Bullying and Violence in Schools: What Teachers Should Know and Do

Article excerpt

Perhaps the greatest potential for stemming the tide of the global plague known as bullying lies in the actions of teachers heeding Dr. King's words quoted to the right. In order to respond, however, teachers urgently need help in recognizing bullying behaviors, understanding its causes, and taking deliberate steps to confront bullying and violence in our classrooms.

Identifying Bullying

The first step to mitigating classroom violence is to recognize specific characteristics of bullies. (The term "bullies" is used in this article to denote children who exhibit "bullying" behaviors. The authors believe such behaviors can be minimized or eliminated.) Identifying bullying behaviors, however, is a complex task since research has not yet provided a consistent profile for identifying bullies. Some researchers (e.g., Baumeister, 2001; Bushman & Baumeister, 1998) suggest that bullies can be identified by their exaggerated air of self-confidence and feelings of power. Bullies often report feeling powerful and justified in their actions (Bullock, 2002). Others (e.g., Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Field, 1996) suggest that bullies can be recognized by their emotional immaturity. Researchers have found that bullying results when emotionally immature individuals are consumed with feelings of depression, inferiority, inadequacy, insecurity, loneliness, fear, jealousy, and rejection. Finally, Rodkin and Hodges (2003) suggest that bullies might be popular students who perversely use their social skills to promote violence. Such children often act as leaders of groups that bully.

Despite the lack of a consistent bullying profile, however, operational definitions are beginning to emerge. Such definitions generally describe bullying as a specific type of aggressive behavior that causes distress or harm, demonstrates an imbalance of power, and is repeated over time. Such aggression brings intense satisfaction to the bully, which perpetuates the bullying cycle still further (Field, 1996; Left, Power, Costigan, & Manz, 2003).

Yet another challenge to teachers who want to understand potential bullying behaviors in classrooms is the fluid nature of the bully-victim relationship. Espelage and Swearer (2003) and Long and Pellegrini (2003), for example, describe bullying as a continuum of complex behaviors, with shifting fluidity, whereby bullies and victims exchange roles. For example, a child bullying others on the playground may himself be bullied by his victim, who excels more academically.

Bullying behaviors in classrooms must be identified. In addition, violence can be minimized only if teachers understand the complex set of variables that promote dispositions toward violence. Perhaps foremost among these influences are the media and exposure to violence in daily life.

Influence of Media and Everyday Exposure to Violence

We know from research that children are highly susceptible to media violence that promotes, condones, and/or devises new avenues for the bully to employ (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Violent media provides a social structure and/or model for the bully to follow (Bushman & Anderson, 2002). It allows the bully to justify his or her actions by offering scenarios that affirm bullying behavior as a legitimate mode of problem solving and as a societal norm. Children who might not otherwise consider using violence to bully others may do so when they are exposed to media that depicts bullying behaviors being rewarded. Such rewards are readily evident in such recent media as Rockstar's 2006 release of the video game "Bully," in which bullying is both glorified and encouraged. As such games become more popular, the numbers of potential bullies increase. In this way, bullying and violence are inextricably linked, as bullies search out and consume media that depicts violence towards others. The industry responds with escalated production of this type of media. …