Empathy blind spots
Episode 6 – Jayden, Age 9: Wondering why kids bully
Think About It Questions
- Have you ever been bullied or seen someone get bullied? Has anyone ever accused you of bullying them? What happened?
- There are lots of different kinds of bullying: physical (such as hitting or kicking), verbal (such as yelling at someone or calling them mean names), relational (such as excluding someone or spreading rumors about them), and cyberbullying (putting mean comments or photos online). Which do you things is worst and why?
- Why do you think kids often don’t speak up when they see bullying? Why do they sometimes not want to tell an adult about bullying?
- Sometimes friends get mad at each other and say or do mean things. Do you think that’s bullying? How can you tell the difference between an argument and bullying?
- Does your school do anything to try to stop bullying? Do you think those efforts are helpful? Why or why not?
Welcome! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic.
I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Let’s listen to today’s question
My name is Jayden, and I'm 9 years old, and my question is why do kids bully other kids?
Hi Jayden, that’s a very interesting and important question–one that a lot of people have wondered about, including a lot of scientists.
The short answer to your question about why kids bully is: because they can.
Kids who bully are bigger, tougher, stronger, or more popular than the kids they target. And, their meanness works for them somehow, Maybe it makes them feel powerful or maybe they think it makes other kids respect or fear them.
Bullying tends to happen when adults don’t see it. Other kids may be afraid to speak up when they see bullying because they don’t want to get bullied themselves. But when nobody says anything, or when kids laugh or even join in on the bullying, that sends the message that bullying is OK.
It may surprise you to hear that a lot of kids who bully are also bullied themselves, either at home or by other kids. They may have trouble managing their temper, or they may believe they have to defend themselves because other people are against them.
But sometimes kids who bully are the “cool” kids. They may be smart and popular and even well-liked by teachers. These kids can turn on and off the meanness to suit their needs, and they don’t mind hurting other people to get what they want.
The main cause of bullying is what I call “empathy blind spots.” Empathy blind spots happen when children decide that certain people's feelings don't “count.” So. they might think, “She’s weird” or “He’s annoying” or “Nobody likes them,” and they believe that makes it okay to be mean to those kids.
I’m sure you know that that’s not true. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Everyone deserves to feel safe.
If you’re being bullied, tell a grown-up you trust. They can help you figure out ways to deal with it. You may also want to stay close to friends or just stand near an adult so you’re less of a target in situations where the bullying tends to happen.
If you see someone being bullied, try to be an upstander, not a bystander. If you don’t want to say something directly to the kid doing the bullying, you could quietly tell an adult what’s happening or make a point of being extra kind to the kid getting bullied.
Scientists have found that bullying is less common in groups where kids look out for each other.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.