Bullies: More Than Sticks, Stones and Name-Calling
The search for the roots of violence has included a closer look at interactions once thought innocent. For example, the seemingly playful teasing between children may not be harmless give-and-take but may escalate into more serious aggression. Read about bullies and victims - who they are and what to do to help them.
To learn more about the research in teasing and bullying behavior we spoke with Alice Pope, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, St. John's University, who has authored numerous publications on peer relations.
AboutOurKids: Isn't teasing just part of growing up?
Dr. Pope: Teasing among people may be an inevitable fact of life, and unfortunately, young children are initiated into this behavior at a young age. Children cope with teasing in a variety of ways. For example, they may walk away or stand up to the individual who is doing the teasing or confront a teaser with friends who will stand up for them. However, when the teasing turns to taunting and the child is afraid that any attempt to stop the aggressor will cause harm, the situation is more serious and possibly crosses the line into bullying.
Can occasional episodes of teasing really be harmful?
Teasing may not be harmful for most kids and is part of learning about group culture and peer relationships. However, it can be damaging to those who are more vulnerable and at risk for other problems. Obviously teasing can have an extremely negative impact on children who are less well equipped physically, socially, or emotionally to ride it out. More specifically, children who have an emotional or physical handicap, and those who are depressed or who have low self-esteem may be less robust and less able to effectively cope with teasing behavior.
So what exactly do we mean by bullying? How is it different from teasing?
Bullying is more than just one single act of aggressive teasing or fighting. Current definitions of bullying behavior stem from the original research conducted with Norwegian and Swedish students by Dan Olweus, who stated, "a student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions by one or more other students. Negative actions can include physical contact, words, making faces or dirty gestures, and intentional exclusion from a group. An additional criterion of bullying is an imbalance in strength (an asymmetric power relationship). The student who is exposed to the negative actions has difficulty defending himself or herself" (Olweus, 1995). Bullying behaviors themselves have been further classified as either direct or indirect, with direct bullying characterized by open attacks and indirect bullying characterized by social isolation, exclusion, or nonselection (Bosworth et al, 1999). Thus, the hallmark of bullying behavior is an ongoing pattern of physical or psychological aggression that is threatening, coercive, relentless, and leaves the victim feeling powerless. The bully is not necessarily bigger or stronger but rather is someone who is intimidating. Often, bullying does not occur solely in the context of a one-to-one relationship In fact there is usually more than one bully and more than one victim. Typically the bully has an assistant and an organization of helpers, referred to by Olweus as the bully's "henchmen" who may carry out the acts. The bully may be in charge but may not be one caught.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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