Bullying is a very complex issue. With the recent suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Amherst, New York, after years of bullying, the nation has even more reason to turn its attention to anti-bullying measures in schools. Lady Gaga has even asked President Obama to sit down and talk about what can be done about bullying.
There may be a very real aspect of human nature, however, that will make true deep change difficult. Typically, we think of the class bully as having low self-esteem, a kid with social phobias in need of an ego boost. Maybe we think bullies are mean as a way of acting out. But recent research suggests that most aggressive behavior in children is actually not the result of psychological or social problems, but rather a desire to maintain one’s social position in the group. In fact, new studies reveal that most bullies actually have excellent self-esteem; the higher one’s social ranking in school, the more likely he/she is to have been involved in an aggressive incident. That’s right, if it’s true that being class president is just a popularity contest, then perhaps the class president is actually the class bully.
Since the victims of bullies commonly experience depression and social anxiety, this new data supports the implementation of anti-bullying programs in schools. These programs provide students with an environment where they can openly discuss the effects of aggressive behavior and learn conflict resolution skills from adults and peers.
The study collected data from 3,772 students across 19 middle and high schools. Students were asked to name five kids who had physically or verbally abused them, as well as five kids who they had picked on. The study revealed that the desire to achieve or maintain popularity was directly proportional with aggressive behavior. In fact, the more popular a student was, the more likely he/she had been involved in an aggressive situation. Based on the responses from children about their closest peer group, researchers studied how aggressive behavior effects cross-gender friendships, as well as the social networks at large.
On average, 33% of students had exhibited some form of aggressive behavior. Female students exhibited more hostility and placed more importance on social popularity, whereas males were more physically aggressive. In gender-segregated schools, the correlation between social status and aggression was even higher than in mixed gender schools.
Researchers believe administrators, teachers and parents need to work collaboratively to change the peer culture that encourages bullying. If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, it’s crucial to keep the lines of communication open so your child feels safe discussing peer dynamics, which will allow you to help combat aggressive behavior.