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Bully Byte Blog - Bully or Socially Challenged?

My teacher partner and good friend, Tammy Erickson, summed it up perfectly when she said “I don’t think I have a single bully at my elementary school, based on the definition of bullying as a coercive relationship based on power and control. I think we need to stop arbitrarily using the word bullying in elementary school. What I do have to deal with are a lot of naughty, rude and socially challenged students who struggle academically and take it out on each other”.

Science Daily echoes those thoughts in a July 9, 2010 article titled, Who Is Likely to Become a Bully, Victim or Both? New Research Shows Poor Problem-Solving Increases Risk for All”. The article refers to new research published by the American Psychological Association which concluded that “Children and adolescents who lack social problem-solving skills are more at risk of becoming bullies, victims or both than those who don't have these difficulties. But those who are also having academic troubles are even likelier to become bullies.”  Clayton R. Cook, PhD, of Louisiana State University, goes on to say; “Ultimately, we want to develop better prevention and intervention strategies to stop the cycle before it begins."

Prevention strategies, that’s what this conversation needs to be about not labeling, especially early on in a child’s social development. "A typical bully has trouble resolving problems with others and also has trouble academically," said Cook. "He or she usually has negative attitudes and beliefs about others, feels negatively toward himself/herself, comes from a family environment characterized by conflict and poor parenting, perceives school as negative and is negatively influenced by peers." 

There article goes on to point out that there are obvious and consistent traits of the victim as well. "A typical victim is likely to be aggressive, lack social skills, think negative thoughts, experience difficulties in solving social problems, come from negative family, school and community environments and be noticeably rejected and isolated by peers," said Cook.

The typical bully-victim (someone who bullies and is bullied) also has negative attitudes and beliefs about himself or herself and others, the study found. He or she has trouble with social interaction, does not have good social problem-solving skills, performs poorly academically and is not only rejected and isolated by peers but is also negatively influenced by the peers with whom he or she interacts, according to the study.

I’ve read many conservative columns which suggest that this is the parent’s responsibility and that the parent’s should be held accountable. How? This research clearly shows that the majority of these young bully/victims come from homes where parents struggle and have low skills themselves. Will fining the parents or putting them in jail help them the parents we need them to be in order to provide a better example for their offspring?
San Francisco and other areas are experimenting with the idea of a community school that will attempt to address the educational, as well as social system needs, of the whole family. In this kind of environment, a parent could be encouraged or even mandated to attend classes that would have a positive effect on their parenting. 

Most schools use punishment and removal to deal with bullying but the more promising approach is to educated everyone involved, including the parents. "Intervene with the parents, peers and schools simultaneously," said Cook. "Behavioral parent training could be used in the home while building good peer relationship and problem-solving skills could be offered in the schools, along with academic help for those having troubling in this area."

Like Ms. Erickson said, elementary students are rarely bullies or victims in the true sense of the word. But, they can be heading in that direction without our help. Middle school is where we see more of the text book bully/victim relationships. That means elementary educators have a unique opportunity to help students and prevent bullying by doing more intervention and social skills training early on in the cycle.  We don’t expect students to handle the advanced academic requirements of middle school without solid elementary preparation. So why do we imagine that they’ll be able to handle to the advance social skills environment in middle school if we haven’t prepared them for it?

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