Deaf Children and Bullying: Directions for Future Research

Article excerpt

U.S. SCHOOLS are currently addressing bullying and its effects on children. Bullying is characterized as repetitive verbal teasing, threatening, physical intimidation, demeaning others, violent acts, torture, and other forms of verbal and physical aggression (Smith & Sharp, 1994a). Little is known about bullying and its impact on deaf children. Measures to describe and quantify bullying factors in this population should be developed and validated that address characteristics of deaf victims and bullies, various types of school settings deaf children attend, bullying dynamics that may be unique to this population and its peers, and other environmental factors. The presence of disabilities besides deafness, social support systems of deaf children and their families, sociocultural background, degree of hearing loss, parental educational levels and occupations, socioeconomic status, and linguistic backgrounds should also be considered. This discussion highlights issues and precautions concerning future directions for studying bullying with deaf children.

The issue of bullying has become an increasing focus in society, although it has been a problem for children and adolescents for generations. Bullying takes place in all milieus where groups of individuals interact, including home, school, work settings, and community gatherings. However, the focus of the study of bullying has largely been on school-related bullying and the negative impact that bullying has on targeted hearing (non-Deaf) students, school safety, and the community at large. More recently, there has been a focus on the effects of bullying on the bully as well.

Concentrated research efforts focused on bullying and victimization behaviors in American schools started in the last 15 to 20 years. In the past, researchers in Europe, Australia, and Canada were ahead of American scholars in conducting formal studies of the pervasive bullying phenomenon (Swearer & Espelage, 2004). It has been hypothesized that the very nature of American culture may have contributed to the lack of research and program focus on bullying and its effects on personal development and school safety. American society is sometimes viewed as a macrosystem that subtly promotes aggression and individualism. As a result of these subtle messages, children as well as adults may be exposed to messages that encourage aggression. This may cause some resistance to messages that promote attitudes and behaviors based on cooperation, respect of individual differences, and overall attitudes of nonaggression. In the United States, bullying has traditionally been seen by students as a normal part of the growing-up process and a way for its victims to learn to "toughen up" (Angier, 2001; Rodkin, 2004). American culture emphasizes a reliance on oneself to handle the aggressive advances of others, especially for boys; people who need the intervention of adults in authority, such as parents or teachers, are often seen as weak and labeled "sissies" or "babies."

Defining and Describing Bullying

Bullying takes many forms but is often characterized as repetitive verbal teasing, threatening, physical intimidation, demeaning of others, violent acts, torture, and other forms of verbal and physical aggression (Smith & Sharp, 1994a). It may also include extortion, showing or using weapons of all kinds, gang activity, and violating the civil rights of an individual. Bullying is often described as having both humor and aggression as key elements (Alberts & Kellar-Gunther, 1996); however most people with a well-developed sense of morality would not find any humor in the suffering or demeaning of others. The form of bullying that is most prevalent is characterized as "teasing." The second most frequent kind of bullying is physical abuse for boys and social ostracism for girls (Hoover & Oliver, 1996). Bullying and other forms of conflicts among individuals can be viewed in terms of the basic origins of human conflict. …