Bullying and Aggression in Schools
Table of Contents
Aggressive behavior among children is usually disregarded by adults, being considered a typical feature of the process of growing up. As a result, bullying has become a pressing issue in the recent years. Despite not being taken seriously, aggressive behavior at the young age can have long-term negative outcomes for bullies, their victims, and the society in general. Therefore, it is necessary to develop measures to make an early prognosis of bullying in order to mitigate the problem. The current paper will analyze the problem of aggression and bullying in schools, discuss the types of bullying, typical settings and participants of the bullying process, as well as its outcomes, and suggest possible measures to mitigate the problem. The main objective of the paper is to raise awareness about the need for joined actions to prevent, determine, and confront children’s violence in the school setting.
Juvenile aggression and bullying in particular is a global issue that has serious negative consequences for individual health and the society. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (2002), 15 to 30% of students are involved in bullying. It is normally caused by a number of factors, including an interaction of the developing person with the social environment he/she is growing in, e.g. family, school, and community. Aggression refers to an occasional conflict between children of equal strength, age, and social status (Center for Injury Research and Prevention, n.d.). If aggression between the same individuals with different strength repeats over time, it is normally referred to as bullying.
Despite the lack of an operational definition, bullying is generally described as a specific “type of aggressive behavior that causes distress or harm, demonstrates an imbalance of power, and is repeated over time” (Piotrowski & Hoot, 2008). In other words, aggressive behavior must include the following features to be considered bullying: power imbalance and repetition (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). According to Luxenberg, Limber, and Olweus (2015), bullying can last from one or two weeks (in about 20% of cases) to one year or longer (in about 39% of cases). One of the reasons for repetitive aggression is ignorance of adults. Thus, teachers intervene only in 4% of bullying incidents, whereas the majority of bullying cases are not addressed (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002). Lack of effective response, including reprimanding bullies for their actions, leads to the acceptance and high prevalence of aggressive behavior in schools.
Bullying behavior develops in nursery school and reaches its peak in early adolescence (9 to 13 years) (Lopes Neto, 2005). Thus, about one in four third-formers report being engaged in bullying behavior, either as bullies, victims or both (Luxenberg et al., 2015). In general, about 22% of students aged 12-18 years are faced with bullying (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). It usually takes place in unstructured school settings such as the cafeteria, hallways, playground fields, stairwells, and classrooms with or without teacher’s presence (Luxenberg et al., 2015).
Participants of Bullying Events
Research indicates that boys are four times more likely to be engaged in bullying than girls. There is also a slight gender difference among the bullies and victims. Thus, girls are is more likely to be bullied, and boys are more likely to bully others (Luxenberg et al., 2015). In addition, girls usually resort to indirect aggression (such as verbal abuse, rumors or threats), whereas boys usually target their victims physically (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002). In addition, children involved in bullying are classified according to the roles they assume in the act of bullying towards bullying targets (victims), aggressors (bullies), and witnesses (bystanders).
Bullying Targets (Victims)
The target of bullying, or victim is a person who continuously suffers from negative actions of one or more people (bullies). These actions can be physical, verbal, or indirect causing discomfort and/or pain, as well as fear in the victimized person. According to research studies, bullies tend to attack children who are perceived as being different from the group due to being overweight or underweight, wearing different clothing, being weak, less popular, being new to school, etc. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). In addition, passive, physically and emotionally weak and insecure children with low self-esteem and poor social and academic skills are typically victimized (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002). Interestingly, boys are more likely to suffer from bullying than girls.
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Victims of aggressive behavior often experience fear, shame, depression and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on their academic performance as well as physical and mental health. In rare cases, the victim can resort to radical measures, such as revenge, carrying a gun to school or committing suicide. Thus, two thirds of armed attacks in schools were performed by victims of bullying (Lopes Neto, 2005). The targets of bullying are often reluctant to report being victimized since they tend to believe they deserve such a behavior, are afraid of criticism and reprisal, or doubt their problem can be solved.
Bullies, or Aggressors
There are two types of children likely to become bullies. The first one includes children with social power who hold a dominant position in the peer groups. They usually get pleasure from dominating, hurting or insulting weaker children. Besides, they can obtain social and material gains from bullying.
The second type of bullies includes isolated individuals with low self-esteem, high level of anxiety and depression, and lack of social connections within school environment (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). Such children often bully others to mitigate their feelings of failure and frustration, which often happens as a result of being bullied. Thus, nearly 20% of bullies also become victims of aggressive behavior (Piotrowski & Hoot, 2008). In such a way, they resort to bullying to solidify their feeling of self-worth. Apart from this, unfavorable family conditions, exposure to violence in the media, and individual features of child’s development, namely hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and attention deficit, are some of the significant factors determining the development of aggressive behavior in children.
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Bullying Witnesses, or Bystanders
The majority of students take part in violent events as witnesses, or bystanders. These are people who are not directly involved in bullying but remain quiet when seeing someone else being bullied. According to the way witnesses react to bullying, they are divided into helpers, supporters, observers, and defenders. By silencing bullying events, bystanders facilitate the spread of violence in the school environment. It is necessary to make them understand that everyone is responsible for eliminating violence in schools.
Types of Bullying
School bullying can be of different forms, including verbal, emotional and physical bullying. It can be direct (such as physical aggression, abusive words, unpleasant gestures, etc.) or indirect (such as ignorance, isolation, etc.). Whereas boys are more likely to use direct bullying, girls usually resort to indirect bullying.
There are four main types if bullying (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.):
- Verbal bullying, which includes written or spoken abusive expressions, such as name-calling, teasing, taunting, irrelevant sexual comments, and threatening to cause harm.
- Social, or relational bullying, which includes actions that hurt someone’s reputation or relationships, namely leaving someone out, embarrassing someone in public, and spreading rumors about someone.
- Physical bullying, which affects victim’s body or possessions and includes kicking, hitting, spitting, pinching, pushing, tripping, breaking or taking things, making rude gestures.
- Cyberbullying, or electronic bulling, involves electronic messages written with an intention to upset, threaten or embarrass, damage reputation, spread rumors, share sensitive information, etc. (Pelper & Craig, 2014). Despite being a new type of bullying, cyberbullying is getting widespread all over the world. Thus, as reported by Lopes Neto (2005), 14 to 23% of adolescents use their mobile phones for adverse purposes. Quite often, victims of cyber bullying also suffer from traditional off-line bullying.
The frequency of different forms of bullying is as follows (starting from the most prevalent one): verbal bullying, rumors, exclusion, sexual abuse, racial bullying, physical bullying, threat, cyberbullying, damage of personal property, other types of bullying (Luxenberg et al., 2015).
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Outcomes of Bullying
Bullying can produce negative outcomes for victims, bullies, and the society in general. Thus, victimized children are likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem in adulthood. In addition, it can result in the development of clinical signs and symptoms in the victims of bullying, including nocturnal enuresis, sleep disorder, headache, fainting, vomiting, pain in the limbs, irritable bowel syndrome, hysteria, memory loss, panic, fear, irritability, depression, refusal to attend school, etc. (Lopes Neto, 2005). In critical cases, victims of bullying make suicide or homicide attempts. Thus, the majority of 250 violent deaths that took place from 1992 to 2002 in school facilities were somehow connected with bullying (National Association of School Psychologists, 2002).
On the other hand, bullies are at a high risk of getting engaged in anti-social actions, and suffering from job instability and short-lasting relationships in adult life. As estimated by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (2001), school bullies are four times more likely to be convicted of a serious crime by the age of 24 than non-bullies. Even witnessing bullying can affect children’s academic and social performance as well as health. Bullying can also inflict a huge burden on the society due to the need of prevention programs, intervention of health care professionals, etc. Family relationships may also be severely damaged due to bullying.
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The Role of Pediatricians
Bullying does not have direct adverse effects on bullies and victims; therefore, they are not likely to consult a pediatrician. Nevertheless, the role of health care professionals in mitigating aggression in schools should not be underestimated. Thus, the medical practitioners can timely identify risk patients, give advice to victim’s and bully’s families as for how to alter their child’s behavior, and define possible mental problems. The possible treatment for bullies must involve adequate expression of frustration and anger, irritability control, responsibility for the acts as well as acceptance of consequences of the actions. In addition, they can help to prevent aggression and bullying by giving advice on how to ignore nicknames and avoid risky places, and informing school authorities and parents about bullying. In addition, anti-bullying programs should be developed with an objective of raising general awareness about the problem, setting the rules and guidelines for correct behavior as well as taking punitive measures for breaking those rules to support victims and ultimately create a safe environment for children’s development.
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Bullying is one of the most pressing issues faced by individuals regardless of their ethnicity, gender, grade, socioeconomic status, or place of living. Students are exposed to a high risk of regular abuse due to the lack of an effective mechanism to address school bullying. Therefore, there is a need for making unified efforts to decrease children’s exposure to violence. School staff, parents, children, health care professionals and the general community should cooperate in order to solve the problem. Pediatricians should be able to investigate, diagnose and adopt adequate practices in situations involving violence. Preventive programs aimed at distinguishing the warning signs of bullying behavior and a timely reaction to violence prove to be effective measures for addressing the problem. In general, the challenge of aggressive behavior in schools can be mitigated by means of a continuous professional interdisciplinary interventions and participation of all the parties involved.