About Bullying

Social scientists learned about bullying as they researched school shootings. Students who went on shooting sprees were often victims of bullying whose feelings of rage, helplessness and fear built up over a long period and exploded in a massacre.

Research also proves that bullying is much more common than adults believe. One study by the National Education Association indicates that every seven minutes of every school day a student is a victim of bullying.

Most bullying occurs “under the radar” with victims suffering in silence and making concessions to their tormentors. Nevertheless, most teachers think they are on top of the situation. Bullying often occurs off-campus or in unstructured settings such as recess, cafeterias, corridors, and locker rooms. It peaks in middle school.

Race, religion, income level, and parents’ divorce status are not risk factors for bullying; having attention deficit disorder or an aggressive personality is. Girls bully as often as boys do, but boys are three times more likely to attack their victims physically. Female bullying usually takes the form of social exclusion, gossip, and verbal abuse. Cyberbullying is about abusive text messages or nasty posting on Internet social networks like MySpace.

All bullies lack empathy and social skills, crave attention, and do not accept responsibility for their behaviors. About 40% of bullies are victims themselves of bullying at home or school. The theory is that when such a child sees a peer acting afraid and cowering, it reminds him of his own sense of helplessness and triggers a rage.

Bullies invariably look for victims who are easy prey — “loners” or children in special education classes.

If your child is a victim of bullying, work through school authorities and police and not the bully’s parents, who may be unstable and violent themselves. Make your moves so as not to call attention to your child. Don’t be surprised if authorities tell you something is wrong with your child even though bullying is never the victim’s fault. You may to protect your child on the bus and playground until the bullying stops.

Many parents remove their child from school because the consequences of bullying are just too much of a risk to their child’s safety.

“Social” Bullying Comes From Imitating Parents and Peers

A Canadian study involving twins found that the people in a child’s life can influence her to become a “psychological bully” and that such behaviors are not genetically based.

“Children who hang out with socially aggressive friends seem to pick up this behavior even when they don’t have a genetic disposition to be socially aggressive,” according to lead author, Mara Brendgen. She and her colleagues are trying to determine the causes of non-physical social aggression, including behaviors such as teasing, rumor-spreading, and social exclusion. They studied more than 400 pairs of 7-year-old twins and found that 77 percent of the time, social aggression correlated with similar behaviors among the friends and adults in the child’s life.

Parents tend to overlook bullying behaviors when they are not physical, according to Brendgen. “For the victims, (psychological) bullying is as bad as being hit by someone or pushed by someone, and it can lead to suicide ideation,” she said. “Psychological harassment in the workplace is the number one cause for sick leave.”

Ninety Percent of Teen Girls are Sexually Harassed by Males or Bullied by Other Girls

Three new studies about bullying and sexual harassment reveal that while 90% of teenage girls report being sexually harassed, boys also experience negative consequences from attending schools that allow it. Another study found that contrary to popular perception, pretty girls are more likely to be bullied, especially by other girls, than their less attractive peers.

The first study involved collecting data from 600 girls 12 to 18 years old in Georgia and California. Nine out of ten told researchers that they had been sexually harassed more than once. Over 60% reported that it came in the form of unwanted romantic attention, demeaning gender-related comments, and/or teasing about appearance. Over half reported unwanted physical contact, and 25% had been bullied or threatened by a male. Over half were the brunt of teasing about their skills in math, science, or computer technology, and 76% reported harassment about their athletic abilities.

“Our findings are sadly consistent with previous research,” said Professor Campbell Leaper of the University of California at Santa Cruz. This study, led by Dr. Leaper and Dr. Christia Brown of the University of Kentucky, appears in Child Development.

Dr. Alayne Ormerod of the University of Illinois at Urbana, studying 550 teenagers, found that girls reported more frequent and more distressing levels of sexual harassment than boys did. However, boys who went to schools where such harassment was tolerated were more likely to withdraw from school and experience feelings of not being safe and lowered self-esteem.

“When teachers and administrators do not actively intervene, it has negative consequences for all students – both boys and girls, targets and non-targets,” according to the study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Finally, Dr. Lindsay Leenaars of the University of Alberta in Canada, using data from 2,300 students 12 to 18 years old, found that girls who are perceived as attractive experience 35% more bulling than others do.

Middle School “Fashion Police” Demand Designer Clothing

“Fashion bullying” or the teasing and tormenting of girls who do not wear clothes acceptable to their peers is becoming more prevalent in middle schools, according to an October 25 report in the Wall Street Journal. Educators and psychologists are responding to the problem by setting up new programs to teach girls that they do not have to define themselves by the clothes they wear.

The problem is getting worse as more high-end designers introduce clothing for preteens and children. Celebrities dressing their offspring in designer labels are influencing the trend. Madonna’s daughter Lourdes and even Tom Cruise’s baby have become fashion icons in celebrity tabloids.

Marc Jacobs already offers “Little Marc,” and there are junior versions of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Burberry, and Coach. This spring Chloe, Missoni and Alberta Ferretti will launch children’s labels. Boutiques like Cantaloup Kids and Scoop Kids now specialize in designer clothing for children

In many schools, the girls with the most expensive clothing achieve automatic status and popularity. Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois/Urbana, has studied teen culture for 14 years. She said that designer clothing gives girls “the opportunity to become popular – and that protects you and gives you social power and leverage over others.”

A national conference on “Relationship Aggression, Mean Girls and Other Forms of Bullying” held in Las Vegas this June included workshops that focused on how the media pressures girls to buy these kinds of clothes, why clothes become part of their identity, and why fashion bullying is occurring at all socio-economic levels.

Professor Susan Swearer of the University of Nebraska found that the problem is ongoing even in the poorest schools, where girls own only a few expensive items of clothing. However, they wear them over again and over again to appease the “fashion police.”

Many of the teachers involved in anti-bullying programs now include lessons about fashion bullying. “Club Orphelia” and “Camp Orphelia” are extracurricular programs based on the work of psychologist Cheryl Dellasega to help girls relate to each other in a positive way. Developmental Resources, an educational firm, now offers “Mean Girls” workshops for teachers. “Hardy Girls Healthy Women” is a non-profit organization with after-school programs on the East Coast that help girls examine media messages and build healthy friendships not based on fashion choices.

Mental Bullying of Teenagers Linked to Boys Carrying Guns

Sticks and stones break your bones, but names will always hurt you too.

A new study by Dr. Sara Goldstein at Montclair State University and Michigan State University found that teenagers who are the victims of psychological bullying such as name-calling and gossip are unhappy with their schools and perceive them as unsafe. Boys who are victims of such “relational aggression” are more likely to carry guns to school.

Dr. Goldstein and her colleagues interviewed 1335 adolescents ages 11 to 19 years from a public school district in Detroit, MI. Questions included ones like “How often last month have students told stories about you that were not true?” or “How often last month did students not include you in joining in what they were doing?”

Most previous research has looked at physical and verbal bullying.

This study appears in the June issue of Springer’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

More State Legislatures Consider Laws Against Cyberbullying

Several states are trying to crack down on cyberbullying among teenagers, but are running into trouble writing appropriate laws to effectively prevent it.

Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina have either passed or proposed laws that require schools to set up policies that address cyberbullying. Those in favor of such laws point to the suicides of young people like 13-year-old Ryan Patrick Halligan, who was the victim of online gay-bashing and bullying for months before his suicide in 2003. They also point to teens who post insults about clothing, sexual secrets, and their peers’ appearances and friendships. Bullies can remain anonymous, even when they steal and use other people’s screen and instant message user names.

“The kids are forcing our hands to do something legislatively,” said state Senator John Tassoni of Rhode Island. He hopes his cyberbullying bill will pass sometime this year.

Others disagree.

Steven Brown of the American Civil Liberties Union believes such laws might infringe on civil rights. He said, “The fact that two teenagers say nasty things about each other is part of growing up. How much authority does a school have to monitor, regulate and punish activities that occur outside of a student’s home?”