“Why do they always pick on me? You’d think I had a big target painted on my T-shirt,” is the cry of many a bullied child.
Unfortunately, the truth is, they do. I know that this is going to be a very sore subject with some people and surely anything that the target does to attract a bully, either overtly or subliminally, is no license to be treated the way bullies treat their targets. But, targets sometimes have overt or subliminal actions that to a bully are like catnip to your favorite feline. It is our job as parents, teachers, coaches and adults to point those things out and help the target change them if it is at all possible.
So, what are these things that so inflame the bully to the point of being completely incapable of restraining himself? Here are some subjective observations for your inspection:
- Looking down – I had to correct my son on this just today. A person that is looking down at the ground while they are walking conveys to the bully two things 1) This person is not confident; 2) This person has no trust in their balance and therefore must look at the ground constantly for reassurance that it is still there; 3) is so lost within him/herself they are not aware of what is going on around them. By looking down the target supplies the perfect opportunity for the bully to come out of nowhere and surprise the target. Once flustered the target is easy picking for the bully.
- Slovenly grooming habits – Two of the targets that I saw harassed in elementary school and high school had this trait. Their hair was often not washed and not combed. They had a propensity to scratch or pick at different parts of their bodies that are not usually socially acceptable and their clothes were often not clean. This trait tells the bully that the target is either too stupid to care for themselves or do not care enough about themselves to maintain a presentable appearance. The latter means to the bully that the target is less likely to fight back they don’t care what happens to them. Just what they are looking for.
- Socially inept – Interestingly, this is a trait that the bully often shares with the target. However, if the target has this trait, it means that they will probably not have strong social alliances and will most often be alone. Couple this with the previous trait and you can almost bet that the target will be alone and have no one to help defend them. Even though most bullies cannot trust the friends that they hang with because of their social ineptness, they rule by fear and their subordinates are often just relieved that they are not the bully’s target.
- Too clean or have a high fashion sense – I know what you are thinking, “He just said in number two it was slovenly habits that attract the bully.” Don’t worry there is one dominant thing that the bully looks for that will tie this all together. If the target is a boy and displays this trait he will often be looked at by the bully as “gay”. To the bully’s feeble logic this is a no-brainer and to the bully a gay boy either will not or cannot defend himself. If the target is a girl, then the bully will think that she is full of herself, thinks she is better than everyone else and might take the bully’s man. Since the target is viewed as a girly-girl then she probably won’t fight back and the bully has license to harass.
- Not from around these parts – Another country, state, city or school doesn’t matter to the bully. The new kid on the block is looked at as an invasive threat to the status quo and the bully wants to protect that at nearly any cost. If anything changes with the way things are, then the bully might be left out in the cold and they will no longer be the top dog.
- Overweight – Tied in with second trait. The overweight person is seen as an easy target because being overweight is often seen as not caring about their appearance and will be so out of shape as to pose little threat to the often physically fit bully.
- Too smart – Usually the bullies are not the sharpest knives in the drawer and to their thinking it is much easier to bring the good student down to their level than it is for them to study and raise their grades up to the smart student’s level. Also the typical “A” student is not seen as a physical threat to the bully and is therefore an easy target.
These are just some of the traits that bullies look for in their targets. With some of them something can be done to make the target less of a target and in some of them little can or should be done to change the target. I said in fourth point that there is one underlying dominant theme to the bully’s behavior. All of these traits set the target apart from the general population. They make them different.