Don’t draw attention to yourself with outlandish clothes or hairstyle. Be neat and clean. Express your individuality, but don’t overdo it and make yourself the object to attention. Save the discussions about books for your introverted friends.
  • Don’t stop going to school. It takes real courage you may not realize you have to keep going to a place where you get harassed and abused every day. Don’t forfeit your education because of bullies.
  • Start working on yourself. Start getting fit. I am not talking about competitive sports, but weight training, body weight exercises, running, biking, and swimming. Find a coach, or a personal trainer who can show you what to do. You will become more coordinated, grow into your body so to speak, and as you develop some size and muscle , you might be amazed at what a deterrent effect this has on the real weaklings- e.g.- bullies- who are looking for easy targets.

If you are the bully:

You probably are not reading this, but I will offer some thoughts based on the possibility that you could be part of the audience, so here goes: What the hell is wrong with you? Why do you get off on abusing smaller weaker kids? Someday, one of those smaller weaker kids is going to give you a big surprise an d flatten you , directing and releasing years of pent up anger on you. Or maybe a bigger, tougher senior is going to get sick of your bullying and correct you. Or maybe you will continue engaging in random violence to entertain yourself, and as you get older, you will be held more accountable. By the time you are seventeen, in most states, if you continue to bully others- e.g., commit assault, you will be old enough to be sent someplace where you will have the opportunity to practice what you love- violence, But you will be facing people way tougher and better at it than you- they are called CO’s (Corrections Officers) and Inmates. You can find out how tough you really are then when three iron-pumpers come into your cell, throw a blanket over you to restrain you, and forcibly anally penetrate you, because you will be the closest thing they have seen to a woman in a while, and they play their own power and control and domination games. And the CO you mouthed off to show how tough you were when you were brought in? Do you think they will come to your rescue? Best wake up to some hard facets of reality chief.

 

Written by David A. Porter, MA, LADC
Private Practice clinician
Adjunct Faculty in Psychology and Criminology
Freelance Behavioral Science writer