Bullying and Aggression: an Assignment in Social Psychology

Most definitions of bullying often differ semantically; many of them have one concept in common: Bullying is a subtype of aggression (Dodge, 1991; Olweus, 1993; Smith & Thompson, 1991). The following definitions are common in the literature: “A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (Olweus, 1993, p. 9). “A student is being bullied or picked on when another student says nasty and unpleasant things to him or her.

It is also bullying when a student is hit, kicked, threatened, locked inside a room, sent nasty notes, and when no one ever talks to him” (Smith & Sharp, 1994, p. 1). We as a culture seem to be on a road to prohibit aggression. Aggression is one form of negative behaviour that is highly frowned upon. The fact is, however, that aggression is a normal, healthy feeling. Assertiveness actually has a similar meaning and is considered by many to be a positive trait. It is very similar to aggression. Bullying has been defined as a distinct type of aggression characterized by a repeated and systematic abuse of power (Olweus, 1999; P.

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K. Smith & Sharp, 1994). In addition to acts of physical aggression, bullying also includes verbal aggression (e. g. , name calling and threats), relational aggression (e. g. , social isolation and rumour spreading), and cyber-aggression (e. g. , text messaging and e-mailing hurtful messages or images (Williams & Guerra, 2007). Bullying generally involves a bully and a victim. Early research tended to dichotomize children into one of these two mutually exclusive groups. However, there also appears to be a third group who both bully and are bullied by others (Haynie et al. 2001; Veenstra et al. , 2005). Research indicates that between 10% and 30% of children and youth are involved in bullying. At this junction it is important to note that bullying is not an isolated problem that is unique to speci?c cultures. It is prevalent worldwide, as indicated by a large international research base (Carney & Merrell, 2001; Cook, Williams, Guerra, & Kim, 2009; Eslea et al. , 2004; Kanetsuna & Smith, 2002). A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated the seriousness of bullying in American schools.

Aggression and violence during childhood and adolescence have been the focus of much research over the past several decades (e. g. , Loeber & Hay, 1997; Olweus, 1979). These researchers have found that serious forms of aggression remain relatively stable from childhood through adulthood. Two recent studies further examined the hypothesis that middle school students opt to bully their peers to “fit in” (Pellegrini, Bartini, & Brooks, 1999; Rodkin et al. , 2000). This form of peer pressure indicates that bullies are indeed victims of bullying themselves.

Pellegrini and colleagues found that bullying enhanced within-group status and popularity among middle schoolers. Similarly, Rodkin and colleagues, in a study of 452 fourth- through sixth-grade boys, found 13. 1% were rated as both aggressive and popular by their teachers. Furthermore, these aggressive popular boys and popular pro-social boys received an equivalent number of “cool” ratings from peers. These two studies however, do not examine how the influence of the peer group on bullying behaviours differs across sex, grade, or level of peer group status.

A study by Espelage and Holt (2001) found that bullies as a group enjoyed a strong friendship network (cohesion). Closer examination of the peer groups in this sample resulted in the understanding that students not only befriended peers who bully at similar rates but that students also reported an increase in bullying if their primary peer group bullied others (Espelage, Holt, & Henkel, in press). The latest research conducted at the intersection of neuroscience, behavioural genetics and developmental psychology lay emphasis on the parents and their ability to control and manage the feelings of aggression.

A child belonging to such parents may be less likely to behave aggressively in the future. If, on the other hand, a child gets the idea that his feelings are “bad” and “wrong”, these feelings don’t go away. They just become disconnected from the child’s sense of who he is. If a child does not have a way to think about his feelings, he is likely to simply act them out. Children who continue, as they grow up, to behave in aggressive ways that are inappropriate for their age are often describes as “impulsive. ” Impulsive literally means to act without thinking. A child needs to learn from the adults around him how to think about his feelings.

All of which points to two very specific needs. Our society must support parents in the challenging task of being fully present emotionally with their young children. We must provide a high quality and accessible mental healthcare system to support families in their efforts to help children who are struggling to contain and manage their aggression in the school setting. An acceptance of and respect for healthy aggression may in the long run decrease the risk of another Columbine. Ironically, literature on interventions for general aggression reveals that most of the interventions are geared toward the individual.

Altering the context without a focus on changing individuals and vice versa is a limiting approach. It ignores the multiple individual and contextual factors that influence bullying. The most promising programs are those that focus on intervening at the levels of the individual and the broader contexts in which children and youth are nested. Indeed, to the extent that aggression and bullying are part of the normative context of development, it may be that only interventions addressing individual and contextual factors simultaneously will evidence positive effects (Guerra & Huesmann, 2004; Metropolitan Area Child Study, 2002).

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