Bullying in School: An Exploration of Peer Group Dynamics (page 2)

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Who is Involved in Bullying and what are Their Relationships with Peers?

There are three distinct types of youth whom are directly involved in bullying: aggressive youth who are not victimized (bullies), aggressive youth who are also victimized (bully-victims), and non-aggressive youth who are victimized (victims). In studies with elementary and middle school students, we have found that bullies, bully-victims, and victims tend to have distinct patterns of peer relationships (4, 12). Although some bullies are not well liked by peers, many are perceived by teachers and peers as being among the most popular or “cool” students in their classrooms. They are also frequently viewed as being leaders by teachers and peers and they tend to associate with popular peers and not with peers who are socially marginalized. Further, these youth tend to not appear to feel sad or to worry about their peer relationships. In comparison, many bully-victims are highly disliked by peers and are not perceived by teachers and peers as being “cool” or popular. These youth tend to affiliate with peers who are bullies and victims and they appear to be marginalized within the classroom social structure. In contrast, non-aggressive victims tend not to be highly disliked, but are often identified as being forgotten by peers. This means these youth are not very salient or influential in the social structure. Also, non-aggressive victims tend not to be in groups that are composed primarily of bullies, but are more likely to be in groups that include other children who are victimized. However, both bully-victims and victims are more likely to cry, feel sad, and worry about peer relationships.

What Can Teachers and Parents do to Prevent Bullying?

Although we argue that bullying is a natural byproduct of classroom social dynamics, we are not suggesting that it is acceptable or that it is inevitable. On the contrary, our work suggests that when teachers and parents are aware of school social dynamics they can create classroom environments that reduce the development of the structures and processes that contribute to bullying (13).

To do this, teachers and parents can do three things.

  1. First, adults need to be aware of classroom social structures (7). This involves monitoring a series of questions about the classroom social dynamics.

    These include:

    • Which children typically affiliate together?
    • Which children are leaders and are socially influential?
    • Which children are socially marginalized?

    Building from this awareness, teachers and parents can help children establish less hierarchically structured relationships and can promote social opportunities for all students.

  2. Second, teachers and parents should monitor the interpersonal behavior patterns of children who are leaders and children who are socially marginalized. The focus here should be on teaching and reinforcing strategies of peer influence and social exchange that are not centered on social dominance or causing harm to others. It should be recognized that the needs of bullies and bully-victims might be quite distinct in this regard. For bullies, bullying behavior is likely to be maintained because it works for them. In contrast, the bullying behavior of bully-victims is likely to be maintained as a reactive response to the taunting and provocation of others.
  3. Third, teachers should incorporate their knowledge and understanding of classroom social dynamics in their general classroom behavior management strategies (14). This should involve classroom management approaches that focus on teaching and reinforcing socially supportive behaviors and not on punitively reacting to problem behavior.

Authors’ Note:
This work was supported by research grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (R305L030162, R305A04005), the Office of Special Education Programs (H023C970103, H325C020105, H324C040230)

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