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Social Children Bullying

Chapter 1

Today’s schools offer more than educational opportunities; they offer many opportunities for social interaction for youth. These social opportunities also offer many opportunities for children to become victims of bullying. In the last ten years, there has been a dramatic rise of research on bullying in the United States. This research has been spurred by continued extreme school violence where the perpetrators of the violence had been victims of bullying.

Bullying encompasses a range of various aggressive behaviors which are targeted at an identified victim (Espelage, 2002). It is differentiated from fighting because it involves an imbalance in strength such that the individual targeted has difficulty defending him or herself. Bullying has been a common obstacle of childhood for many generations (Olweus, 1995). Many people believe that bullying is a natural part of growing up which does not cause serious harm but help to toughen children up (Pianta & Walsh, 1995). On the other hand, extensive research in this area has identified consequences for the victims of bullying (Olweus, 1995).

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There have been many high profile cases of victims of bullying who have retaliated by horrific school shootings (Kumpulamen, Rasanen, & Puura, 2001). A number of recent studies have investigated the immediate and short-term effects of peer victimization (Espelage, 2002; Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, & Scheidt, 2001). Rejection from a peer group has been linked to adverse psychological and physical consequences (Kumpulamen et al., 2001). Victims have been noted to be at risk for increased levels of depression, anxiety, and psychosomatic symptoms (Nansel et al., 2001). School avoidance and feelings of isolation are common among victims. Furthermore, it has been reported that these victims of bullying are developing post-traumatic stress disorder (Kumpulamen et al., 2001). This reveals the detrimental impact that peer rejection may have on youth and the importance of more research on the long-term impact bullying has on victims.

The media has portrayed “bullies” and “nerds or geeks” in numerous films which focus awareness on childhood social hierarchies and the desire to be accepted as part of a group. The “nerds” are social outcast who are commonly victimized by their peers and often blamed for not being tough enough. Recent research and pop culture movies called “Mean Girls” have brought more attention to girls and their bullying behaviors. There is limited research on the prevalence and effects bullying has on girls (Brinson, 2005).

Many bullies experience mental health difficulties. One study found that one-third of bullies have attention-deficit disorder, 12.5% were suffering from depression, and 12.5% had oppositional-conduct disorder (Kumpulamen et al., 2001). Bullies then in turn take out their frustrations on someone they see as weaker than they. These bullies are also seeking to impress their peers. The rejection felt by the victim can have a direct impact on their lives.

Several authors suggest that youth who are continually victimized may be at risk for poorer psychological functioning as adults (Espelage, 2002; Nansel et al., 2001). There has not been much research in this particular area. Little is known about how these victims function as adults. Research suggests that adolescents do not simply grow out of emotional problems with age. This research implies that youth who have poor social skills may continue to experience difficulty in their area of maintaining relationships as adults (Nansel et al., 2001). Espelage (2002) found that many victims of bullying continue to think about their experiences of being bullied and recall painful memories well into adulthood.

Youth who have been bullied are at higher risk of becoming depressed and of having suicidal ideation for both males and females (Espelage, 2002). Youth who use bullying behaviors have similarly been found to transfer these behaviors from the classroom to the streets with male bullies having been found to be seventeen times more at risk of being frequently more violent outside of the classroom. Female bullies are one hundred times more likely to transfer their violent behaviors from the classroom to the streets (Brinson, 2005). There has been longitudinal research which identified that bullying and aggressive behaviors were identified as being characteristics of youth who became involved with criminal activity later in their lives (Olweus, 1993).

Statement of Problem

There have been limited studies on the phenomenon of bullying from the perspective of parents. There has been extensive research exploring the long-term effects of bully (Cole & Gillessen, 1993; Espelage, Bosworth, & Simon, 2000; Roland, 2002), bullying prevalence (Brinson, 2005; Espelage, 2002; Olweus, 1993), and the role of peer relations (Espelage, 2002; Nansel et al., 2001; Olweus, 1995). The goal of this study is to help fill the gap in the research on parent’s perspectives on this phenomenon. This study will give a voice to parents whose children have played one of roles in bullying: the bystander, the victim, the bully or the victim/bully.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this qualitative research is to explore the perceptions of parents whose children have been the bystander, the victim, the bully, or the victim/bully in a bullying incident. This study will allow a voice to parents whom have had this phenomenon encroach on their lives. Bullying prevention programs cannot just be in place at school. The best approach to tackle this issue is to take a community wide partnership approach. In this approach, the parents and the school administrators will have a united front against bullying behavior. This united stance will allow for consistency in how bullying is handled at home and at school. This study will explore the perceptions of parents whose family have been impacted by bullying, using a qualitative methodology based on social learning and ecological perspectives. Data will be analyzed using NVivo.

Research Questions

Theoretical Framework

There have been many theories used to give a theoretical explanation to bullying behavior. There are developmental theorists who have explained bullying as a child’s attempt to establish control over other children. Developmentally appropriate action is often used to establish dominance over another child. Young children often use physical means because they often have a lack of the more complex communication skills to maintain appropriate social relationships. As children grow and development, their bullying behavior is often carried out in the form of verbal abuse. Then the children develop the more social skills needed to understand and participate in more complicated social relationships. For the child to establish power and social dominance, they these relationships are used as a more clandestinely form of bullying (Smith, 2001).

Ecological theory and social learning theory are the theoretical perspectives which will be the theoretical framework of this study. Research has indicated that the family of the bully/victim as a whole can impact a child’s involvement in bully/victim situations in school (Cutner-Smith, 2000). Stevens, De Bourdeaudhuij, and Van Oost (2002) found in their research on parent/child relationships of children that are bully/victims that parents reported more cohesion, expressiveness, organization, control, and social orientation in their family than their children reported. Parents perceived less family conflict than the children do. Parents reported less punishment and a more personal relationship with their children and more encouragement of autonomy, compared to their children. The post hoc tests administered during this research showed that bullies perceived less cohesion, expressiveness, organization, control, and social orientation, and more conflict with the family compared to noninvolved children and/or victims or bully/victims.

Research has indicated that parental praise, positive reinforcement, and demonstrations of affection and warmth predict child displays of prosocial behavior (Domitrovich & Bierman, 2001). Principles of social learning theory declare that punishment should be indisputable, contiguous, and directly related to the behavior (Orpinas, Horne, & Staniszewski, 2003).

Stevens, De Bourdeaudhuij, and Van Oost (2002) researched the perception differences between children and their parents on family functioning and child-rearing practices. Their study also explored the impact on family function, child-rearing practices, and problem-solving strategies in imaginary conflict situations from the differences between families of victims, bullies, bully/victims, and noninvolved children. The results reported important perception differences between the parents and their children. On all aspects of family functioning and child-rearing, children present a less positive picture compared to their parents. Children were found to report less emotional bonding and less warm, attached, and personal relationships with their parents. They reported fewer opportunities to express feelings and opinions directly. The child survey also revealed less organization within the family, less control and discipline, and less involvement within the social environment. The results also showed more expression of anger and aggression and the use of more punishment.

The large perception differences between children and their parents could be explained by children’s developmental stage. In a study about adolescents’, mothers’, and observers’ perceptions of family interactions using a video recall procedure, Welsh, Galliher, and Powers (1998) concluded that adolescents and mothers view their behavior with each other through different lenses because they have different development tasks. Adolescents viewed family interactions as more conflictual mainly due to the transformation toward a more symmetrical and individualized parent-child relationship. The children in this study were all in the preadolescence stage, making this explanation quite possible. In general, it can be concluded that little agreement was found between children and their parents in this study.

Bullies in particular show a widely diverging family pattern as compared to the other groups (Stevens et al., 2002). They describe their family as less cohesive, more conflictual, and less organized and controlled. In hypothetical situations, bullies report more negative affect and more destructive problem-solving strategy. Less constructive strategies are observed. Their parents only differ from parents of victims, bully/victims, and noninvolved children on reporting more punishment.

In linking parenting practices, child perceptions of their parents and peers and social adjustment, the social learning theory model predicts that parenting practices act to model, evoke, and selectively reinforce child social behavior, thereby influencing their peer relations (Domitrovich & Bierman, 2001). Social learning theory emanates largely from the work of Bandura (1977, 1986) and utilizes the concept of vicarious learning and the role of cognitive meditational processes in determining which environmental events are attended to, retained, and subsequently performed when an individual is exposed to modeling stimuli. Social learning theory is based on the notion of reciprocal determinism that describes the role an individual’s behavior has on changing the environment and vice-versa (Bandura, 1986). According to social learning theory, beliefs about social norms directly influence behavior. When applied to the study of aggressive behavior, youth holding positive beliefs about the acceptability of aggression may be more likely to engage in aggressive behavior simply because it exists within their range of possible responses to problems (Bandura, 1986).

Several factors influence the efficacy of learning via modeling such as model-server similarity, narrated modeling, and reinforced modeling. Social learning theorists have found that by shaping child problem-solving strategies and social behavior, parenting practices also influence peer responses. Children who exhibit high rates of aggressive behavior at school, low rates of prosocial behavior, and hostile or incompetent problem-solving strategies are at risk of peer rejection and victimization (Domitrovich & Bierman, 2001). Significant correlations have been found linking parenting practices (particularly high levels of parental warmth) with peer status (Domitirovich & Bierman, 2001; Parker et al., 1996). Two studies (Bierman & Smoot, 1991; Patterson, Dishion, & Bank, 1984) confirmed parenting practices influenced child social behaviors, which in turn influenced peer ratings. Once rejected by peers, children may experience victimization (Kendall, Panichelli-Mindel, 1995), which leads to increased feelings of loneliness and distress, low self-esteem, and other long-term social problems.

The social cognitive deficiencies shown by aggressive children are themselves associated with a history of maltreatment. Research by Feldman and Downey (1994) indicates that children’s sensitivity to rejection places them at risk for behavioral and emotional problems. The sensitivity is linked to early experiences of overt rejection (e.g. child physical abuse) or covert rejection (e.g. emotional neglect) that are internalized by children. The sensitivity later becomes anticipatory and is accompanied by emotional arousal. Rejection sensitivity often is accompanied by their anger or anxiety, depending on situations and individuals’ predispositions. Sometimes juveniles’ sensitivity to rejection by their peers probably is a continuation of sensitivity to rejection by parents, which often is exacerbated by the parents’ physical maltreatment or emotional neglect (Feldman & Downey, 1994).

Putallaz and Heflin (1990) proposed a model that accounts for direct and indirect parental influences on the development of children’s peer relationships. Direct parental influences are those, which influence children’s acquisition of social skills and social behaviors. Direct parental influences include parental modeling, conditioning, and coaching of children’s social interactions. Parental modeling refers to behaviors that parents engage in to form and maintain interpersonal relationships with other adults; namely their spouses, relatives, and friends. Parental modeling also refers to behaviors that parents use to guide or control their children. Behaviors modeled by parents are observed by children and then imitated within the context of peers.

Research suggests that bullies often come from troubled families (Olweus, 1994). Bullies’ parents are typically hostile, rejecting, and disinterested in their children. The father figure is these homes are usually weak, if present at all. The mother tends to be isolated and may have a permissive parenting style; thus supervision of the children’s whereabouts or activities tends to be minimal. Research suggests that bully’s level of aggression will increase if the caretaker continues to tolerate aggressive behaviors toward the child’s peers, siblings, and teachers (Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005).

Children who are victimized tend to act in anxious and insecure in their behavior which often causes parents to be overprotective and sheltering of their child. These parents often avoid conflicting situations which does not allow these children to build appropriate problem solving skills (Domitrovich & Bierman, 2001). Many parents become overly involved in their child’s social deficiencies. Families that shelter their children tend to create a child that easily becomes the victim (Olweus, 1993).

Children who bully others often experience long-term effects and consequences as a result of their bullying. According to the National School Safety Center (2007), a disproportionately high number of bullies underachieve in school and later perform low in employment situations. In attrition, studies have found that by age 30 bullies were likely to have more criminal convictions and traffic violations than their less-aggressive peers (Roberts, 2000). A 1991 study found that 60% of boys who were labeled as bullies in grades 6 through 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 and 35; 40% of these boys had three or more convictions by this time (Olweus, 1995). These adults were also more likely to have displayed aggression toward their spouses and were more likely to use severe physical punishment on their own children (Roberts, 2000). In addition, research suggests that children who are bullies often have parents that were bullies when they were children (NSSC, 2007).

Victims are the recipients of bullying behavior. Victims tend to have one of two distinct attitudes; they tend to be passive and submissive or aggressive in nature. Victims tend to be small in stature, weak, and frail compared to bullies; thus, making victims unable to protect themselves from abuse (Espelage & Swearer, 2004). These physical characteristics are particularly pertinent for placing at risk of being a victim of bullying. Victims may also have body anxiety, fear of getting hurt, and have a negative attitude toward violence or aggression. Victims of bullying do not tend to be good at sports or other physical activities (Olweus, 1993). Victims often have poor communication and problem-solving skills which are compounded by their tendency to also be more quiet, cautious, anxious, and sensitive than most other children. As a result of poor communication skills, victims to do not typically initiate conversation as they lack assertiveness skills which adds to their social awkwardness. Consequently, many victims are abandoned by other children, have developed few friendships, and are often found alone during social situations at school, including the lunch room and play-ground (Olweus, 1993). Nansel et al. (2001) found that victims demonstrated poorer social and emotional adjustment, greater difficulty making friends, fewer relationships with peers and greater loneliness. Victims typically relate better to parents and teacher than their own peers (Olweus, 1993).

Victims tend to have lower self-esteem (Olweus, 1993). They often see themselves as a failure, unattractive, lacking power, having little or no value, and unattractive. Victims often blame themselves because of these negative cognitions. Victims lack self-esteem and assertiveness to stand up for themselves and not willing to report bullying (Nansel et al., 2001). This unwillingness to disclose their victimization could actually make them a bigger target for bullies. They could be victimized even further because of their unwillingness to report the abuse they are enduring. Academically, in elementary school victims may perform average or better, but victim’s performance in middle school usually drops below average (Olweus, 1993). This deterioration in academic performance may be due to the negative impact of the bullying experience on the victim’s sense of value in school.

Bully-victims are characterized by anxious and aggressive behavior (Olweus, 1995). Students indicate that these children both start fights and are picked on by others. This group of children is often victimized, but also tends to tease or provoke bullies. When bullies respond to this provocation, a physical fight may occur between the children. Although this has been described as common scenario for bully-victim interactions, it is only one of a number of possible altercations that might characterize aggressive bully-victims. Another bully-victim scenario may be that of the humiliated school shooter who is unable to cope with the bullying they endure and they boil over with anger and violence becomes the rational way to get back at the bully. Bully-victims are often hyperactive and have attention problems. In the classroom they tend to annoy other students and regularly cause aggravation. One study found that bully-victims viewed themselves as more troublesome, less intellectual, and unhappier than pure bullies (O’Moore & Kirkham, 2001).

Bully-victims usually come from troubled homes. These children frequently describe their parents as inconsistent (overprotective and neglectful) and sometimes abusive (Olweus, 1993). Bully-victims claim that their families are low in warmth and lack parental management skills (Nansel et al., 2001). Research suggests that bully-victims learn hostile behaviors at home and use these schemas to view the rest of the world as antagonistic and untrustworthy. The individual, family, peer group, school, community, and culture all have reciprocal interplay which is the basis of ecological theory (Brofenbrenner, 1979; Garbarino, 2001).

Assumptions

The researcher begins a study with some assumptions (Creswell, 2003). The assumptions that are to be recognized by the researcher for this study are as follows:

Limitations

The purpose of qualitative research is to determine what an experience means for persons who had the experience based on their description of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Due to the nature of this study, the results are limited on their generalizibility because the meanings disclosed are unique to each participant and they are their perception of the experience. Finally, the nature of this study will not be able to encompass the complete experiences of the impact bullying has on families.

Definitions

Bully/victims: individuals who both bully others and are victims of bullying (Espelage & Swearer, 2003).

Bullying: aggressive behavior which occurs repeatedly over time and includes both physical and emotional acts which are directed towards another individual with the intent to inflict harm or discomfort (Olweus, 1993).

Bystander: individual who observes a bullying incident (Olweus, 1993).

Emotional Scarring: the association of negative feelings with the recollection of painful memories of being bullied (Espelage, 2002).

Peer: an individual belonging to the same groups based on age, grade, and status (Olweus, 1993).

Victim of Bullying: an individual who is exposed repeatedly over time to aggressive behavior that is inflicted by his peers with the intent to cause harm or discomfort (Espelage, 2002; Olweus, 1993).

Summary

Schools should offer educational opportunities in a safe and secure setting. A setting which should be free from biases and peer rejection would be a good start. Schools need to take an aggressive stance on this issue. Communities need to take a stand on this issue and show a united front to the bullies. Society has to have no tolerance for this behavior. Research has indicated that bullying starts at home or is ignored at home (Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005).

Social learning theory and Ecological theory will be the theoretical frameworks at which this study will be conducted. Bandura (1986) gave clear examples

When comparing the differences between how males and females perceive bullying issues, there are many similarities. The genders had very few differences in how they defined, described, and reacted similarly to bullying. Adults often ignore or are oblivious to the bullying behaviors they should be stopping (Cole & Gillessen, 1993).

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