Bullying victims don’t have many enemies
U. VIRGINIA (US) — Bullied kids are not universally disliked by their peers, but they are strongly disliked by those who harass them, say researchers.
Though the thousands of kids who are bullied ever day may have interpersonal and behavioral difficulties, and they may not be the most popular students at school, many are not disliked by classmates.
“This is the first study to go beyond the typical assumption that adolescents who are victims of bullying are disliked, and look to understand where this dislike originates,” says Christopher Hafen, a research scientist at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL).
Researchers set out to learn whether dislike directed toward victims of bullying is reported by most of the victims’ peers. They examined two possibilities related to bullying: Are victims rejected because most peers dislike them, or are victims rejected because bullies dislike them at a higher level?
The study included 359 boys and 340 girls enrolled in 10th grade in 13 public schools in Finland, and is published in CASTL Research Brief.
During the study, the students were asked how often they bullied others, how often they had been bullied, their problem behavior, their degree of school burnout, and their academic grades. In addition, students nominated three same-grade schoolmates with whom “you least like to spend your time,” which helped researchers understand disliking.
“By capitalizing on a comprehensive set of nominations, we were able to unpack the source of the majority of these nominations as being from bullies in the school,” Hafen says. “This has the potential to add validity to existing programs that look to build the social skills of victims so that they can form and maintain friendships with others.”
The researchers conclude that the problems of the victims stem largely from experiences with bullies and not with the larger peer group, which provides hope for prevention and intervention.
The results were “very promising,” says Hafen. “We found that victims were not disliked by the majority of their peers. While being a victim was associated with a higher likelihood of being disliked, the nominations they received were disproportionately a function of nominations originating from the actual bullies.”
“In this case, the history of research on bullying and victimization in the US and Finland are very similar and often find very similar results,” Hafen says. Though he allowed “it is always good practice to establish the consistency of results across samples,” he says he is confident this pattern is likely to be similar to US adolescents.
Possible solutions in Finland and the US, Hafen says, might include pairing the victims with children who have well-developed social skills to provide opportunities to boost self-worth, ease interpersonal concerns, and increase motivation to maintain peer relationships.
Action steps should be taken to remind the victims that they are not alone or a social outcast, and ultimately to push them toward community and discourage withdrawing from friend groups, he says.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland also took part in the study.
Source: University of Virginia
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