Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions About Bullies, Bullying and Bystanders to Bully Behavior

Frequently Asked Questions About Bullies and Bullying
By John D. Nottingham, PI, EPS, 6th Degree Black Belt, Bullying Prevention Specialist

What is Bullying?
A broad social term with varying definitions describing oppressive behavior over time.

Is Bullying Getting Worse?

Bullying has been called an epidemic by President Obama and in the media, yet the data to date is inconclusive. A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, found that the number of children who reported being bullied fell from 22 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2008.
It is still unclear if bullying is getting worse due to several factors:
  • Changing definitions of bullying 
  • Changing perceptions on bullying 
  • Much of the research to date is questionable (Much of the data is from the group selling the most expensive programs to schools around the world.)
Recent research shows that one in three children are directly involved in bullying as a perpetrator, target, or both. And many of those who are not directly involved witness others being bullied on a regular basis. No child is immune—kids of every race, gender, grade and socio-economic sector are impacted.* source

A healthy skepticism is in order as with any reported statistics.  Consider the source and the preponderance of evidence combined with open minded common sense.  What we know is that the verdict is still out and more objective research is necessary to conclude anything more.

What are the Types of Bullying?
My short definition is oppression. This includes mental, physical and emotional imbalance of power and manipulation over time. It can be direct or indirect.

In our courses I teach about:

  • Verbal bullying – the most common form of bullying, can be insults, humiliating comment, name calling, taunting, harassing. 
  • Physical bullying-easiest to see from the outside, can be tripping, punching, shoving, pinching, kicking, tripping, hair pulling, pencil poking, hiding things, stealing. 
  • Social/relational bullying – hard to detect and often indirect, can be shunning and exclusion, done through body language like dismissive looks, mean and degrading notes, ignoring, spreading rumors 
  • Cyber-bullying/Internet Bullying/Media Bullying – newest form of bullying, using text messaging, email, chatrooms, Facebook, forums, message boards and other social media to send threatening and degrading messages, harass, or spread rumors. 
  • Video Bullying: selectively editing embarrassing video footage, message boards or other media. 
  • Manipulation: causing an individual to get in trouble through false accusations, testimony or other means to control, exact revenge and cause pain/embarrassment 
  • Some subcategories can include sexual bullying, racial bullying and gender bias bullying. 
Who Bullies?
Despite what you will often read and hear, research shows that just about everyone engages in bullying behavior. That is why I find the outcry with stop bullying, hating bullies and labeling can be so disingenuous. Nobody is perfect and we can all have bad days, bad moods and act inappropriately. It's not as black and white, good and evil as some would naively have you believe.

Bullying is a behavior is rooted in manipulation, wielding authority, intimidation, and manipulation. Wielding power yields high social rewards and status and also commands respect. Whether or not it is considered bullying is often based on one's perspective. I see parents bully their own children quite often when they lack other tools of leadership and influence. You can see bullying on our roads when we drive, in the workplace and even in homes. In order to deal with bullying we have to start by being honest about reality and our own role in it.

One of the more common myths in bullying is that it is done by children whom are considered outcasts or with low self esteem. The research shows that it is often the most popular adults and children who bully the most, often without recognizing it as bullying behavior. Those with high social intelligence are not only frequent bullyers, but equally good at rationalizing it as humor or other justifiable behavior.

Who Gets Bullied?
Nearly everyone gets bullied, however, it is often those with the least social intelligence, assertion competence and boundary setting skills that suffer it continually. Some develop these skills based on early experiences at pre-school or in the home while others have to learn it later. Some still do not have these skills even as adults.

It is very clear that those who stand up to bullying behavior usually experience the least of it.
Bullying requires a soft (unprotected) target, a permissive target in order to continue.

When we shift our thinking from always blaming others to having a stake in the process, we can begin to exercise more personal power and protective strategies. This is not to say that the target of bullying is to blame, nor that the person doing the bullying isn't responsible for their behavior. Bullying is wrong and the target is not to blame.

Where Does Bullying Take Place?
Bullying takes place where it is permitted and not seen. Most often this is in places of transition and out of sight of teachers, adults and authority figures who would object. The setting for abuse is where an abuser has privacy and control. Bullying takes place where it is not confronted or held to account.

This is why treating the social environment is critical and teaching others to become advocates, to speak up and take action is important.

What is the Frequency of Bullying?
Most data indicates that bullying today is most frequent at recess during school hours. Many researches are predicting that as children spend more time online and on various media such as cellphones that the reported incidents of bullying there will increase.

My position is that children are at risk where they spend the majority of their time.

Bullying frequency studies show varying results. Consider that the definitions and standards, survey samples are all factors in varying results. Some studies have much more broad definitions of bullying, therefore will have higher reported frequency of incidences.

There are two sources of federally collected data on youth bullying:

  • The 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that, nationwide, 20% of students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying.
  • The 2008–2009 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) indicates that, nationwide, 28% of students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying.

Are School-wide Anti-Bullying Programs Effective?
Dr. David Smith, PhD, of the University of Ottawa, conducted a meta analysis of all available research studies regarding the effectiveness of whole-school anti-bully programs. His results, published in the School Psychology Review (2004 issue) are clear: 

  • 14% of victim outcome reports showed a minor positive benefit 
  • 86% of victim outcome reports were negligible or negative 
  • 100% of self-reporting bully outcome reports demonstrated negligible / negative effects

In 2007, another meta analysis out of Texas A&M  International University reviewed school-based bully prevention and intervention programs and came to the conclusion that overall, they showed “little discernable effect.”
Vreeman and Carroll published a review of 26 school-based anti-bully programs in 2007 issue of the Achieves of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Only 3 could point to consistent reduction in bullying.Dr. Wendy Craigauthor, researcher, speaker and professor of psychology at the prestigious Queen’s University in Canada, reports in her study that in 15% of schools with comprehensive anti-bullying problems actually experienced the problems get worse.*  *source 

Where is all the Misinformation and Guesswork Coming From?
The majority of the misinformation emanates from individuals without protective nor peace education training. You can see a lot of misinformation being passed around.  Once it reaches a certain level of popularity it starts becoming accepted as fact, when it is nothing of the sort.  

Sometimes individuals will piece together personal experiences, facts and information together from various sources. Unfortunately, many of them are seeking confirmatory evidence to support an existing belief or an agenda.  What is missing is the objectivity, data and effective testing methods.  It gets especially messy when you factor in political and personal agendas.  A bit of healthy skepticism is in order or we risk repeating the failed scare movements such as Stranger Danger or D.A.R..E. (over 200 billion dollars spent).

Other sources of bullying research promote data from small samples, and even different countries.  Much of the popular information provided to date is provided by the group selling the most expensive anti-bullying programs to schools.

During teacher training I sometimes ask for volunteers to participate in a role-playing experiment. Ironically, many of the so-called bullying experts and teachers cannot stop me from bullying them. Many escalate or abdicate to indirect bullying.
Many of the prevailing groups involved in bullying movement I would argue are not experts in the area in which they are espousing. You cannot give away a skill you do not posses.  

In my view, getting to a solution starts by being honest and defining our desired outcome and shared values.

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