Verbal taunts. Emotional abuse. Fights. Harassment. Threats. While bullying has always been an issue, rates have soared in recent years to create a national epidemic. In 2003, about 7% of students reported being bullied, but by 2007, that number had jumped to over 30%. That’s nearly 1 in every 3 kids being bullied!
The recent New York incident in the news serves as a jarring reminder of just how emotionally damaging bullying can be. Which begs the question, why? What drives a group of 7th graders to mercilessly taunt, insult and threaten their bus monitor?
Could bullying, perhaps, be a symptom of a much deeper issue in today’s adolescents?
According to an online report, lack of father involvement and resulting attachment beliefs may be key predictive factors to consider. Brett Ellard, a Christian licensed professional counselor with 30 years of experience notes that “what causes someone to become a bully starts at the core of family life, with the absence of a father figure, whether the bully is male or female”… This could include a father who is physically absent from the home, often because of divorce, or a father who is physically present, but emotionally uninvolved.
Attachment research suggests that lack of father involvement may perpetuate an insecure relational style because of core relational beliefs that are developed. In Why You Do the Things You Do, Drs. Clinton and Sibcy describe four attachment styles that are critical to understanding the roots behind bullying:
What children believe about themselves and other people influences their behavior in relationships in very real ways. For example, if a child exhibits an avoidant attachment, he or she will likely act out of superiority—viewing others as “less than” and worthless. Similarly, when kids have a deflated view of self and an inflated view of others, they can often resort to extreme and violent measures to try to prove their worth.
With this understanding, bullying is not just a “normal part of adolescence.” Experimentation and mistakes are inevitable, but when a father is not involved in his children’s daily lives—correcting, encouraging and guiding them, as well as modeling healthy social interactions—kids often fail to develop a healthy understanding of themselves and their place in the world.
For children who live daily in the chaos of a broken home, bullying can quickly become a matter of influence and control. While their living circumstances and family environment are beyond their control, through taunting and terrorizing other kids, a bully gains a sense of power, influence and popularity.
Exploring a child’s attachment beliefs, relational style and home environment are important factors for Christian counselors and caregivers to consider in working with adolescents. In many cases, bullying will not be successfully addressed simply by encouraging kindness and politeness, or removing privileges.
Counselors and educators must take the time to see the hurt and pain behind a bully’s tough exterior, remembering that such behaviors are likely a symptom of a child’s attachment wounds. Using attachment-based interventions, the roots of bullying can be addressed in order to develop new attachment beliefs leading to a secure relational style.
Join the conversation! Take a moment to share your thoughts and experiences below about your work as a Christian professional with the treatment of bullying behaviors.