BLOG 7: THE BULLYING CULTURE

Geeks. Gamers. Goths. Nerds. Overachievers. Loners. Queen Bees. Choose your euphemism, but my blog this week will address concerns for all these groups.

What do the above have in common? Exclusion.

Exclusion is a familiar experience that most people in these groups have experienced. Maybe you were the ‘fat kid’ or the one who never got chosen for the sports teams first; at some point you were excluded or shunned. And it hurt. A lot. Humans are social creatures and research into the brain regions involved with social exclusion, have shown that those areas activated for physical pain are also activated for social pain (Eisenberger, Lieberman and Williams, 2003), demonstrating that we have adapted physical pain to warn us when our social relationships are threatened (Panksepp, 1988).

Bullying is a multifaceted, coercive behaviour that is defined as ‘any repeated negative activity or aggression intended to harm someone who is perceived by peers as being less physically or psychologically powerful than the aggressor’ (Glew, et al., 2005). It would be nice if we could simply say, “kids will be kids”, and parents often do, however nowadays, it can take place in school, around the neighbourhood and on the Internet, making it an increasing problem throughout the world.

This week I will address the short and long term consequences of bullying for both victims and bullies; the characteristics of victims, bullies and bystanders; and the prevention of bullying.

Short-term consequences (by no means an exhaustive list): First of all, as a result of being bullied, victims may experience extreme depression. Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpelä, Marttunen, Rimpelä and Rantanen (1999) observed secondary schools in Finland and found that there was an increased prevalence of depression and severe suicidal ideation among victims. Bullied victims may also experience a loss of self-esteem/self-worth, trouble sleeping, anxiety, truancy and a decrease in grades. Woods and Wolke (2004) found that bullying and victimisation were associated with poor academic achievement.

The short-term consequences for bullies are similar to that of the victims, with a general decrease in academic performance (Holt, Finkelhor & Kaufman Kantor, 2007), truancy and a prevalence of depression (Kaltiala-Heino et al., 1999). Bullies also experience difficulty in maintaining friendships and have a higher risk for alcohol/substance abuse (Ialongo, Werthamer, Kellam, Brown, Wang & Lin, 1999).

Long-term consequences of bullying that affect victims include chronic depression – which can lead to suicidal tendencies – self-destructive behaviours and a likelihood that the individual will partake in alcohol or substance abuse. Whereas the long-term consequences for the bully include a continued difficulty in maintaining relationships, an increased chance of spousal/child abuse as an adult, and a study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, found that nearly 60 percent of bullies are convicted of crime by the age of 24.

So what determines whether someone becomes a bully, a victim or a bystander?

Becoming a bully: bullying behaviour is a ‘red flag’ that a child has not learned to control his or her aggression. Children who bully have typically witnessed physical or verbal violence/aggression at home, leading them to have a positive view of the behaviour (Rigby, 2005). Bullies may have trouble following rules, show little concern for the feelings of others and often expect others to look up to them or behave according to the wishes of the bullies (Lyznicki, McCaffree and Robinowitz, 2004).

Becoming a victim: passive victims tend to lack defense skills, be more anxious and sensitive than their peers and will not retaliate when confronted. Provocative victims are impulsive and tend to annoy the bully. Relational victims are usually excluded from the group or ‘clique’ and tend to lack the social skills to fit in. A typical victim is usually different in some way; Norwich and Kelly (2004) show that pupils with special educational needs for moderate learning difficulties, experience far more bullying from both children in mainstream schools and even their own peers.

Becoming a bystander you are part of the largest group affected by bullying behaviour; these students are considered the “caring majority, 85% of children who are neither bullies nor victims” (Garity, Jens, Porter, Sager & Short-Camilli, 1998). Bystanders are either part of the problem – watching and encouraging for the thrill or to show off – or the solution – doing nothing for fear of being the next victim.

Prevention or Cure?

The need for evidence-based intervention programmes: bullying has gradually crept onto the official school agenda as something that needs to be intervened and prevented. But how can we address this pressing issue? The Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme (OBPP)  is a whole-school programme proven to reduce bullying in a school setting. Statistics from their site show that there are significant reductions in antisocial behaviour, including bullying, truancy and school violence. They also report significant improvements in the classroom ‘climate’. Bauer, Lozano and Rivara (2006) found that relational and physical victimisation decreased, with students actively intervening in bullying incidents. Similarly, Olweus (2005) studied approximately 21,000 students who partook in the OBPP and found substantial reductions (32-49%) in bullying problems.

It is clear that bullying will never be cured. Exclusion among students is prevalent in schools and spills out into the work environment. It is so common that there is almost a social tolerance regarding bullying: “It happens to everyone. Get over it.” It can take hold of you from a young age and stay with you, forever etched into your memory. But if we can grasp this demon from nursery to our schools, establishing rules and interventions to prevent bullying, then the children of tomorrow may treat each other with more respect and kindness and be able to carry that through the rest of their lives.

References:

Panksepp, J. (1988). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Garrity, C., Jens, K., Porter, W., Sager, N., & Short-Camilli, C. (1998). Bully proofing your school: A comprehensive approach for elementary schools. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

BLOG 6: HAS OUR CHILDREN’S “GET-UP-AND-GO” GOT UP AND GONE?

One of the most prominent academic problems plaguing today’s teenage youth is a lack of motivation toward academic activities; the paucity of research in education for motivation enhancement is surprising (Ames, 1992). The role of schools and their responsibility in providing students with the necessary motivation to achieve is also up for discussion. The issues regarding a lack of motivation are not exclusively restricted to academic subjects; however, there are concerns over healthy lifestyles and a lack of motivation of many students to participate in regular physical activity (Corbin & Pangrazi, 1992).

Studying motivation looks at the causes of goal-oriented activity (Atkinson, 1964). Adaptive motivational patterns promote the establishment, maintenance and attainment of personally challenging and personally valued achievement goals. Maladaptive motivational patterns, therefore, are associated with a failure: an inability to establish reasonable, valued goals; an inability to effectively strive towards such goals; or ultimately, an inability to attain valued goals that are potentially within one’s reach (Dweck, 1986).

Year after year, numerous students find themselves in a position where they have no desire to carry out academic tasks. This absence of such motivation can lead to feelings of frustration and discontentment, which encumber productivity and even affect students’ well-being. So why do students neglect their studies? And what strategies can we apply to fight this lack of motivation?

  • Many students can be demotivated by the structure/allocation of rewards: the structure of a course and its allocation of rewards can in itself be enough to encourage or discourage effort (Ames & Russell, 1984). Students may lose motivation to keep up with required reading or revision when their exam is not for another few months; the reward of finishing the module is too far ahead for them to see such a payoff. Likewise, if the teacher/lecturer does not sufficiently distinguish between excellent and poor performance, the student will be less likely to strive for excellence. Furthermore, if the grading criteria are unclear or inconsistently applied, students’ motivation will likely suffer.

Strategies: Highlight connections between graded and ungraded tasks – students will be more motivated to pay attention in classes if they understand how it will aid them in future exams: to keep up with readings if they know it will benefit them towards writing assignments (Meece, 1988). An interesting article about the study conducted by Deci and Ryan (1969) illustrates nicely how rewards can affect student motivation.

  • Students have other priorities that compete for their time and attention: they often struggle to balance different goals, including academic (getting good grades), social (making friends/finding a romantic partner) and physical (getting adequate exercise/sleep) (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, 1991). Completing their work to a high standard may have little importance when compared to maintaining a romantic relationship.

Strategies: Assign a reasonable amount of work, ensuring that the workload is commensurate with the size of the module (course credits). Students should also be held accountable for their work; to gain good results they prioritise work they must do, (e.g. to get a good grade) over work they do not necessarily need to do. So linking course work to an outcome they value, such as good grades, will motivate them towards such an outcome (Gorham & Christophel, 1992).

  • Students do not believe that their efforts will improve their performance: if a module is known to be difficult, they may feel that no amount of effort they put in will yield anything substantial in terms of achievement. Similarly, early assignments that show discouraging grades may put them off working hard later on as they feel they won’t be able to do the work well. Indeed, Patrick, Skinner and Connell (1993) suggest that students who are most detached from school also have little belief in their academic ability. We can understand then, that some students attribute their academic difficulties to their perceived low competence (Legault & Green-Demers, 2006).

Strategies: To be motivated, students need a standard to aim for that is both challenging and attainable; assignments or quizzes that assess a student’s level of ability early on in the course, can provide a lecturer with knowledge as to the right level of challenge for the students. Having ‘help sessions’ available throughout the duration of the course will also help students communicate difficulties they may be experiencing (Dweck, 1986).

Enhancing student motivation is essential to keeping them engaged with the course and for attaining good grades. To get our students motivated, we not only have to have course and exam structures that can be rewarding, but the teachers themselves need to be highly motivated: teachers must remember the reasons that brought them into teaching in the first place and rekindle that fire within themselves. They then have the opportunity to start a fire and keep it going within their motivated students. Through soft challenges and rewards for the youngest pupils up to respectable challenges and the rewards that come with such achievements for the older students.

Reference: Atkinson, J.W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.