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Bullying Among Immigrants: Tips for Prevention

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Mar 5, 2012

Growing up in today’s multicultural society, a child must learn to deal with ethnic and cultural differences in a positive way. However, these differences sometimes lead children to look at their peers who don’t share a majority ethnicity or cultural heritage as “others”—which can lead to negative behavior, such as bullying. Different ethnic and cultural groups may have different motives, requiring adult intervention and action to prevent bullying.

Bullying is a relationship problem characterized by aggressive behavior that includes intentionally inflicting harm on someone, repetition of harassing behavior, and an imbalance of power (such as a popular kid targeting a less socially powerful outcast).

This group phenomenon is determined not only by characteristics of bullies and victims, but also by the different roles kids take within a group of peers. Bullies may tease, isolate, hit, kick or shove their victims at school.

Bullying in a Multicultural Setting

In a school with kids from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, bullying can include a complex web of racially motivated incidents, and disputes based on cultural heritage, ethnicity and immigration status. Relationships are extra important for immigrants, since establishing friendships in their new home is often considered an important goal.

Reactive and Proactive Bullying Motives

Psychologists talk about reacting aggressively—such as a former victim retaliating against an offender—and proactively acting aggressively, which includes unprovoked bullying incidents. Some reactive kids have a higher tendency to be easily frustrated and angry as a result of a (perceived) provocation. These students, who are more likely to be victims, protest strongly to changes in class curriculum, and become angry easily—and sometimes get so furious that they don’t know what they‘re doing. This rage can stem from multiple sources, such as teacher criticism, losing a game or not getting their own way.

In contrast, proactive aggressive students have the tendency to plan an aggressive behavior to reach a particular goal, such as power and elevated social status among their peers. These aggressors report feeling pleasure and stimulation after bullying others. Bullies seeking social power like to get others to make a fool of themselves, enjoy it when another student is afraid of them, and threaten others to get what they want. Conversely, students who are motivated by relationship buildingdo things that they know are wrong to fit in with others, feel that they gain friends when they exclude other peers, tease someone or bond by participating in illegal activity together.

Proactive aggression is considered to be the main motive for bullying behaviors—especially within groups of immigrant boys, who want to feel a bond or connection with others. Contrastly, groups of native boys mainly bully others because they want to dominate and humiliate their victims.

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