iKeepSafe Blog

Confronting Bullies and Bullying

Celebrities like Sandra Bullock, Megan Fox, Christian Bale, and Lady Gaga have more in common than just being famous—they were also all bullied growing up.

“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” Lady Gaga said in an interview with the New York Times. “And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”

Determined to help those who may find themselves in a similar situation, Lady Gaga founded the Born This Way Foundation a few months ago.

The Foundation was announced at an event hosted by Harvard and attended by Oprah Winfrey and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services.

Additionally, NYU Research Professor Danah Boyd and Harvard Law Professor John Palfrey lectured at the event, highlighting 20 important things to remember about bullying.

The first five are:

1. Bullying is a serious issue: Both victims and perpetrators face serious educational, social, and psychological challenges.

2. Bullying is not universal. It is harder to address bullying if it is approached as if bullying happens to everyone (it doesn’t). Socially marginalized youth, including LGBTQ-identified individuals and those with disabilities, are more likely to be bullied. Bullying also plays out differently across gender and age, ethnicity and race.

3. Not all aggression is bullying. Bullying refers to repeated psychological, social, and physical aggression propagated by those who are more physically or socially powerful. Bullying is on a continuum of aggressive and violent behavior, which also includes things like dating violence, peer aggression, gang violence, sexual violence, etc. All are bad, but not all are bullying.

4. “Bullies” aren’t the source of the problem; they’re often a symptom of the problem. Many bullies have problems at home or in school, and need help just as much as those who are targets of and bystanders to bullying.

5. Bullying is tightly entwined with a host of other related issues, including drama and teasing, social rivalry, physical and sexual violence, mental health issues and identity struggles. We cannot address one without the other. Furthermore, we must be careful choosing our terms because many adult-driven terms do not resonate with youth.

To read Boyd and Palfrey’s full remarks click here.

It is important to note that although the fourth point reminds us that bullies often have problems at home or in school, they may not necessarily suffer from low self-esteem.

New research by Janna Juvonen, a UCLA professor of developmental psychology, shows that in reality, many bullies have extremely high levels of self-esteem. And perhaps even more surprisingly, teachers and their fellow classmates also perceive them as some of the most popular students at the school.

Students facing new situations (middle school is full of them!) are more likely to feel like they don’t fit in. And Juvonen suggests that this seems to evoke a “primal tendency to rely on dominance behaviors.” The bullies—often bigger and stronger than their peers—create a social hierarchy, gaining status that translates into a big-time ego boost.

Teachers and school administrators who understand this concept are better equipped to not just think empathetically towards bullies, but also to think more creatively. Juvonen recommends funneling their need for control and power in a different, healthier way.

Lastly, adults need to remember that often the victims need a friend more than anything else. Bullies typically pick on “uncool” students. The bully cycle is perpetuated as these victims associate the teasing with the idea that they are social misfits and all alone.

“We must remember to help students foster friendships,” iKeepSafe CEO and President Marsali Hancock said. “I agree with Professor Juvonen—students should be able to look forward to at least one friendly face at school.”
Emily Ensign is a regular blogger for the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, an organization that gives parents, educators, and policymakers the information and tools that empower them to teach children the safe and healthy use of technology and the internet. Image Credit Chesi – Fotos via Flickr.

Categories: Cyberbullying

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