When RubySam Youngz was singled out by a bully at the age of 10 in her last year of primary school, she felt isolated and confused. She’d just moved with her family from England to Wales and the bully honed in on her accent. They then started mocking her appearance. “Nothing really made sense to me,” she says. “I’m in a new place, I don’t really know anyone, no one likes me, and I really do not know why.”
Youngz says the relentless bullying, which continued through secondary school, had a knock-on effect in all areas of her life, and she took up smoking and drinking in an attempt to cope. Now aged 46, it is only in the past year that she has come to terms with the effect that the bullying had on her.
“I felt like ‘no one else likes me, so I don’t like me’,” she says.
Her experience underlines a painful truth. Children, for all their innocence and inexperience of the world, can be some of the most vicious bullies. Their actions, perhaps less hindered by the social norms we learn in later life, can be merciless, violent and shocking. And they can have life-long implications for the victims.
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But what makes a child become a bully?
“For the longest time, in the research literature, we thought there was just one type of bully: a highly aggressive kid that had self-esteem issues that may come from a violent home or neglectful home,” says Dorothy Espelage, a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That picture is now changing.