The Other Side: Helping Bullies Change Behavior, for Good of All

By Hunker, Paula Gray | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

The Other Side: Helping Bullies Change Behavior, for Good of All


Hunker, Paula Gray, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The phone rings, and it's your neighbor, telling you that your young son is no longer welcome in her home. She calls him a bully.

"When a parent hears that their child has a problem, their first reaction is to come out swinging," says Paula Fried, a family psychologist and co-author of "Bullies & Victims: Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield."

"But it's no gift to just blindly defend your child. If your child is hurting others, he has a very serious problem and needs your help," Ms. Fried says from her Salina, Kan., home.

She urges parents to calm down so they can hear the information objectively. Parents typically react in two ways, and neither is constructive, Ms. Fried says. They either become defensive, or they become paralyzed with guilt because they see their child's problem as their failure.

Unfortunately, aggressive behavior often is learned in the home. In addition to gathering information from the child's school and playmates, parents also must assess their own behavior and attitudes. Are they rewarding aggression by caving in to tantrums? Are they teaching aggression in their own relationships with other adults or in the way that they discipline their children? Ms. Fried asks.

"Children learn through observation," says Leonard Eron, professor of psychiatric research at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor. "They adopt behaviors because they see it work. Parents must never, ever reward children for acting aggressively."

His warnings are based on his 40 years of research in the field. He has been following a group of 800 students from when they were third-graders in 1960. They were last interviewed at age 30, and Mr. Eron says he plans to continue the study by interviewing the subjects when they reach age 40 next year.

In interviews with the children, as well as their parents, he has found three common characteristics behind learned aggressive behavior: watching others act aggressively, being rewarded for acting aggressively and being treated aggressively.

The study, which now includes three generations - the parents, the children and now their offspring - has proved that bullies' most significant victims are themselves. By age 30, about 25 percent of the adults who were identified as bullies as children had a criminal record, Mr. …

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