Study Says Bullies Operate by Social Ladder

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and a new study has found that the stereotype of the schoolyard bully preying on the weak doesn’t reflect reality in schools, writes Chuck Hadad at CNN.

Instead, the research shows that many students are involved in “social combat” — a constant verbal, physical and cyber fight to the top of the school social hierarchy.

“Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status,” explains Robert Faris, a sociologist who partnered the pilot study.

“It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors.”

Faris, along with the co-author of the study, Diane Felmlee, also found that the ‘bully’ and the ‘victim’ are not defined roles and in many cases they can be the same person.The higher students rise on the social ladder, the more they bully other students, and the more other students bully them, writes Hadad.

“When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive,” Faris says.

The study was conducted this spring at The Wheatley School, a nationally top-ranked high school on Long Island, New York. More than 700 students at the school were given a survey with 28 questions on aggressive behavior four separate times throughout the semester.

The school’s principal, Sean Feeney, recognizes there’s a problem.

“It breaks my heart when they keep that all inside and we’re not aware of it,” he said. “Every high school has to deal with bullying. Every high school has to deal with drugs and alcohol. … Just because we are in an absolutely wonderful school district … kids don’t have a pass on those just because they’re affluent and high-achieving.”

The results of the study mirror earlier research Faris did at rural schools in North Carolina. Showing that what is happening at Wheatley isn’t the exception; it appears to be the rule. The economic, geographic and racial demographics could not be more different, but the findings were largely the same.

Faris said he believes the study has discovered some universal truths:

“Family background of kids does not really seem to matter in their aggressive behavior. Instead, what really matters is where they are located in the school hierarchy,” Faris said. He said he believes the patterns, “arise in a wide range of schools across the country regardless of what community they may be in.”

Faris, however, believes that the study has made two hopeful breakthroughs:

“We’ve found that by and large, on average, the more aggressive you are, it doesn’t have an effect on how likely you are to climb the social ladder later on.”

And the second discovery is that behavior is contagious. When students are aggressive, there’s a higher likelihood that their friends will become aggressive.

But Faris said:

“There’s also the possibility that positive behaviors can also spread through social networks and that kids may be more likely to intervene in bullying situations if they see their friends stepping in to stop things, or if they see their friends discouraging that kind of behavior.”

Faris said he thinks educating students that bullying is not only destructive but also ineffective could be key to helping end the problem.

Dr. Charles A. Williams III, assistant clinical professor in Drexel University’s School,of Education and director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence, says that bullying must stop, writes Kelly Ni at The Epoch Times.

“Parents should make sure children have self-esteem and understand that they have rights. Parents should make sure children are able to confidently and competently navigate their own social environment,” said Williams.

According to Williams, some children are targets for bullies.

“Many children walk around with a bull’s eye that says ‘I can be a victim of bullying.’ A child with low self-esteem, somewhat withdrawn, not sure of him or herself, who does not have many friends, and walks around with the attitude that no one likes me and no one wants to be around me is more likely to be a victim of bullying,”

Any child can be bullied, but William says that it is less likely to happen to a confident child. According to William, most of it starts with what is happening or not happening in the home.

This also comes as the South Brunswick School District sets to offer three grade-level-specific parenting workshops to introduce parents and students to the details of the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) Law, also known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights set by Governor Chris Christie that amends various parts of the statutory law, including the requirements for the prevention and intervention of HIB on and off school grounds, at school-sponsored functions and on school buses, writes Davy James at the South Brunswick Patch.

According to Judy McCormick, the South Brunswick School District Anti-Bullying Coordinator, the workshops are designed to be attended by parents with their children and are being presented in three parts:

“A two-part information session for adults , first outlining the details of the law and then providing specific grade-level strategies for helping their children to deal with HIB issues; and finally, interactive small group activities with parents and children for more helpful strategizing and role-playing.”