Some Myths and Facts about Bullies and Victims
Based on what we see on television or read in the newspapers, many of us develop beliefs about bullies and victims. Sometimes those beliefs are more myth than fact. In this article I describe a few commonly held myths about bullies and victims. I label these beliefs as myths because researchers who study bullies and victims of many different ages and in many different contexts have not found them to be true.
Myth #1: Bullies are rejected by their peers and have no friends.
Many people believe that everybody dislikes the class bully. But in truth, the research shows that many bullies have high status in the classroom and lots of friends (1). Particularly during the middle school years, some bullies are actually quite popular among their classmates who perceive them as especially “cool” (2). As young teens try out their need to be more independent, it seems that bullies sometimes enjoy a new kind of notoriety. Many classmates admire their toughness and may even try to imitate them.
Myth #2: Bullies have low self-esteem.
Just as it has been incorrectly assumed that bullies are rejected by peers and have no friends, there is a general belief that such youth are low in self-esteem. That myth has its roots in the widely accepted view that people who bully others must act that way because they think poorly of themselves. Some readers may remember the self-esteem movement of the 1980s when many people argued that raising self-esteem was the key to improving the outcomes of children with academic and social problems (3). But there is not much evidence in peer research that bullies suffer from low self-esteem (4). To the contrary, many studies report that bullies perceive themselves in a positive light, perhaps sometimes displaying inflated self-views, and that high self-esteem can sometimes encourage bullies to rationalize their antisocial actions (5).
Myth #3: Being a victim builds character.
Another misconception is that bullying is a normal part of childhood and adolescence and that the experience of peer harassment builds character. In contrast to this view, research findings quite clearly show that bullying experiences increase the vulnerabilities of children. For example, we know that children who are passive and socially withdrawn are at heightened risk of getting bullied and that these children become even more withdrawn after incidents of harassment (6).
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