- Bullying is not limited to unpopular loners, say researchers;
many children bully each other especially in middle school
- Bullies are also victims much more than thought
- Bullying is a pervasive problem, with estimated worldwide
rates of 5 to 15 percent. Bullying occurs more frequently and with greater
lethality today than in the 1970s and 1980s, as incidents like Littleton,
Colorado illustrate. Findings from three studies that examine the prevalence
of bullying behavior, children's perceptions of who bullies and who the
victims are and why bullying is rising in middle schools will be presented
at the American Psychological Association's 107th Annual Convention in
- In a survey of 558 students in a Midwestern middle school,
80 percent of the students had engaged in bullying behaviors during the
previous 30 days. "These findings indicated that the bullying behaviors
measured (teasing, name calling, threatening, physical aggression and social
ridiculing of peers) are very common," according to psychologist Dorothy
Espelage, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and
co-researchers. This survey will appear in the August issue of the Journal
of Early Adolescence.
- "It looks like bullying is a continuum of behaviors.
Rather than labeling a kid a bully, a non-bully or a victim, it seems that
many of the students engage in bullying behavior, although most reported
low to moderate levels of that behavior," said the researchers.
- "By asking students if they had engaged in certain
behaviors over the past month without telling them those behaviors were
defined as bullying, we found that our results support that adolescents
don't neatly fall into categories of either bullies or non-bullies,"
said the authors.
- Interestingly, from other interview-based research conducted
at other Midwestern middle schools, noted Dr. Espelage, "kids who
bully a lot also say they've been victimized too. Nearly 80 to 90 percent
of adolescents report some form of victimization from a bully at school."
- Researchers Christine S. Asidao, M.A., Shontelle Vion,
M.A., and Dr. Espelage also found similar results from a study of 89 middle
school students (11-14 year olds) in three mid-sized Midwestern towns.
In the study, students defined bullying behavior and their personal experiences
of bullying and victimization. The students consistently described bullying
as a wide range of behaviors (from verbal teasing to physical aggression).
Furthermore, the students who reported bullying others also reported being
- "Students who are physically different (race, body
size, clothing) are more likely to be victimized," said the authors.
"Many middle school students tease their peers to fit into the crowd,
but do feel uncomfortable with their behavior. And we did find that teachers
and parents can be a source of support for students who are being bullied."
- An effective intervention for bullying, said Dr. Espelage,
"would be to change the school climate, since it isn't just a few
problem kids that are causing this rise in aggressive behaviors in school.
Future research also needs to explore the differences between physical
aggression and bullying (teasing, humiliation and rumor spreading) so interventions
can be tailored accordingly."
- Presentation: "Interviews With Middle School Students:
Bullying, Victimization, and Contextual Factors," Christine S. Asidao,
M.A., Shontelle Vion, M.A., and Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D., University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Session 2148, Saturday, August 21, 11:00
- 11:50 AM, Hynes Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A (E-13).
- Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., can be reached at (217) 333-9139
or at <http://email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
- Another study of middle school students from a Midwestern
school that examined the accuracy of teacher ratings, peer ratings and
self-ratings of bullies and victims of bullies found similar results. Researchers
Diana L. Paulk, Ed.S., Susan M. Swearer, Ph.D., Sam Song, M.Ed., and Paulette
Tam Carey, M.A., of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, found that 75 percent
of the students identified themselves as bullies, victims, or both bullies
and victims (bully-victim) during the 1998/1999 school year.
- Eighty-three sixth graders (47 male and 36 female) were
asked to identify themselves as bullies, victims or both bullies and victims.
Teachers and peers were asked to identify the bullies, the victims and
the bully-victims. "Both the teachers and peers had difficulty in
accurately identifying pure victims of bullying. Teachers accurately identified
50 percent of the self-rated bullies and 10 percent of the self-rated victims.
Peers accurately identified 33 percent of the self-rated bullies, 7 percent
of the self-rated victims and 29 percent of the self-rated bully-victims,"
said the authors.
- "Perhaps the most striking finding from this study
was that teachers did not recognize victim behaviors even among students
who exhibited both bully and victim behaviors. This could be because many
bullies may also be victims of bullying and many victims of bullying may
also be bullies as discovered in other research on this age group. The
bully behaviors perceived by others may actually be a response initiated
in self-defense," said the authors.
- Peer identifications of bullies and victims tended toward
traditional gender stereotypes. "Sixty-seven percent of male bullies
were not nominated for any category, possibly because male bully behaviors
were seen as consistent with the male stereotype of overt expressions of
aggression. Students were consistent in identifying 67 percent of female
bullies. Perhaps because the externalizing aggressive behaviors of the
female bullies operated in such sharp contrast to the passive female stereotype,"
said the researchers.
- "Bully-victims are often punished for their bully
behaviors while their experiences as victims go unnoticed. Punishing bully
behaviors without acknowledging victim experiences may actually foster
increased frustration and subsequent displays of aggressive behavior by
bully-victims. Interventions must acknowledge that bullies may also be
victimized," said the authors.
- Presentation: "Teacher-, Peer-, and Self-Nominations
of Bullies and Victims of Bullying," Diana L. Paulk, Ed.S., Susan
M. Swearer, Ph.D., Sam Song, M.Ed., Paulette Tam Carey, M.A., University
of Nebraska-Lincoln, Session 2148, Saturday, August 21, 11:00 - 11:50 AM,
Hynes Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A (E-16).
- Susan M. Swearer, Ph.D., can be reached at (402) 472-1741
or at <mailto:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Diana
L. Paulk, Ed.S., can be reached at (402) 472-5416 or at <http://email@example.com
- Other research shows why bullying may increase in middle
school. In a longitudinal study of bullying, victimization and peer affiliation,
researcher Maria Bartini, M.S., of the University of Georgia and psychologist
Anthony D. Pellegrini, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
found that bullying increased with the initial transition from fifth to
sixth grade and then declined. Bullying was also used as a strategy to
establish dominance in new peer groups as the students entered a new and
- "Once the dominance is established and their place
with their new friends is secure," said the researchers, "the
aggression subsides. But some students bully throughout their school years,
never feeling secure in their peer alliances." This finding was discovered
by asking 154 fifth grade students (87 males and 67 females) to rate their
own and each other's popularity, friendships and feelings of isolation.
The students were also asked how often they engaged in bullying behavior
and how often bullies have victimized them. Their teachers were asked to
rate the fifth graders' emotional intensity.
- A year later when the students moved into sixth grade,
direct observations of the student's behavior and written diaries by the
students were added to the other measurements of peer nominations, self-report
measures and students' behaviors rated by teachers to assess the changes
in bullying behavior.
- "Our findings do support that early adolescence
witnesses an increase in aggression while youngsters look for new friendships.
As soon as peer groups are formed, many of the aggressive behaviors subside,"
said the researchers. "We also found that boys engage in and support
bullying behaviors more than girls and fifth grade bullies were also sixth
grade bullies, even after making the transition to a new school and making
new friends. And, having friends in sixth grade did not necessarily protect
a student from a bully's target. However, having friends did inhibit victimization.
Those that were most aggressive also received the highest ratings from
teachers on emotional intensity."
- Presentation: "Bullying and Victimization in Early
Adolescence- Description and Prevention," Anthony D. Pellegrini, Ph.D.,
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and Maria Bartini, M.S., University
of Georgia, Session 4186, Monday, August 23, 1:00 - 2:50 PM, Hynes Convention
Center - Meeting Room 308
- Anthony Pellegrini, Ph.D., can be reached at (612) 625-4353
or at <http://firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Maria Bartini, M.S. can be reached at (706) 353-0817 or at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org@arches.uga.edu
- (Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)
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