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Article of Interest - Bullying in Schools

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Bridges4Kids LogoWhat Bullies Want
by Francine Dube, National Post, December 11, 2003
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Bullies are popular and their classmates think they're cool, according to new research from UCLA, which points to the need for a new approach to addressing the problem in schools.

"Many of the existing programs in schools still operate under the assumption that kids bully their peers because they feel bad about themselves," said Jaana Juvonen, PhD, UCLA professor of psychology and the lead researcher on the study. "Our findings show quite the contrary. Bullies do not need ego boosters."

Especially when being popular and cool are the best ego boosters of all for teenagers, according to Dr. Juvonen. What's needed instead is to address the problem of bullying with more comprehensive school programs that target not only bullies but the bystanders to bullying.

"They may not instigate the mean act initially, but they take part in it one way or another," said Dr. Juvonen of the bystanders. "Often it takes very little, it takes something like just smiling or going along with the agenda -- that is very encouraging to the bully."

Bullying has become an increasingly hot topic in schools, as the connection between bullying and explosions of violence, including deadly violence, grows more clear. The Columbine killers claimed they were bullied. The 14-year-old student in Taber, Alta., who killed one classmate and wounded another in 1999 had endured severe bullying.

Canadian research has found as many as one in four students report being bullied, and in recent years in Canada at least two students, one in B.C. and one in Nova Scotia, committed suicide after enduring relentless bullying.

The UCLA study looked at 1,985 mostly Latino and black sixth graders from 11 schools in predominantly low socioeconomic status urban communities in Los Angeles. The mean age of students was 11.5 years. The data was collected over the fall of 2000 and 2001.

Students were asked to list up to four classmates from a class roster who fit descriptions of bullies and up to four who fit the descriptions of victims.

The descriptions of bullies included "starts fights and pushes other kids around, puts down and makes fun of others," and "spreads nasty rumours about others." Students were also asked to nominate the "coolest" kids in their class and kids they did not like to hang out with.

Teachers who had daily contact with students were asked to rate students on behaviour, ranging from "sad, worries, cries a lot" to "starts fights, argues, gets in trouble."

Twenty-two percent of the student sample was classified as involved in bullying -- 7% as perpetrators, 9% as victims and 6% as both victim and bully. The bullies were psychologically strongest and enjoyed high social standing among their classmates, according to the study. Victims were emotionally distressed and socially marginalized by their classmates -- they reported the highest levels of depression, social anxiety and loneliness.

Students being bullied were also harder for teachers to identify, according to Dr. Juvonen. The disruptive behaviour of bullies is easily noticed, and must be addressed by teachers, leaving them with little time to notice the more subtle signs of psychological distress among victims.

Boys were twice as likely as girls to be classified as bullies (10% vs. 5%) and almost twice as likely to be classified as victims (12% vs. 7%). Asians were least likely to be classified as bullies.

Although bullies were regarded as the highest and victims as the lowest in social status, classmates avoided both bullies and victims, according to the research, indicating that the social prestige of bullies is motivated in part by fear.

Dr. Debra Pepler, PhD, a York University psychology professor who received $600,000 in federal funding to develop a nationwide program to fight bullying, agrees that schools need comprehensive programs to stop bullying, including addressing children who witness bullying.

Observational studies have found that children who watch bullying spend most of their time watching the bully, not the child being harmed. In effect, they support the bullying.

"It has to do with the status and dominance in the group," says Dr. Pepler. "Children want to be on the side of status. They don't want to be the next victim. I also think it's engaging, it's very arousing. Children become very excited. The more children who are in the audience, the longer it continues."

When a child intervenes to stop the bullying, the bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time, says Dr. Pepler. "There's tremendous potential to engage children in addressing these problems."

Dr. Juvonen agrees. She says children need to be taught to help the child being bullied. If schools are the primary place for socialization of future citizens, they shouldn't be places where no one has the courage to stand up for anyone else, she says.

She suggests parents talk with their children about bullying before it happens. "If you've never discussed this issue with your child, it might be difficult for your child to tell you about it. The older children get, the harder it is for them to bring it up. Start by talking with your child about other kids in the school. 'Do other kids in your school get picked on? Tell me what happens. How do you think these kids feel? What do you think should happen?' "

She also recommends role-playing, especially with younger children. She says if your child is being bullied, don't contact the parents of the other child, contact the school and talk with the teacher.


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