Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Teenagers Think Bullying Is None of Their Business'

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'Teenagers Think Bullying Is None of Their Business'

Article excerpt

Older pupils are less likely to intervene, research finds

When the school bully bears down on you in the playground, who do you choose as your ally: the brawny 15-year-old or the eight-year-old in an oversized blazer? Although it may seem counter-intuitive, you should always pick the eight-year-old.

New research suggests that the older children are, the less likely they are to intervene when they see another child being bullied. In fact, older children tend to dismiss bullying as none of their business, unless they feel a sense of strong identification with the victim, according to academics from Goldsmiths, University of London.

The researchers interviewed 260 pupils, half aged between eight and 10 and the other half aged between 13 and 15. The pupils were presented with a number of scenarios in which a bully verbally abused another child.

"People assume that name-calling isn't a very severe form of bullying," says Sally Palmer, the lead author of the research. "But it still has lots of long- and short-term effects."

The research, which is published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology (, finds that primary pupils are far more likely to empathise with a victim of bullying than older pupils.

"Young children are much more focused on 'It's not kind'," Dr Palmer says. "Adolescents are more likely to think that it's none of their business. It's not that older children can't empathise. But there's so much else going on for them that they have to weigh it all up."

Teenagers, for example, are more likely than younger children to worry that, by intervening, they will set themselves up as potential victims. This can lead them to dismiss verbal bullying as "not a big deal" or "something that happens all the time".

Sue Minto, head of ChildLine, understands this reaction. "Young children don't have the same sort of immediate ability to think through what the implications are for them," she says. "They just think: 'That's not OK.'

"With older children, you have a level of experience and your thinking processes are probably quicker."

The exception is when teenagers feel a strong sense of identification with the victim. It is not enough, however, that the victim and the bystander share something - the common factor must also be meaningful to the bystander.

"If you're a Muslim and the victim is Muslim, and being Muslim is a particularly strong part of your identity, then you're more likely to help a person who's a Muslim," Dr Palmer says. "For adolescents, the standard response is, 'Well, it's nothing to do with me. …

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