People change — even bullies

In the battle against bullying, it helps to teach victims that people can change, concludes research by David Yeager, a Stanford graduate student.  

“When adolescents think that victimization is something that is permanent—resulting from the belief that bullies are ‘bad’ people who won’t stop, and that victims will always be ‘losers’—then they seek more drastic, vengeful solutions to their conflicts,” said Yeager, a student in the Development and Psychological Sciences doctoral program.  “But when they believe that people have the potential for change—both they themselves and the people who treat them badly—then victimization seems less like a diagnosis of their future, and more like something that will pass.  Hence, it becomes less stressful and less threatening.”

In one study, high school students taught about people’s potential for change were less aggressive a month later than students taught coping skills.  By the end of the semester, “the message about personal change also reduced absences, suspensions for fighting, and depression among victimized students. ” At a different high school, victims in the “change” group reported less stress and higher grades.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    All very well, but is it a lie? Is the school lying to these folks? Did the bullies actually change?
    Or is that irrelevant?

  2. Hmmm…. According to Taylor Swift, the bullied change (by living in a great big city), but all the bulliers will ever be is mean.

    In my own life, I’ve found that ti’s not so much that bullies change, but that eventually you’re no longer in the weaker position, and the bullies become sniveling cowards when confronted from a position of strength.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Here’s a thought: Why don’t we read some books in school about people who undergo changes for the better — redemption stories in other words?

    Huckleberry Finn (Huckleberry)
    Les Miserables (Valjean, Javert)
    The Scarlet Letter (Dimmesdale)

    There has been much yapping recently about teaching kids that people can change, that people aren’t determined by their race, that everyone finds college hard — all the sorts of “soft” lessons about humanity that educated people take for granted. Well guess what?

    That’s all in books. You know, those things of which students used to read 6-10 each year in high school, where now a syllabus calls for only 2-4.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Michael Lopez.
    Good idea. Along with some serious self-defense. Self-defense first, though.

  5. SuperSub says:

    Over half of the bullies that I’ve seen at my school the past couple years would run away crying if the bullied individual got in one good punch.

  6. georgelarson says:

    Yes, but now we expel the student who punched the bully. Have the schools have made it safer to be a bully?

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    For some reason unexplainable by modern science, butthead kids frequently have butthead parents.
    Thus, bullies’ parents are more difficult to deal with than the victims’ parents. Some connection there, too, probably.
    So kick out the kid who finally hits back. Easier.
    See Australia, for example.
    ‘course the vic’s problem there was that the admin had said violence is not the answer and the vic demonstrated it was the answer, thereby proving the admin wrong. Went viral. Lucky the kid isn’t in jail.

  8. SuperSub says:

    George- the school can only expel a student for fighting on school property…

  9. Michael E. Lopez says:


    I’m not sure that’s true in every jurisdiction. Most schools that I’ve bothered to check have a clause in their regulations about governing behavior on the way to and from school at the very least. Then there are all the recent cases of schools attempting to regulate behavior that “affects” or “impedes” the school’s learning environment, even though the behavior occurs completely outside school grounds and hours.

    I’m not saying it SHOULDN’T be the way you describe, but it certainly seems that it at least isn’t always that way.