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Passive bullies are the ones who follow the leader. They generally don’t pick the target or instigate the bullying of another child themselves, but they’ll enthusiastically jump on the bandwagon once a peer is made a target by someone else. They are usually insecure kids with low self-esteem and a high regard for social conformity, and so they get a thrill by picking on outliers or those targeted by others.

What motivates the passive bully

Passive bullies are usually kids who live in a tenuous position on the social ladder. They are usually not chronic targets of bullying, so they don’t empathize or identify with those who are regularly bullied. Yet they’re also not the most popular kids in school, and are often deeply insecure about their status among peers. When another child is made a target by an aggressive bully, they’ll participate as a means of trying to gain social status or because it helps them temporarily relieve their own insecurities. They may also participate to try and gain favor with the bully or because they are afraid of the group turning against them.

Another type of passive bully situation arises because of alliances. A child may not be a bully by nature, but because he’s friends with someone who dislikes the other kid, he may take it upon himself to bully the other child out of loyalty.

Dealing with a bullies sidekicks

Passive bullies tend to be easier to deal with, since they are more insecure in the bullying they do. They may not have the same degree of vested interest that more aggressive bullies do. In the case of copycat bullies, you should help them understand that they may pay a price for what they do:

  • Every kid they bully creates an antagonist who may someday turn the tables and expose something hurtful or humiliating about them.
  • Talk about how the short-term boost they get from bullying will hinder long term goals of being well-liked.

Since these more passive bullies are generally insecure, what they really want is to feel more secure, not necessarily to bully. Bullying just happens to be a temporary fix. Your job is to help convince them that their interests are better served in other ways.

In loyalty situations, it can sometimes be more effective to talk with some of the passive bullies as opposed to the ringleader himself, since they have less of a vested interest. If it isn’t as important to them personally, they may be quicker to give it up. They may even be able to cool the aggression of the primary bully. Even if their influence has no effect on the ringleader, if you can take it down from 6 bullies to 1 by addressing the kids at the edges, that’s a significant improvement to the victim’s life. Teachers can accomplish this by approaching passive bullies in a firm but non-judgmental manner: “I know you’re not normally one who picks on others, but I’ve noticed that you seem to be going after John because Kevin doesn’t like him. You’re going to end up in the middle of this problem if it doesn’t stop, and I’d hate to see that, because I don’t think that’s the type of person you are. If Kevin wants to be a bully, that’s his issue. But if you continue to go along, you’re going to be paying just as dearly for Kevin’s issues. Nobody wants to see you or anyone else end up in trouble, we just want it to stop.”

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