Writing this week about my son’s experiences being bullied has been evocative for me, and a bit difficult. I relived a lot of the feelings of anger and desperation I felt, wanting to make it stop, wanting to shout out to the world that this shouldn’t be happening. It shouldn’t happen to anyone. But it does. And it probably will continue to, even with widespread awareness.
Why is this so? What causes kids to bully other kids? I struggled to understand it as a young child, when I witnessed developmentally disabled kids at my elementary school being verbally bullied. I knew that I would never do that to anyone. And as I got older, when I was Nigel’s current age, I suffered emotional bullying at the hands of some girls at my junior high. The scars are still with me. Maybe that’s why I became so angry about what was happening to my son. But wouldn’t any parent feel that way?
I still wonder why some kids are bullies. Perhaps there will never be a definitive answer. Most likely the reasons are different in different situations. I wonder if the kids do it because they themselves have low self-esteem, or are bullied at home in a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself. Or maybe it’s hormones. My mother used to tell me that the girls were mean to me because they were jealous of me. Of what, I could never fathom. I was quiet, introverted, and sensitive. I was a good target, a sure thing. And they got to me every time.
Autistic kids are good targets. They have odd ways, and some of them get frustrated easily. They are trusting. And some of them will do anything for acceptance, even if they are laughed at. And unfortunately there are NT kids who will exploit all of that. They don’t care about making someone feel bad. Maybe they weren’t taught to care. Who knows?
The National Middle School Association Journal provides some additional findings from studies: bullies need to feel in control over someone else, bullies tend to have lower academic achievements, bullies tend to be depressed, and bullying is most common in seventh grade. Most disturbing of all is the overwhelming belief that victims of bullying actually brought on the bullying. This was from a school-wide survey taken at several different schools! How can we even hope to work against widespread beliefs like that?
We will probably never really know the individualized, complex reasons why bullies do what they do. But one slightly reassuring fact (per my internet research) is that bullying is much more common in middle school than in high school. That means that things might be better for Nigel when (and if) he attends the local high school in a little over a year. I’m holding out for that.