Social Life in Middle and High School: Dealing With Cliques and Bullies (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Recognizing a victim

A victim may be reluctant to go to school, complain of frequent illnesses and make trips to the nurse's office, show a drop in grades, come home with torn clothing, bruises, and report "lost" possessions, be afraid of new things, avoid going to the bathroom in school, show increased anger and irritability, and have few friends.

What are victims like?

In general victims are

  • quiet and shy in temperament and sensitive
  • less inclined to fight back or to be assertive
  • likely to have few friends and little social support
  • not confident in their physical abilities and strengths
  • youngest or newest in a group or school
  • insecure and have low selfesteem
  • prone to be anxious, depressed, have physical complaints
  • sometimes irritating, socially awkward, or insecure
  • physically weak, easily submit to peer demands, reward attacks by displaying distress or giving up desired resources
  • often recipients of repeated acts of bullying.

Victims can be passive or proactive. Passive victims are often lonely, have difficulty asserting themselves in a group, react to bullying by crying or withdrawing, and seem to prefer adult company. They tend to "normalize" in adulthood but continue to have low self-esteem and are prone to depression. Proactive victims tend to be hot-tempered, hyperactive, and aggressive. At times they can be annoying or irritating to others. They often provoke incidents only to become victimized by their own actions. They may be clumsy or immature and may, in turn, try to bully weaker peers. These kids can be mistaken for bullies because they always seem to be in the middle of fights and arguments.

How Schools Can Help

School administrators and teachers must establish school wide initiatives to counteract bullying and to promote pro-social behavior, encompassing the following principles:

Differentiate between bullying and normal conflict

Conflicts are part of childhood and can develop within or outside of a clique. Students in middle and high school struggle to individuate and define themselves and are involved in many normal conflicts. Conflict is not necessarily bullying. It's not bullying when teasing is friendly and playful or when two students of about equal strength or power argue or fight. When children are part of normal conflict they are learning many new skills, such as negotiation, compromise, and resolution.

Bully/victim conflicts, however, are not healthy under any circumstance, and children should not be expected to handle bullies on their own. Once a bully situation is identified adults must act immediately, take a strong stand, and trust the victim. Help and training to handle conflicts should be provided. Schools can use strategies such as anger management, conflict resolution, mediation and open communication. A brief description of each of these strategies follows:

Anger management teaches individuals to control anger rather than having anger control them. They learn to become aware of anger signs in themselves, to back off, cool down, and take time out. This gives them time to review their choices, consider the consequences of each choice, and pick the safest one.

Conflict resolution teaches individuals to think about the conflict and their own part in it, to talk about it and listen carefully to the other person. This will set the stage for working conflict out and arriving at a compromise so everyone wins.

Mediation involves asking a third party to help students talk and listen to each other. Each expresses their side of the conflict. Options for resolution are created and an agreement is reached.

Bullying prevention programs
Effective bullying prevention programs can be implemented in school settings. To be effective the program should be permanent, rather than temporary, and administered by adults who are positive role models. The program should work to develop a school (and ideally a home) environment characterized by:
Positive interest and involvement by adults
Firm limits to unacceptable behavior
Non-hostile, non-physical negative consequences for inappropriate behavior. In addition, students must understand that the appropriate response to violence is reporting it to an adult, such as a parent or school faculty.

Three levels of intervention should be put in place:

  1. School-wide intervention
    • Anonymous student bully/victim questionnaire
    • Bully Prevention Coordinating Committee
    • Staff training
    • School-wide rules against bullying
    • Coordinated system of supervision during breaks
    • Involvement of parents in anti-bullying efforts
  2. Classroom level intervention
    • Reinforcement of schoolwide rules
    • Regular meetings regarding bullying and peer relations
    • Class parent meetings
  3. Individual level intervention
    • Individual meetings with students who bully
    • Meeting with children who are targets of bullying
    • Meetings with parents of children involved
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