Tuesday, August 5, 2008

No Surprise: Bullies Raise Bullies

I hated junior high school. A group of "hoods" at the bus stop: Shannon N., Kayleen C., and others bullied me by taunting (usually about being a goody two-shoes), ripping my nylons, taking my hat off and filling it with sawdust and putting it back on my head, and egging my house on Halloween night. When they weren't harassing me, they were smoking cigarettes across the street from the bus stop. I was grateful when my family moved when I was in 8th grade and I could go to a new bus stop. Shannon and Kayleen were sleezy creeps.

Chris has endured some bullying at school as well, mostly verbal harassment and intimidation, although being elementary school, it's been relatively mild. He starts middle school in a month, and I'm holding my breath that he won't be bullied there. I know how cruel that age can be.

A review of international research on bullying leads to strong evidence that bullies are following an example set by others. Elizabeth Sweeney, a University of Cincinnati master's degree student in sociology, recently presented her findings at the 103rd annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Sweeney reviewed research out of England, Germany, Norway, Japan, South Africa, and the United States, which until this decade has lagged behind the European countries in examining bullying. The majority of the research she studied involved children between the ages of 9 and 16.

This is what she concluded: "Children who experience hostility, abuse, physical discipline, and other aggressive behaviors by their parents are more likely to model that behavior in their peer relationships," she writes. "Children learn from their parents how to behave and interact with others," Sweeney says. "So if they're learning about aggression and angry words at home, they will tend to use these behaviors as coping mechanisms when they interact with their peers." She also found that children from middle-income families were less likely to bully than children from the high and low ends of the family income scale.

Although some studies suggest that boys are more likely to bully than girls, others found that it runs equally between the genders, although boys are more likely to act out bullying physically, while girls are more verbal.

Sweeney adds that it is the tolerance of bullying that "has served as one of the primary contributors to its persistence and severity."

It all goes to show that children learn what they live.

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