How Bullying Victims Become Prey

Friday, 11 Mar 2011 08:56 AM

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Anti-bullying programs are springing up all over the country. They are well-intentioned, yet most of them miss an important point: how the “victim” has a role in becoming the “prey” to the bullies.

Many parents have complained to me about their kid being picked on. One of the first things I ask is, “Why do you think your kid has a target on his/her back?”

After some defensive chatter, they usually cite behavior that makes their child stand out as an easy target. I suggest that their child needs to change certain behavior. The parent is horrified to hear me supposedly “blaming the victim,” but it isn’t blame I’m after. It’s an understanding of playground politics and the animal side of children.

Let me give a parallel. My Rhodesian Ridgeback, Butch, is 9 months old. He weighs 80 pounds, but he’s still a baby. He is strong and fiercely protective. I started taking him to off-leash parks and had numerous bad experiences: Dominant dogs would frighten him into running away, hiding behind me, or getting ferocious in return.

I called the breeder, and she put together a day experience for Butch. She brought five Ridgebacks, and her husband brought five rescue dogs that he trains and rehabilitates.

A German shepherd and a pit bull challenged the heck out of Butch, and his lack of self-confidence stimulated more “animal” behavior from those dogs, meaning they got more aggressive toward him.

However, the shepherd and the pit bull were good with each other and the other dogs. Why? All these dogs were confident, experienced, and knew how to handle the moment. Because of that, the more aggressive animals did not see them as “prey.”

While it is true that some kids will pick on others for something that can’t be changed, such as physical attributes, many children who bully also look for weakness.

That’s why I tell parents to enroll their kids in martial arts; not to fight (unless necessary), but to develop a sense of strength, pride, and confidence. They will then walk, talk, and handle situations with more strength and look less like a target.

Help your children develop an aura of confidence, sense of humor, tactics for working with playground politics, and ultimately how to protect themselves if things get physical. I often even suggest that the picked-on kid invite the bully for a day of play and lunch, which throws them way off!

Dr. Laura’s radio program is on from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, weekdays, on Sirius Channel 102 and XM Channel 155.

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