Adjustment Problems Associated with Bullying
Experts currently recognize roughly three categories of students involved with bullying: bullies, passive victims, and provocative victims (Olweus, 1993; see discussion above). Bullies tend to act out-to direct their behavioral problems outward (Olweus, 1993). Passive victims tend to match the personality style that some experts call overcontrolled. Specifically, these youngsters tend to be sad, shy, and anxious. Chronic victims tend to become even more anxiety-ridden as they suffer peer harassment. Finally, a small group of youngsters tends to pick on others at times and to suffer bullying at others. These individuals demonstrate the rare combination of being alternatively sad and angry (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Marttunen, Rimpela, & Rantanen, 1999; Olweus, 2001; Swearer, Grills, Haye, & Cary, 2004).
The childhood experience of bullying produces a slew of negative long-term adjustment effects. For example, being the target of bullies during their formative years is the most common complaint registered by adults seeking psychiatric care for depression and anxiety (Egan & Perry, 1998).
Recently, the long-term consequences of bullying have been directly addressed. For example, Rigby and colleagues (2001,2003) have demonstrated that bullying affects both mental and physical health:
Research findings support the view that peer victimization is reliably associated with seriously impaired mental and physical health among both boys and girls ... it has recently become clear that that they [victims] are more likely to experience particularly distressing mental and physical states, being more anxious, more depressed, more socially dysfunctional, less physically well, and more prone to suicidal ideation than other children. (2001, p. 322)
Jantzer, Hoover, and Narloch (in press) even found that bullying in childhood produced small, but detectable, reductions in the ability of college-age students to experience trust in and satisfaction in friendships. Bullying, in other words is a serious problem that transcends physical and mental health as well as quality of life.
Not just victims, but also bullies, manifest significant relational problems as they age. Basing relationships exclusively on the exercise of power may well be habit-forming, setting the stage for a lifetime of maladjustment. Bullies evidence significantly greater risk for dropping out of school as well as for encountering drug and alcohol abuse problems (Berthold & Hoover, 1999; Simanton et al., 2000). Childhood bullies are four to five times as likely as non bullies to experience mental health, legal, and job-related difficulties as they age into adulthood (Olweus, 1993). The negative effects of bullying are so strong that, despite the real and significant sequelae experienced by chronic victims, a world-renowned expert in the field concluded that childhood bullies suffer worse adulthood adjustment problems than do victims (Olweus,1993).
Bullying is a significant problem in that it pejoratively affects the lives of students-both bullies and victims. It extends beyond the lives of bullies and victims, worsening the learning climate for everyone at school. It is difficult for students to gaze at learning tasks through the clouds of fear produced by bullying. As bad as peer harassment's effects on individuals are, bullying also reigns as a social problem, contributing to the climate of violence that troubles U.S. society (Hoover & Olsen, 2001).
To a significant degree, bullying can be addressed by an understanding of family dynamics, including childrearing practices. In other words, elements of family life may either contribute to or reduce risks that an individual child will become a bully or a victim. This, of course, means that partnerships between educators and parental caregivers are essential in reducing the problems associated with bullying and, by extension, reducing school violence. Finally, partnerships between helping professionals and school personnel play a central role in reducing bullying and victimization among school-aged youngsters (Committee for Children, 1997). We explore family issues in bullying in the remainder of this chapter.
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