Most people will agree that cruelty perpetrated against animals is a horrible crime. Most would also agree that instances of bullying have increased in number, becoming an epidemic in our schools. In fact, according to Stomp Out Bullying—a national program for kids and teens dedicated to stopping this violence—”Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students of all races and classes. 1 out of 4 kids are bullied and 43% of teens, 97% of middle schoolers and 47% of older teens 18-24 are cyberbullied.”
But bullies don’t always reserve their bullying exclusively for other kids—often, animals are victims as well. What happens when they get “bullied”? There is significant documentation showing that kids who engage in bullying hold “positive attitudes toward violence.” And in many cases, the expression of that violence involves animals. The phrase commonly used to refer to this connection between violence to animals and violence to humans is “the link.”
Stories involving school violence are no longer rare or exceptional—they have become commonplace. And cases of cruelty to animals are being viewed as significant indicators of things to come.
In 2005, a research study found a connection between bullying and human and animal abuse. The research involved more than 500 children and indicated that schoolyard bullies “were twice as likely to have committed some form of animal abuse when compared to their non-bullying peers.”
Humane educators strive to introduce the concept of empathy to children as the first step in learning compassion and kindness toward all beings. While quantifiers may be difficult to find in terms of the efficacy of these lessons, the work can certainly be productive. Empathy appears to play a significant role in both animal abuse and bullying, and lack of it has become a marker for researchers looking at children who may be prone to both animal abuse and bullying.
What can we do? Learn more about “the link.” If there are children in your family, speak with them about the importance of empathy and compassion toward animals and their friends. There are materials at TeachKind.org that can help. Make it a practice to chat with teachers about your child’s or grandchild’s school life—do they participate in bullying? Are they bullied? Look for bullying behaviors when they play with their friends. Not all kids who bully abuse animals too. But if we each take on the responsibility of doing what we can to create a foundation of empathy for our children and grandchildren, it could make for a very different world—for ALL beings!