Thanet Writers Research Teenage Bullying

Writer Rebecca Delphine researches teenage bullying on behalf of Thanet Writers.

Image Credit: 
John George Brown / Public Domain

Teenage bullying, or bullying at any age, isn’t something that should be thrown into a story just to add a bit of drama or shock. It is a form of abuse, a harmful subject that many of us have witnessed and some may have been the unfortunate victims of, perhaps still carrying the damage of being bullied with them throughout life. And some of us may have been the bullies.

If we do feel that bullying is genuinely relevant to our stories, we must research it well in order to depict it realistically and with the respect such a destructive and life altering topic deserves. This article will provide a good starting point for your research, but you should also ask the people in your life of their individual experiences with bullying, whether it be something they witnessed from afar or experienced first-hand. You could also look at how other writers have depicted varying forms of bullying in their work. Stephen King’s writing always first springs to mind for me, as bullying is a common theme in many of his novels. In Dreamcatcher, the four child protagonists happen upon a boy with learning disabilities being bullied, and instead of running and forgetting what they have witnessed, they use their wit and imaginations to help him.

People can be bullied for seemingly endless reasons, but it seems having a physical or mental feature that is different from the masses will make someone a more obvious target.

Different forms of bullying

To write about bullying, first we must understand the many forms the destructive subject can appear in.

  • Name calling is the most commonly reported form of bullying in Britain. Common words used are fat, ugly, worthless, dumb, and stupid, but any relevant words could be used. I found a recent report on an American website where a girl with dreadlocks was repeatedly referred to as ‘spider’ by her bullies.
  • Rumour spreading. The rumours usually aren’t true, and most other pupils don’t believe them anyway, but the whispers, smirks and sideways glances can cause deep emotional damage.
  • Peer pressure, where the victim is dared and highly pressured to do something they don’t want to do in front of their peers.
  • Cyber-bullying. With today’s technology the bullying doesn’t stop when the victim gets home and shuts themselves inside their room, because the attacks continue on social media.
  • Damage to the property or belongings of the victim.
  • Physical bullying is less common than verbal, and can come in the form of pushing, hitting, punching, kicking, and slapping.

Someone receiving, or being perceived to be receiving, favour over others from a person of power, such as a teacher, can cause envy and lead to bullying.

Signs someone is being bullied

Even if your reader isn’t aware of that a certain character is being bullied, there are often tell-tale traits you can give your character that will hint at their situation.

  • Faking illness: They won’t want to go where the bullies are, which for teenagers is usually school, so will pretend to be ill or make excuses to try to get time away from their bullies.
  • Skipping school and playing truant.
  • Wanting to change schools.
  • Lower grades than usual at school.
  • Sudden loss of friends: The friends of someone who becomes bullied will often steer clear of them for fear of becoming a target of bullying themselves.
  • Lack of confidence: they may give less eye contact and keep their head down.
  • Wanting to be alone.
  • Losing interest in things they usually enjoy.
  • Running away.
  • Self-harm.
  • An increase in anger and aggression.

Why it is so hard for victims to tell adults?

The relationship between teenager and adult is often seen as ‘us versus them’ by the young adult in question. Adults make the rules that a teenager must abide by, and this battle of control is often depicted in fiction written for teenagers by casting the antagonist as an older character, and often as a fully-grown adult. There is very much an invisible communication barrier between the teenager who is discovering their adult self, and the adult who has already been through it, got the t-shirt, and is adamant that they know what it takes to resolve a situation. Obviously, this is not always the case, but it is very much one real reason teenagers don’t feel they can confide in adults. Adults just don’t understand, and below are some reasons why the victim of bullying may feel they can’t ask for help from an adult.

  • For fear they will not be believed: adults may brush it aside, believing the teenager is exaggerating.
  • For fear that the bullies will find out and things will get worse.
  • For fear nothing will be done. Many bullied teenagers complain that although schools have a non-bullying policy, nothing ever really gets done.
  • For fear of being belittled. A boy confessing that he is being bullied to a dominant, strong headed father may just be told to ‘man up’ and sort it out themselves, and may even receive painful remarks from the father and/or other siblings, with the abuse of the bullying becoming little more than a family joke.

The outcome of being bullied

As with all actions, there are going to be reactions for someone who is bullied. A bullied teenager, depending on the severity of the bullying and their own personality and character, may suffer long-term effects.

  • Needing therapy.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • The tendency to label certain types of people as possible bullies, without any proof.
  • Long term lack of confidence and self-worth.
  • Suicide.

Why do bullies bully?

If you are writing from the point of view of the bully, you will need to understand their motivations for doing such a callous and destructive act. I have listed below some possible examples.

  • Because they are being bullied themselves, by older siblings, or at an outside of school activity. People who have been bullied are almost twice as likely to bully others.
  • Because they are jealous.
  • Because they are bored.
  • To avoid being bullied themselves.

The Annual Bullying Survey 2016 surveyed 8,850 young people between the age of 12 and 20 in Britain. The key findings of the results are as follows:

1.5 million young people (50%) have been bullied in the last year;
19% of those bullied young people were bullied every single day;
People who have been bullied are almost twice as likely to bully others;
Twice as many boys as girls bully (66% of males vs. 31% female);
20% of all young people have physically attacked someone;
44% of young people who have been bullied experience depression;
41% of young people who have been bullied experience social anxiety;
33% of those being bullied have suicidal thoughts.

I can also speak a little of my own experience because I was sometimes called ‘fat’ at school. It didn’t happen often enough to be classed as bullying, but I certainly knew the pupils who I needed to avoid making eye contact with in order to stay under their radar. I was overweight, luckily not the largest girl in my year so I could avoid negative attention most of the time, and I stuck tightly in my protective friendship group, but my appearance was ‘different’ enough from the perceived normality to hear the odd ‘fat’ remark behind by back, followed by laughter from the friends of the bully (the boys and girls who follow the bully around, but would never bully on their own). As far as the bullies I experienced go, some of them were actually in minority groups at the school themselves, whether it be race or family religion or physical appearance. Because of this I wonder if they were quick to bully in order to secure their place in the school pecking order, and to avoid becoming victims of bullying themselves.

If you are considering writing bullying into your story I hope you have found this report useful.

If you are in fact reading this because you are currently the victim of teenage bulling in Britain, the most helpful thing you could do is to share how you are feeling with someone you trust, such as a relative, friend, or teacher. If you feel there is no-one you can turn to, there are options to find help and support elsewhere.

Bullying Support
For free online counselling.

Offers advice and support to victims of bullying.
Phone: 0808 800 2222

Has a lot of information on what to do if you or a friend is being bullied.
Freephone: 0800 1111

National Bullying Helpline
An anti-bullying association for both adults and children.
Phone: 0845 22 55 787 or 07734 701 221

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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