Who Are the Students Who Bully Others?
By definition, children who use bullying behavior are strong individuals who choose to dominate their weak peers. They may have an impulsive temperament and a tendency to hotheadedness; and more importantly, they have a positive attitude toward violence. Boys who bully may be physically strong and good at sports and fighting (Olweus, 1993). In elementary school their marks are average, but they have trouble following rules and often behave aggressively and defiantly toward adults. In middle school they usually receive lower marks and dislike school (Olweus, 1993).
Children who target others probably acquire their view of violence at home, where they see up close how effective it can be. They may have observed parents or siblings bullying others or may have been bullied themselves (Sharp and Smith, 1994). Olweus (1993) found that the families of children who bully often use power-assertive child-rearing methods, such as physical punishment and violent emotional outbursts. They don't set clear limits or outlaw aggressive behavior, and they are usually cold and indifferent toward their child, which leads to an avoidant attachment relationship and increases the risk of aggressive behavior. A child in such a family grows up with a strong need to dominate others, to get her own way, and to be in control, and she isn't interested in negotiating, cooperating, or accepting anyone else's ideas (Hoover and Hazler, 1991; Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 1998). Pepler and Craig (n.d.) point out that she has learned some important lessons—that having power allows people to be aggressive, and that power and aggression can bring dominance and status.
Unlike children who use aggressive behavior indiscriminately, students who bully are generally well liked and surrounded by friends and supporters, although their popularity decreases in their mid teens (Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 1998). They may try out their tactics on several targets before settling on one who doesn't resist (Perry, Perry, and Kennedy, 1992). Because they choose carefully and use power swiftly and unemotionally to get what they want (Perry et al., 1992), their behavior elicits little negative reaction from their peers and seems to be an acceptable way to achieve social success (Hoover and Hazler, 1991).
It is a myth that students who use bullying behavior lack social skills and self-esteem (Olweus, 1991, 1993). They actually tend to be outgoing and self-confident and feel little anxiety or insecurity. Some researchers (Sutton, Smith, and Sweetenham, 1999) have suggested that they have a superior theory of mind or social cognition—that is, an advanced ability to understand and manipulate the minds of others. This is especially important in indirect bullying, where the student who's doing the bullying must know which of her peers will join in her efforts to exclude another child and what sort of justification the group will find acceptable. Even direct bullying takes sharp social insight: The student who's bullying must avoid detection and choose a method that leaves her unscathed while hurting the target.
Although children who are adept at bullying understand others' emotions, they don't seem able to share them. In other words, they have little empathy and don't worry about the pain or discomfort they cause (Olweus, 1993). On the contrary, they may even enjoy it (Rigby, 2001b).
But this description doesn't fit all students who victimize others (Craig and Pepler, 2003; Sutton et al., 1999). Some may lack social skills and impulse control and have more anxiety and insecurity, particularly "bully-victims" and the followers who assist the leader of the bullying (Olweus, 1993).
As they grow older, children who bully are at risk for a whole host of problems (Olweus, 1991; Pepler and Craig, 2000):
- Aggressive behavior
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Delinquency, gang involvement, and vandalism
- Sexual harassment and dating aggression
- Academic problems and school dropout
- Peer rejection
Students who bully might also suffer from mental health problems such as conduct disorder, depression, and anxiety (Olweus, 1991; Pepler and Craig, 2000). Olweus (1993) found that by the age of 24 about 60 percent of the boys who had bullied others in grades 6 to 9 had been convicted of a criminal offense, and 35 to 40 percent had three or more convictions. Students who use relational bullying also face risks: They struggle with behavior problems and self-esteem and are likely to be lonely, depressed, and rejected (Crick, Casas, and Mosher, 1997; Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, and Karstadt, 2000).
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