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Who Are the Targets of Bullying? (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Are children bullied because they're different? Psychologists David G. Perry, Ernest V. E. Hodges, and Susan K. Egan (2001) point out that physical differences seem to incite teasing, which can cause distress and a loss of self-esteem—and may put a child at risk of harassment. Among boys and girls bullied at least once a week, about 20 percent were victimized because of their looks or speech, according to a survey of 15,000 U.S. students (Nansel et al., 2001), and researchers in the Midwest found that the top reason for being bullied was "just didn't fit in" (Hoover and Oliver, 1996). Other studies show that children with disabilities (Whitney, Smith, and Thompson, 1994) and children who are obese (Janssen, Craig, Boyce, and Pickett, 2004) face a higher risk of harassment. As Keith Sullivan, Mark Cleary, and Ginny Sullivan (2004) note in Bullying in Secondary Schools, "Once a bullying culture is operating, those who are somehow different...are likely to be singled out, but the random and indiscriminate nature of bullying means that no one is immune" (p. 13).

Ethnicity or culture sometimes makes a child a target. In the large U.S. study (Nansel et al., 2001), about 8 percent of students who were bullied once a week or more reported being harassed because of their race or religion. But other studies have found much higher rates. In surveys in middle schools in New York and New Jersey, 40 to 45 percent of African American, Latino, and European American students and 60 to 65 percent of Asian American students reported that their peers had harassed or discriminated against them because of their race or ethnicity (Way and Hughes, 2007).

Because racial harassment has profound educational, emotional, and physical consequences for the students who are targeted, it is a federal offense (U.S. Department of Education, 2005a). Racial harassment can damage self-esteem, self-efficacy, and control, and lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, and depression, as well as challenging behavior and lower academic performance (Fisher, Wallace, and Fenton, 2000; Greene, Way, and Pahl, 2006; Wong, Eccles, and Sameroff, 2003).

Not all students who are harassed are passive. Perhaps 10 to 20 percent fight back and even egg on their abusers. Dubbed "provocative victims" by Olweus (1993), they are also called "aggressive victims" or "bully-victims." Like children who bully, they have trouble concentrating, and they're likely to be impulsive and hyperactive. They try to dominate others, and their behavior is often aggressive and antisocial (Olweus, 1993). Like children who are targeted but don't retaliate, they are anxious, depressed, rejected, and lonely. Lacking social skills, they have few friends (Perry et al., 2001; Perry et al., 1992; Schwartz, Proctor, and Chen, 2001). They are also physically weak and have the same body anxiety as children who respond passively to harassment (Olweus, 1993).

But perhaps their most prominent quality is their volatility. Because they can't regulate their emotions, they lose their tempers, overreact, argue, and fight about all kinds of things, and they almost invariably lose. For this reason, some researchers (Perry et al., 1992) call them "ineffectual aggressors" (p. 320, 323). Their lack of self-control also means they have trouble in school (Schwartz et al., 2001). With this irritating, provocative behavior, they manage to elicit negative reactions from just about everyone (Olweus, 1993).

It is no surprise that students who combine aggressive behavior with victimization usually come from a harsh environment where the parenting is hostile and punitive and there is lots of conflict and violence. In a prospective study, 38 percent of the boys who emerged as "aggressive victims" had been physically abused and many had witnessed domestic violence (Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, and Bates, 1997).

In the long run, there is risk for any child who is bullied. When Olweus (1993, 2001) followed up on boys who'd been bullied in grades 6 through 9, he found that at the age of 23 they were more depressed and had lower self-esteem than their nonvictimized peers. The Australian bullying expert Ken Rigby (200la) reported that students who'd been victimized were more likely to be anxious, depressed, socially dysfunctional, and physically unwell three years later; many thought about killing themselves. And a Dutch study of children dealing with harassment revealed that some as young as 9 years of age had suicidal thoughts (van der Wal, de Wit, and Hirasing, 2003). In later life, students who've been the targets of relational bullying face risks above and beyond those encountered by the targets of physical bullying. They are even more depressed, lonely, anxious, and rejected (Crick et al., 1999; Crick et aI., 2001). "Bully-victims" are the most disturbed of all, with the most serious beehavior problems and difficulties at school Juvenon, Graham, and Schuster, 2003; Kumpulainen, Rasanen, and Henttonen, 1999; Wolke et aI., 2000).

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