The other side of bullying

Young troubled boy

At a glance

  • Children who are bullied are likely to suffer physical and mental health problems, as well as poor academic achievement.
  • Children who do the bullying suffer these problems as well.
  • Bullying is learnt behaviour.
  • Kids who bully need guidance on how to behave.
  • Punishment, exclusion or banning children who have bullied from technology doesn't work.

Researchers of kids who have been cyberbullied have found they have:

  • impaired social and emotional adjustment
  • poor academic achievement
  • anxiety, depression and thoughts about suicide
  • poorer physical health
  • higher absenteeism at school
  • increased loneliness and low self-esteem.

There were also consequences for their learning. These children were either staying away from school, or when they were at school, they were thinking about how to be invisible at recess, or what people were posting about them online.

What about the child who bullies?

The surprising results of research were the statistics that showed the kids repeatedly bullying others were just as likely to have the same symptoms as the children experiencing the abuse.

They were just as likely to have elevated levels of anxiety and to be disconnected from school, according to Professor Donna Cross from Edith Cowan University.

"And the kids who bullied had higher levels of depression than even the kids who were being bullied," she says.

"They're also more likely to be engaging in other problem behaviours … more likely to engage in unsafe sexual behaviours, smoke, use drugs more often, graffiti, steal, truant – sadly they are a cluster of children, those who do it very frequently, who experience a lot of other troubling behaviours as well."

Children who rely on bullying behaviour to get attention and social acceptance need to be taught new ways to behave.

Why are they doing it?

In recent studies, almost every child who reported they were using bullying behaviours had someone in their environment who was bullying around them – their siblings, parents, teachers or someone else who they learnt it from.

Donna describes children in this group as "very troubled kids" who often need as much support as the children they victimise.

"These children can't pull their socks up because they don't know what their socks are," Donna says.

"Until we show them a better way to behave and help them to find better ways to be socially popular, then these children will fall back on the behaviours they've learnt from people in their environment."

She says they may need "serious counselling" to prevent them heading further down the path to delinquency, and adds that children who cyberbully are 18 times more likely to bully others offline too.

Renowned Scandinavian researcher Dan Olweus believes bullying behaviour may also be an indicator that the child is at risk of later engaging in criminal behaviours. In one Norwegian study he found 60 per cent of boys who were identified as bullies in middle school had at least one conviction by the age of 24, and 35 to 40 per cent had three or more convictions.

What's the answer to stopping kids from engaging in bullying behaviour?

The short answer is that researchers are exploring different approaches to give us clear answers.

What doesn't work is:

  • punishment on its own
  • banning the child from technology
  • excluding them from peer activities
  • grouping so-called ‘problem children' together.

These approaches reinforce and often intensify bad behaviour.

Donna says it's clear children need boundaries and consequences, and schools, parents and students need to agree on the consequences and be consistent in their application.

Most importantly, children who rely on bullying behaviour to get attention and social acceptance need to be taught new ways to behave.

If they're using bullying behaviours to help them become popular and accepted by the group they often need to learn other ways to get that social approval.

"It's a relationship problem which means it requires a relationship solution," Donna says.

"If we want children to behave better together we need to help them learn how to behave better together."

This article references research quoted by Professor Donna Cross of Edith Cowan University's Child Health Promotion Research Centre at the Cyberbullying Forum held in Sydney in November 2009.


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