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Say hello to Jax, an eighth-grader who is regularly a target of bullying as a neurodivergent black youth in a mostly white school. For Jax, school days aren’t just routine—they’re battlegrounds where survival means enduring a relentless barrage of insults, taunts, and sometimes, violence. Jax’s story hits close to home for me, and drives me to want to delve deeper into understanding the roots of bullying—a pervasive issue that runs deeper in our society than many acknowledge.

simplified cartoon of one person being encircled by four others with red eyes, depicting bullying

When Bullying Turns Physical:

Picture this: Jax, cornered after school by a mob of teens, itching to “jump” him. Up to 15 kids encircle him, spewing hateful words and taunts, unleashing physical violence that leaves him with a black eye and covered in bruises, shattering his glasses and his spirit. All the while, a crowd of onlookers cheer the brutality on. It’s a grim snapshot of how low bullying can stoop, showcasing the disturbing normalization of such behaviour.

The Pervasive Nature of Bullying:

In today’s world, bullying isn’t just a schoolyard nuisance—it’s a systemic scourge seeping into every corner of society. From racist taunts to outright violence, the torment faced by countless young people is gut-wrenching. Jax’s ordeal isn’t unique; it’s a symptom of a broader issue demanding urgent attention.

As I listened to Jax’s mom recount the ordeal, her tears mirrored the pain felt by parents and caregivers worldwide. When our kids hurt, we hurt. Educators feel this pain too. No one wants to see children suffering. But what more can we do?

The Path Forward:

It’s time to delve into the why of bullying. What drives individuals to engage in such harmful behaviour? And why now, in a world that seems more interconnected than ever? Neuroscience may hold some of the answers. Understanding the underlying neural mechanisms that contribute to aggression and empathy—or lack thereof—could provide valuable insights into tackling bullying at its core.

And let’s not forget—bullying isn’t exclusive to kids. Adults, from parents to teachers, can perpetrate it too, exacerbating its impact. Self-Reg offers valuable insights into combating bullying, and initiatives like the Reframing Bullying course provide a roadmap rooted in both science and compassion. By reframing our approach to bullying through the lens of neuroscience, we may uncover new strategies for prevention and intervention.

Final Thought:

Change won’t happen overnight but with a deeper understanding of the why behind bullying, we can begin to lay the groundwork for a more empathetic and inclusive society. It’s time to shift our focus from simply reacting to bullying incidents to proactively addressing the underlying factors driving them. Only then can we hope to create a world where every child feels safe, valued, and supported.


Susan Hopkins

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