Bullying can be verbal as well as physical. The verbal kind is often the worst and has led to the suicide of so many young people in recent times, most often girls. This is not a gentle subject, it is evil and tragic. Yet it so often starts with a simple attempt at gentle humour, often by a girl on social media where somebody else takes it the wrong way and suddenly starts to recruit people to be on her “side”. I say “girl” and “her” because on average the boy mentality is more to confront the individual and “sort it”.

For now it’s the boy side that I will look at here.


How Are Bullies Created?

There are two dominant causes (among many).

a.) Parent s Who Miss The Point.
Often, in a socially dysfunctional family, one parent will inappropriately try to make for up for a total lack of interest in a child. Their non-attendance at Parents’ Evenings and Sports Days are supposedly “compensated” for by sending the boy off to school telling him, “Don’t let anybody push you around son. Hit first and apologise later.” If such advice is put into the head of a young lad who happens to experience an early growth spurt he quickly learns that he will always get his own way by intimidating others. This quickly becomes an ingrained character trait. 
The variations of this theme are almost limitless but the root cause is the same.

b.) The Stalker Mother.
This second cause is more sinister, becoming more prevalent and can end up being a threat to school stability.

   RULE: It is always cross-gender concerning a desperately over protective mother and son.

Let’s call the son Marmaduke, (who it turns out) just happens to be “perfect”.

Marmaduke’s older sister has been through the school as a model pupil only for the HT to discover on arrival that the Mother/Son relationship is a nightmare. Whilst the mother fully understands her daughter’s ability to stand on her own two feet in the world (having done it herself) this is not true of her precious son. In fact the mother is on a mission to protect her little boy from everything and she can even be subconsciously angry and frustrated at having to let him go to any “evil” place such as a school. The outcome being that Marmaduke has never had to face up to the consequence of his actions. For instance any attempt at (say) making him miss a playtime for (most likely) cruel behaviour, will lead to the mother making such a fuss about how terribly her son is treated (remember “he never lies”) and the awful injustice of it all, she will probably keep him at home to avoid any form of punishment. She is then likely to write a letter to the governing body. If ever there was a case of “Methinks the woman doth protest too much” then it is the Stalker Mother.

Unfortunately this mother has not learnt the most important lesson of life on planet earth:

“All creatures adapt to their environment.”

By the time Marmaduke attends school at the tender age of 4 years old he has learnt that he only has to tell his Mum a distorted version of events and he will immediately get his own way, whilst others suffer at the hands of the screaming banshee that is his adoring parent. There is absolutely no incentive for him to be well-mannered and (worse) he will expect other children to do exactly as he wants otherwise further distorted tales will go home. “Marmaduke Rules” is the order of the day and every other day. Unwittingly his mother has turned herself into a loaded gun and her son has already adapted (in his short life) to aiming it/her at whichever unlucky teacher/individual causes him the slightest discomfort. Very sadly, over time, he will become more and more cruel to other children. In a worst case scenario Marmaduke will be big for his age.

*There is a whole chapter dedicated to Stalker Parents in my book “Night Whistling” so I will say no more.



Now of course a child who is big for his age and who just happens to grow up under an inappropriate adult influence will not have a strong, balanced and broad character.

So we must never forget that all bullies are cowards.

If you don’t believe this, just spend some time watching a bully in the playground. Hidden away out there are certain quieter, well behaved kids who have very strong and determined characters. They do not cause trouble BUT they will not back down when picked on. The bullies quickly learn never to single out these individuals. After all, bullies don’t want to get hurt.



It is extremely easy to spot bullies in the playground. They have a strutting style of walking, which includes lifting up their shoulders to make themselves look big and then rolling from side to side as they walk along. Try it out in assembly and see how many pupils recognise the “I’m Hard” strut.
When anybody sees somebody acting like this just imagine a big speech bubble (like in comics) coming out of their head with their thoughts in it saying, “Yeah, just look at me everybody, I’m hard.” Try making a huge cardboard bubble like this and have another pupil put it to your head whilst you practise the “I’m Hard” strut.
Further, when they see somebody acting like that, they should picture the huge right hand of God coming out of the sky and pointing one massive finger at this pathetic character’s head and saying, “PRAT!” Everybody else can see the finger of God except the prat himself. He will never see it, as he is living in his own sad little world.
This leads into the next point.

I used to make a point of asking bullies if they had any friends. They would look at me as if I was a fool and say something like, “Yes of course I’ve got hundreds. I’m very popular.” I would then ask them to write a list. Each time I would receive a massive number of names.

Over the next few weeks I would make a point of casually asking each of these named pupils what they thought about this friendship. The answers were virtually unanimous and along the lines of, “Like him? Well, not really. I always smile and talk to him when I see him because it would be stupid not to, I mean we all do, but I wouldn’t have him as a real friend.”

Eventually some time later (when the bully has forgotten the “list” conversation) I would talk to him again and point out that he did not have any real friends and that he was constantly mistaking this “smiling, happy to see you” greeting as indicating popularity and friendship and completely missing that it was in fact a defence mechanism adopted by all the good kids around him and that they’re looking forward to one day catching up with your growth spurt. I was always very careful to speak in general terms and to avoid the names of individuals.

Real bullies tend to be not just cowards, but stupid  blinkered in their views of life.


D.  Motivations for Bullying or “Spot the Difference”.

Very sadly, once created (usually at home) the desperately anti-social activity of bullying can become self-sustaining for some time and we must ask ourselves why?
The main reason is the bully needs to self-justify his importance and superiority by belittling others in a way that highlights any “stand out” difference from the crowd and hence emphasises his smug feeling about himself. “Why?”, you might ask.
The answer is simple. At heart all bullies are ignorant with a sense of both inadequacy and cowardice. Hence they must justify feeling superior by utilising their own warped sense of logic, backed by physicality. Most commonly you will hear them loudly proclaiming their distorted views of the “truths of the world” (usually at somebody else’s expense) whilst everybody else around is thinking , “What a load of old tosh,” but saying nothing to avoid conflict. If you look at a bully and you cannot see their deep rooted insecurity (often family based) then you need to look harder.

So we now know the first weapon of a bully is to discover something that is different about an individual, which can then be used to isolate and ridicule this poor soul.
The most obvious factors (victims) are:

a.)    Race / Colour. This is the easiest target to pick on, saying that somebody with (say) a darker skin cannot be true British stock (as if that means anything) and therefore is inferior. Sadly, this takes no account of humanity in general, where every single one of us, first evolved on the plains of Africa, so in fact we are the ones who are more likely to be more different. Further, any attempt to point out to a bully that the English are a mongrel race consisting of (at least) a mix of Italian, French, Spanish, Danish and German blood (they all invaded and stayed) is useless as it does not fit the bully’s desperately blinkered view of life, which must leave him feeling superior.
In fact every single one of us can trace our families back to a “foreign” influence it is just a matter of how far back we go.

Personally I am of Spanish descent, as my predecessor was a survivor from the Spanish Armada (1588) who was lucky enough to be wrecked on the coast of Scotland where (because he was fighting the English) he was treated like a hero. Without that “foreign” input I would not exist. This is true of every single one of us. Yet logic like this is of no use to a bully, as he doesn’t want to know, he just needs to feel superior.

The most potent weapon I know against bullying is to have a very strongly developed sports system in school. Very often this outlet will provide the much craved playground, high self-esteem for the potential bully that is the key to diffusing so much tension.

Note: A more complete discussion of racism is included in “Short Tales no. 11”.

b.)   Colour – hair. This usually applies to “Ginger” that dreaded word particularly for girls who are often called “Ginge Minge” in the playground. The “G” word also just happens to be an anagram of the most appalling racist word you can imagine. It seems to me that any creative teacher could base a fully blown and dramatic assembly based on discrimination and involving misdirection out of that one simple anagram. It could discuss minority groups and finally end with a twist that articulates the (much less obvious) word “ginger” as the victim group.
I feel sorry for so many children with such shades of hair which make them such an easy “stand out” target for weak characters.

c.)    Glasses. How many times are young children referred to as “four eyes”? It is almost too easy for a bully. One of my favourite moments was standing in a classroom next to the window when I happened to notice a small, bespectacled boy turn a nearby corner outside and come into direct contact with a most unpleasant character who was accompanied one of his (even more ignorant) followers. I watched ready to spring into action as this little lad came to a dead stop.
The obvious confrontation started with, “What you doin’ four eyes? Lookin’ for a bit of bother are you? Why are you looking at me like that?”
The poor boy froze before saying, “N’n’nothing, I’m just on my way home.”
“Well looking at me like that ain’t going to do you any good. Do you think you’re better than me?”
However, the poor boy didn’t reply but simply stared up at the clear sky over the bully’s shoulder. Even when asked what he was looking at he kept staring with his mouth open and gasping until eventually he said, “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Mark III Concord.”
By now bully and follower were looking up into the sky and eventually our tormentor said, “I can’t see anything.”
As he passed by the young lad stopped and pointed, “Look, really high up there, it’s amazing.”
“I can’t see it,” came the reply.
As the young lad walked off he shouted back, “Perhaps you need glasses.”
It was, of course, totally wasted on the bully and follower who continued looking up at the sky discussing what in fact was never there.

I loved that cameo moment. I went to sleep with a smile on my face that night.


d.)    The “Boff” Culture – Nearly As Bad As Racism

This is the most dangerous and damning social force that can exist in any school and its elimination (in order to celebrate all forms of success) should be the top priority of every headteacher. If it exists then the multitude of assemblies and the chances for inspired moral leadership by the HT are being wasted.
It was mentioned above that one common denominator of bullies is ignorance and what better way is there for them to bolster their self-image than to find a way of ridiculing intelligence and success. Desperately sadly it creates a school culture of fear relating to success therefore producing low aspirations.
It is most common in schools where the HT remains behind a closed door issuing edicts.

I cannot emphasise enough how damaging the “Boff Culture” is to a school. If teachers hear children using it to belittle intelligence and success, then they can be sure they are in a school which has little chance of improvement.
Further, once again it emphasises the overwhelming need for primary schools to have (one way or another) a multitude of sports teams which can provide such boys with positive self-esteem whilst avoiding all this negative energy.


E.  What happens to bullies?

Two things:

a.)    In the vast majority of cases they hadn’t realised they simply had a head start in physically growth and that the rest of their “friends” are eventually going to catch up and stop living in fear. In short, they are heading for a pretty rough time in the long run, when they will also finally learn how unpopular they are. Occasionally they quickly adapt and all is well.

b.)    However, the vast majority of bullies that I have known had one ambition: Join the armed forces. They have no understanding that the army wants strong characters over and above everything else. I have lost count of the number of bullies who have come to see me after leaving school (some having been expelled) to proudly announce they are off to join the armed forces (and be a hero). I always congratulate them and take time to point out that the first 6 weeks or so will be a huge test of character that will push them to the limit in seeing if they can “take it” as well as “give it”.
In every single case my prediction came true. They were home between 3-5 weeks with the most amazing variety of weird and wonderful excuses, some of which bordered on the absurd. Not one of these reasons mentioned the fact they could not face having equally large sergeant majors screaming and insulting them to their face in front of the other soldiers. In this way the army truly does weed out the failures.

I take no joy in the comeuppance of such individuals; in fact I find it rather sad. Worse, these weak characters will often then turn into petty criminals and in 90% of cases it is all due to inadequate parenting.
Thank God that 99.9% of parents are great and realistic people that I have enjoyed getting to know and now consider to be friends. It remains (for me personally) a great joy


The 0.1% of parents who fail the test led to the poem, “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin (1971) and I can think of no better way of ending this missive.
Personally, I wasn’t brave enough to use it as I valued my career too much. Yes, “cowardly” I know. Sorry.

Here it is:

This Be the Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.


Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.


Philip Larkin (1971)



I don’t believe this, as it goes against the pure joy I experienced throughout my carer with real kids, but I can understand how it relates to that tiniest of minority of families where it is impossible to make a difference. Desperately sad.