October is Bullying Prevention Month, the month we also celebrate Halloween. This is fitting, as Halloween is a holiday that symbolizes the shadowy side of humanity. Sadly, bullying is a human behavior that has proven to have its evolutionary advantages. What advantages you ask? Research done on primates suggest that bullying your way to the top has a long history, and may even be innate. Bullying is an alpha like behavior that helps exert social dominance. Research shows that students who are in middle school (Nansel et al., 2001) or in a transition year (e.g. first year of middle or high school) are more likely to use bullying to establish social hierarchies (Pellegrini et al., 2011). It is unfortunate that this behavior continues to be rewarded, urging us to explore solutions as a society to reduce bullying behavior.
On one hand, bullying has a long history and some evolutionary advantages but on the other hand, if we look a little bit closer, bullying comes from a place of pain. Students who perpetrate bullying report greater conflict and lower trust with their parents (Pepler, Jiang, Craig & Connolly, 2008). Additionally, these students report that their parents frequently do not monitor their behavior or are active in their school lives. Parents becoming more involved in their children’s lives and taking the time to strengthen the bond they have with their kids can reduce instances of bullying. Students who report experiencing positive parenting (e.g., setting of clear rules, parents show love and support) have been shown to be significantly less likely to be a victim or perpetrator of bullying (Espelage & Swearer, 2010).
Outcomes of Bullying
Bullying indeed can have very negative long-term effects. Sadly, with the rise of social media, bullying is not something that necessarily stops in school but it can actually follow the victim home, making this a social issue that demands more attention than previous generations. Some of the long-term effects of bullying are:
- Victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to skip and/or drop out of school (Berthold & Hoover, 2000; Neary & Joseph, 1994).
- Victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to suffer from underachievement and sub-potential performance in employment settings (Carney & Merrell, 2001; NSSC, 1995).
- Victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to experience depression, suicidality, and externalizing symptoms (Cook, Williams, Guerra, Kim, & Sadek, 2010; Kumpulainen, Rasanen, & Puura, 2001; Swearer, et al., 2012).
The percentage of students who witness bullying (i.e., bystanders) on a regular basis (60-90%) is far greater than the percentage of students reporting being directly involved in bullying (30%). Research shows that peer attention powerfully reinforces incidents of bullying. Schools that create a climate that is not supportive leads to an increased risk of students been involved with bullying. Keeping this in mind a possible solution is for schools to engage in interventions that help decrease the bystander effect. Schools can create a climate that motivates students to be more proactive in discouraging bullying in their schools. How can we help create a supportive environment in our schools? It can start with leaders modeling prosocial behavior. Teachers who engage in anti-bullying gestures affect student involvement in bullying. When students see teachers, making an effort to decrease bullying there is a reduction in bullying over time (Veenstra, Lindenberg, Huitsing, Sainio, & Salmivalli, 2014).