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Friday, October 8, 2010

The Bully - Myths and Truths

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college she attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

Who Are the Bullies?

More than one in five 12-year-olds are repeatedly either bullies, victims or both, and bullies are often popular and viewed by classmates as the "coolest" in their classes, according to new UCLA research from the most comprehensive study on young adolescent bullying in an ethnically diverse, large urban setting. (Stuart Wolpert, "Bullying in Schools Invasive, Disruptive and Serious, UCLA Study Finds," UCLA Newsroom, December 8 2003)

"Bullies are popular and respected: they are considered the 'cool' kids," said Jaana Juvonen, UCLA professor of psychology, and lead author of "Bullying Among Young Adolescents: The Strong, the Weak and the Troubled," published in the December (2003) issue of the journal Pediatrics. "They don't show signs of depression or social anxiety and they don't feel lonely."

Juvonen said, "We hope that these findings help us dispel the myth that bullies suffer from low self‑esteem." Our data indicate that bullies do not need ego boosters." Still, this myth is guiding many programs conducted in schools. Juvonen believes we should be concerned about the popularity of bullies and how to change the peer culture that encourages bullying.

Who Is Bullied?

Between 9% and 15% of any student population is a victim of bullying (J.A. Horowitz et al., "Teasing and Bullying Experiences of Middle School Students," Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 2004; C.K. Malecki, "Perceptions of the Frequency and Importance of Social Support by Students Classified as Victims, Bullies, and Bully/victims in an Urban Middle School, School Psychology Review, 32 2003)

Bullying may be defined as the act of constant aggression toward another individual who lacks the same power. The actions can be direct as in verbal or physical contact, facial or other body gestures; or the actions can be indirect as in intentional exclusion or refusal to comply with another person's wishes. By its nature, bullying is frequently repeated, ongoing negative action toward on or more students. (D. Olweus, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, 1993)

Bullying occurs across ethnic groups and income brackets, and the problems associated with bullying are similar across these groups. Victims of bullying are often viewed by classmates as physically and socially weaker than their peers. Girls and boys are equally at risk of this misconception, but bullies tend to victimize middle school boys more often than middle school girls. In fact, boys are twice as likely to be bullies as girls, almost twice as likely to be victims of bullies, and more than three times as likely to be in both categories.(Jaana Juvonen, "Bullying Among Young Adolescents: The Strong, the Weak and the Troubled," Pediatrics, December 2003) .

Youth Voice Project

Myths About Bullies

Dan Olweus, psychology professor at Norway's University of Bergen and one of the world's leading experts on bullies and their victims, has been studying bullying characteristics for 30 years. Following are ten myths about bullying that Olweus has identified through his research:
  1. THE MYTH: Bullies are looking for attention. Ignore them and the bullying will stop.
    THE RESEARCH: Bullies are looking for control, and they rarely stop if their behavior is ignored. The level of bullying usually increases if the bullying is not addressed by adults.
  2. THE MYTH: Boys will be boys.
    THE RESEARCH: Bullying is seldom outgrown; it's simply redirected. About 60 percent of boys identified as bullies in middle school commit at least one crime by the time they are 24.
  3. THE MYTH: Kids can be cruel about differences.
    THE RESEARCH: Physical differences play only a very small role in bullying situations. Most victims are chosen because they are sensitive, anxious, and unable to retaliate.
  4. THE MYTH: Victims of bullies need to learn to stand up for themselves and deal with the situation.
    THE RESEARCH: Victims of bullies are usually younger or physically weaker than their attackers. They also lack the social skills to develop supportive friendships. They cannot deal with the situation themselves.
  5. THE MYTH: Large schools or classes are conducive to bullying.
    THE RESEARCH: No correlation has been established between class or school size and bullying. In fact, there is some evidence that bullying may be less prevalent in larger schools where potential victims have increased opportunities for finding supportive friends.
  6. THE MYTH: Most bullying occurs off school grounds.
    THE RESEARCH: Although some bullying occurs outside of school or on the way to and from school, most occurs on school grounds: in classrooms, in hallways, and on playgrounds.
  7. THE MYTH: Bullying affects only a small number of students.
    THE RESEARCH: At any given time, about 25 percent of U.S. students are the victims of bullies and about 20 percent are engaged in bullying behavior. The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that 160,000 children stay home from school every day because they are afraid of being bullied.
  8. THE MYTH: Teachers know if bullying is a problem in their classes.
    THE RESEARCH: Bullying behavior usually takes place out of sight of teachers. Most victims are reluctant to report the bullying for fear of embarrassment or retaliation, and most bullies deny or justify their behavior.
  9. THE MYTH: Victims of bullying need to follow the adage "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you."
    THE RESEARCH: Victims of bullying often suffer lifelong problems with low self-esteem. They are prone to depression, suicide, and other mental health problems throughout their lives. 
    10. THE MYTH: Bullies suffer from insecurity and low self-esteem.They pick on others to make 
          themselves feel more important.
          THE RESEARCH: Most bullies have average or above-average self-esteem.They "suffer" from
          aggressive temperaments, a lack of empathy, and poor parenting.

      How People Typically Handle Bullies

      Passive victims may exhibit reclusive and introverted mannerisms while provocative victims may appear hyperactive, lack concentration, and generally tend to irritate others. Olweus reported  that victims of bullying "often look at themselves as failures and feel stupid, ashamed, and unattractive." (D. Olweus, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, 1993)

      It is not unusual for those who are bullied to avoid hallways, restrooms, and even switch schools in an effort to
      distance themselves from other students. Some create routes through their schools that offer safe havens from abusive bullying. (Safe Passages -video and guide, National Middle School Association, 2001). Many victims of bullying do not even report incidents; instead, they internalize their victimization until they can no longer cope and resort to violence or to self-destructive behaviors. (D. Olweus, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, 1993)

      Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon of the Youth Voice Project, (2010) interviewed nearly 12,000 kids in fifth through 12th grades at 25 schools in 12 states about bullying.  This project was approved by the IRB (research ethics review panel) at Penn State University, and the research study was believed to be the first large-scale effort to ask young people what works in bullying and harassment prevention based on their own experiences and observations.The information is an effort to identify the most effective and realistic strategies for targets of bullying, adults, and peer bystanders to use to prevent and mitigate the effects of bullying.

      The study looked at which student strategies "made things better" and found that talking to an adult at home or at school were each effective 34 percent of the time. "Made a joke about it" worked 33 percent of the time and telling a friend was effective in 32 percent of the cases.

      But, those same strategies sometimes had negative effects. Davis and Nixon found, "Telling an adult at home made things worse 18 percent of the time compared to 29 percent for telling an adult at school, 27 percent for 'made a joke' but only 18 percent for telling a friend. Students who 'hit them or fought back' had positive results 31 percent of the time but things got worse in 49 percent of cases. Telling the person to stop made things better in 14 percent of the cases but made things worse 41 percent of the time. 'Pretended it didn't bother me' was effective only 12 percent of the time and made things worse 33 percent of the time. Likewise 'did nothing' was only effective in 14 percent of cases and made things worse in 40 percent of cases."

      When Davis and Nixon rated student perception of response of educators, they found that "listened to me" was the most effective followed by "gave me advice" and "checked in with me afterwards to see if the behavior stopped." The least effective strategies for educators were "told me to stop tattling" and "ignored what was going on." Telling students to act differently was also ineffective as was "told me to solve the problem myself."

      The study also looked at the effect of action by peers. In terms of making things better, the most effective peer strategies were "spent time with me" (54 percent), "talked to me" (51 percent), "helped me get away," (49 percent) and "called me" (47 percent). The least effective peer responses were "blamed me," "ignored it," and "made fun of me."

      Strategies To Improve Bullying

      Dan Olweus reiterates this point: "The attitudes, routines, and behaviors of the school personnel, particularly those of the teachers, are decisive factors in preventing and controlling bullying activities, as well as in redirecting such behaviors into more socially acceptable channels." School-wide intervention programs led by caring adults with high expectations and an actively engaging curriculum that includes meaningful literature, collaborative learning, and service learning activities are specific strategies that appear to foster resiliency in victims of bullying.

      These programs advocate the implementation of school policies that include astute observation, clear communication, and consistent protection. Furthermore, researchers assert that changing school culture requires the active involvement of teachers, administrators, support staff, and volunteers (D. Cooper &  J.L. Snell, "Bullying—Not Just a Kid Thing," Educational Leadership, 60, 2003; J. Garbarino & E. DeLara,  "Words Can Hurt Forever," Educational Leadership, 60, 2003)

      Increasing pro-social bonding -- establishing and clearly communicating consistent boundaries, teaching life skills, providing care and support, and offering opportunities for meaningful participation -- helps school personnel foster support and resiliency for youth in need (N. Henderson & M.M. Milstein, M. M., Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen for Students and Educators, 1996).

      Connecting the curriculum to student lives promotes in-depth discussion through critical and compassionate thinking. The use of quality literature incorporates coping and problem solving strategies. By identifying with literary characters' experiences, victims of bullying can relate these events to their own lives (K.B. Quinn, B. Barone, J. Kearns, S.A. Stackhouse & M.E. Zimmerman, Using a Novel Unit to Help Understand and Prevent Bullying in Schools, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 48, 2003).

      Since peers are probably the greatest asset for middle school youth, drawing upon this resource is vital for empowering victims of bullying. (Safe Passages -video and guide, National Middle School Association, 2001) Students who witness bullying often encourage bullies by watching someone getting pushed around or called names or helping a classmate spread rumors about another student. Bystanders rarely intervene with bullying. This is one of the biggest challenges for effective anti-bullying intervention. (Jaana Juvonen, "Bullying Among Young Adolescents: The Strong, the Weak and the Troubled," Pediatrics, December 2003)

      A Relatively New Type of Bullying - Cyberbullying

      Today, a very strong link exists between bullying in the "real world" and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others. Some cyberbullying cases involve teens using the Internet or cell phones to harass or bully people they've never met,  but most  cases involve children who know each from the real world, typically from school.

      In a 2008, a study of middle schoolers conducted by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin  (Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying, Cyberbullying Research Center, 2009) found 82 percent of cyberbullying victims said that the person who bullied them is either from their school (26.5 percent), a friend (21.1 percent), an ex-friend (20 percent) or an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend (14.1 percent).

      Unlike physical bullying, electronic bullies can remain virtually anonymous using temporary email accounts, pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, cell-phone text messaging, and other Internet venues to mask their identity; this perhaps frees them from normative and social constraints on their behavior. 

      Additionally, electronic forums often lack supervision.

      And, another factor is the inseparability of a cellular phone from its owner, making that person a perpetual target for victimization. Users often need to keep their phone turned on for legitimate purposes, which provides the opportunity for those with malicious intentions to engage in persistent unwelcome behavior such as harassing telephone calls or threatening and insulting statements via the cellular phone’s text messaging capabilities. Cyber-bullying thus penetrates the walls of a home, traditionally a place where victims could seek refuge from other forms of bullying.

      Research had demonstrated a number of serious consequences of cyberbullying victimization. (S. Hinduja & J.W. Patchin, "Cyberbullying: An Exploratory Analysis of Factors Related to Offending and Victimization," Deviant Behavior, 29 2008)

      Harmful effects of cyberbullying include the following:

      * Intimidation, emotional damage, suicide
      * Lost revenue, threatened earnings, defamation
      * Isolation - avoidance of friends and activities

      The Wilkinsons - "Nobody Died"

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