• Brittany Lamb

Understanding Adult Bullying


Do you know the signs of an adult bully vs a parent who is disciplining their child?



Many schools in the US have anti-bullying policies. But how effective can these zero-tolerance policies be if children are witnessing adults around them bullying other children? How many times have you witnessed an adult bullying a child? Be honest with yourself. Do you even know the signs of an adult bully vs a parent who is disciplining their child?


Here are a few signs taken from the book, Bullied Teacher, Bullied Student by Les Parsons (Pembroke Publishers, 2005):

  • Verbal abuse: the use of sexist, racist, cultural, socio-economic, ability-related and homophobic stereotyping and labeling;

  • Physical abuse: shaking, pushing, pulling hair, throwing things;

  • Psychological abuse: yelling, using sarcasm, making threats, setting one child against another;

  • Professional abuse (applies to teachers): unfair marking, inappropriate disciplinary methods, intimidating students, denying students equal access to resources.

One of the most misunderstood categories of adult on child bullying is psychological abuse. Certain adults have a sense of power – that children are theirs to tell what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. By utilizing sarcasm and threats, they are trying to put themselves in a position that the child sees as intimidating.


Children and Sarcasm

Younger children do not understand sarcasm – in a study done by Lang (2010), five and six year old children were beginning to understand the non-literal meanings of sarcastic speakers, but were not able to understand the intentions behind it. Talking to children in a sarcastic manner who are unable to determine your intentions is setting that child up for confusion and failure.


If confronted, the adult can argue that he/she was not bullying the child – the adult can deny making threats, can say the sarcasm was just their personality, can deny until the incident is pushed on the back burner. However, it is possible that the adult did not realize he/she was bullying the child. This is why educating adults about bullying is of upmost importance.


Importance of Education

Not only do teachers, who spend more hours with our kids during the week then parents, need this education, but parents need it as well. Parents, while having good intentions, might not realize the harm they are doing to their children by yelling, using sarcasm and making threats. Parents believe this is how they are disciplining their children, or just “joking around.”


When the word ‘bully’ is thrown around, an immediate thought is a child bullying another child. It is important to recognize that adults are often the bullies in a child’s life. It is time for adults to step up to the plate and treat children as if they were their own. It is time for adults to stop using intimidation techniques and power over children. Why is it so hard for some adults to have a conversation with a child, and instead result to bullying?


Do you step in when you see an adult bully a child? Why not? Many times other adults do not see it as their business, especially when it is a parent “disciplining” their child. However, what about a non-parent? Think about sports games when a parent is yelling at another kid on another team. Do you say something then? Why not?


What are you afraid of?



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