Bullying is one form of aggressive behavior that is all too common among children and adolescents. Bullying is ongoing verbal or physical aggression that is aimed at particular victims and that involves an imbalance of power. Sometimes bullying is direct (as in name-calling, teasing, or hitting) but it does not have to take place face-to-face. It can also be indirect (also called relational), as in spreading rumors or excluding others; and can even take place over the Internet (called cyber bullying), as in posting altered photos, abusive messages, or personal information online, or harassing victims in chat rooms (Gillespie, 2006; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). One national survey estimated that 30% of U.S. students have either bullied, been a victim, or both. Thirteen percent said they had bullied someone, 11 % reported being a victim, and 6% said they had both bullied and been a victim (Nansel et al., 2001; Solberg, Olweus, & Endresen, 2007). Boys tend to use and receive physical forms of bullying more often than girls; while boys bully both boys and girls, girls more often bully other girls. Most people tend to think of bullying as a problem of middle and early high school, and statistics confirm that bullying is most frequent from grades 6 through 8. But bullying does continue at lower levels into college and even into the adult workplace (Chapell et al., 2004; Nansel et al., 2001).
Not surprisingly, bullies tend to use aggressive behavior toward others (even adults) more often than those who do not bully others, and they tend to be aggressive across contexts. Bullies are not good at perspective-taking, are not empathetic for their victim's pain and emotions, and they tend to be impulsive. Compared to peers who do not bully, bullies are more tolerant of aggression and see it as an acceptable way to solve problems or gain rewards. They often experience the coercive home environments we described in the last section—characterized by inconsistent and harsh discipline practices, along with high levels of anger and hostility (Olweus, 1993). As with generally aggressive children, bullies are not insecure and low in self-esteem, nor are they higher in anxiety level. In fact, bullies often feel quite good about themselves, probably in part because they do not face much resistance from their victims and get what they want from their bullying (Nansel et al., 2001; Olweus, 1993; Rubin et al., 2006). They also report that they do not have difficulty making friends-but the peer group they affiliate with frequently consists of other rejected children, some of whom also have aggressive tendencies. Can you see the potential problems with this peer group affiliation? Though they may get what they want in the short term, bullying comes at a cost. Bullies are more likely to show conduct problems at school, to engage in substance use and abuse, and they are at much higher risk of serious antisocial and criminal behavior (Olweus,1993).
What about victims? About 10% of students report that they are regularly victims of a bully. Victims are often socially isolated and may lack social skills. They are often more anxious, lonely, and appear more vulnerable. Other children report avoiding victims for fear of being victimized themselves, thus increasing the isolation and loneliness of these children. In contrast, some victims may have more aggressive tendencies themselves; others may find their behaviors irritating or disruptive and target them. Victims often feel sad and rejected, avoid school, have high levels of anxiety, and are at increased risk for depression and suicide. One infrequent but important outcome is that a small number of victims seek revenge, which may end in such explosively violent acts as school shootings. Those who are both bullies and victims show the worst outcomes (Nansel et al., 2001; Rubin et al., 2006; Solberg et al., 2007).
More and more programs aimed at preventing bullying are being implemented, usually within schools. These programs can be successful if they focus on raising awareness of and changing attitudes toward bullying and creating a school culture in which bullying is not acceptable. Appropriate supervision of students is also important, along with consistent enforcement of rules against bullying and other aggressive behaviors. Support and protection for victims is important, as well as finding ways to encourage students to include in their activities those who might otherwise be left out (Olweus, Limber, & Mihalic, 1999).
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