Helping Victimized Students: Thinking Matters (page 2)

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 26, 2010

Feeling Threatened

I have also asked young people about what bad things might happen to them because they are bullied, and I have looked at the effects of this for their well being and behavior. These thoughts are called threats and I’ve found that:

  • Children recognize that bullying can have lots of negative outcomes including losing confidence, feeling lonely, being injured physically, being bullied more in future, and becoming a bully themselves6.
  • Greater victimization is associated with higher levels of threat which, in turn, are associated with higher levels of depression2. This suggests that a focus on threat actually explains, at least in part, why victimization is associated with depression.
  • Feeling threatened is associated with undesirable behaviors such as hitting and truanting. However, feeling threatened is not associated with assertive behavior such as standing up to bullies. Taken with the evidence earlier relating to control, this suggests that helping students to increase their feeling of control, while also decreasing their feelings of threat, is the best bet for encouraging students to use assertive, non-aggressive, behavior7.

Feeling Challenged

Of course, students don’t have to focus on the bad things they think might happen to them as a result of being bullied. They may also focus on the potential for positive outcomes. These thoughts are called challenges:

  • Children spontaneously recognize that bullying can have positive outcomes, for example becoming more confident, learning how to deal with bullying in future (and therefore being able to help other victims), and that the bully may be caught and will not bully again6.
  • My work with adults suggests that victimized students who see more opportunities for positive than negative outcomes experience less victimization-related distress (e.g., ‘flashbacks’) as adults5. This suggests that addressing students’ thoughts may be important for both short- and long-term wellbeing.
  • Children who think there is the possibility of many positive outcomes are also more likely to seek help9. It’s not yet clear why this should be the case, but it may be that a focus on positive outcomes means that students are motivated to get help achieving those outcomes.

Blaming Yourself

The final category of thoughts that I’ve looked at relate to blame. Thoughts relating to blame simply reflect who students think caused, or is causing, the bullying episode: was it the aggressor’s fault or was it their own fault?

  • Work conducted in the US suggests that it is the nature of self-blame which is important. Blaming something about the self which is relatively difficult to change (e.g. “If I were a cooler kid I wouldn’t get picked on”) leads to loneliness. This type of blame is also associated with higher levels of victimization. Blame relating to behavior (“I should have been more careful”) does not influence loneliness10.
  • Such work dovetails with my own: how children and young people think about themselves is important for their adjustment. It also suggests that certain negative, self-blaming thoughts may need to be challenged by school staff, and that a more accurate interpretation of what caused the situation may be helpful for students’ adjustment. 
  • My own work has provided less support for the importance of blame in relation to loneliness1. I too found that greater victimization is associated with more self-blame, and that more self-blame was associated with loneliness. Crucially however, I found that when students’ level of control was considered at the same time, blame was much less important in understanding loneliness. So, if school staff wish to reduce loneliness, then addressing young people’s sense of control may be more important than addressing who they blame for the problem.
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