Empowering bullies’ victims

To Stop School Bullying: Fix the Victims, argues Hans Villarica in The Atlantic. He cites a new study in Child Development led by University of Illinois Psychology Professor Karen D. Rudolph that looks at why second graders  “retaliate, ignore, or repair relationships after an attack.”

Half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation.

. . . kids who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teacher for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

Victims who tried to improve their relationships suffered less from bullying.

A previous study on mistreated kids in middle school also found that responding to bullies violently, impulsively, or in over-the-top ways can make the abused less accepted and a more attractive target to aggressors.

In short, punching the bully may not be the best strategy. (I have to think sometimes it is.)

Children who believed friendships are fixed, succeeding or failing without their involvement, tended to be more enamored with popularity and may be more vengeful as a result. On the contrary, those who viewed their friendships as works in progress tended to appreciate their peers more and interact more responsibly. “If children believe that effort is worthwhile, they’ll feel less threatened or helpless when they hit bumps in their relationships,” she says, “and they’ll be more likely to try to resolve relationship problems.”

What works in elementary school, such as seeking help from teachers, may not work in middle or high school, Villarica points out.

Indeed, even though anti-bullying advocates are correct in saying ‘it gets better,’ it may also be important to note that it’s going to get a lot worse first.

This reminds me of psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on students’ “fixed” or “growth” mindsets. Students who think intelligence is fixed — you’re smart or you’re not — won’t work as hard or take as many challenges as students who believe they can improve. (Her book is Mindset.)

To encourage learning — and resilience — we need to encourage kids to believe their efforts make a difference.

About Joanne


  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Remember that these numbnuts are talking about the new bullying, which includes dirty looks and the silent treatment.

    Of course punching is going to be a silly way to retaliate against these things.

    It remains the best strategy for REAL bullies, though, assuming that you can pull it off without getting killed.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The best strategy for ending REAL bullying is to get the bully alone in, say, the girls’ bathroom and punch the crap out of her.

      • And then the girl bully can get you sent to an alternative school or expelled.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Yeah, funny it didn’t turn out that way.

          • Yeah, funny that you think an anecdote that it turned out OK in one instance implies it should be a general strategy.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Yeah, Funny you have no sense of irony or humor but that’s pretty common among the hostile, know-it-all progressives who want to tell us all how much better they can organize our lives while failing so spectatular in their own larger goals.

  2. Amazing… the way to survive the “new” bullying is to foster relationships with people who aren’t arseholes. Nobel Prize work there.

    After every, and I mean every, case of death by bullying I always wonder what the home life of the victim was like. Plain and simple, for an otherwise sane child, no amount of bullying will cause suicide if they have a loving home life.

    • That may very well be true that kids susceptible to committing suicide because of bullying are more likely to have a bad home life, but that does not imply that we shouldn’t be trying to prevent bullying… that is dangerously close to blaming the victim…

      • No, it’s dangerously close to blaming the victim’s parents, who neglected or bullied their child themselves and set the child up to be unable to deal with stress.

  3. not so fast says:

    Despite what Supersub believes, children from loving homes attempt suicide, and sometimes succeed. As a parent who has feared for that her child might try to kill herself, I can attest that love doesn’t immunized people against suicidal thoughts. If only it were that easy.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Let us not confuse “loving” with “functional”.

  5. Michael E. Lopez, that comment is not worthy of you.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:


      Not so fast is exactly right — kids from loving homes attempt suicide all the time. Of course, Supersub isn’t stupid, so we should interpret his (her?) comment in the most charitable light.

      And with that in mind, it’s rare that a kid from a functional, stable home chooses to kill him or herself because of bullying. (I mean “rare” in the sense that it’s rare among teen suicides, not that it’s rare simpliciter, because call teen suicides are rare simpliciter.)

      Loving homes are a dime a dozen. It’s the truly exceptional parent that doesn’t love their kids. But loving parents can be abusers, absentees, alcoholics, assholes, addicts, and a whole host of other bad things that begin with “a” that interfere with their ability to provide the sort of emotional support that a kid needs when s/he’s being tormented at school.

      • Well, if you ask my wife, she might challenge your assumption of my intelligence.

        Anyways, thanks for clarifying the loving vs functional issue for me.We recently have had a lot of suicides and attempts in our area, and the one common thread that I have found from discussions with teachers familiar with the victims is that their home lives offered no stability or protection from the stress of daily life.

        The media, police, parents, and administration all focus on the bullying issue, though, and continuously try to stop an unfortunate but inevitable part of school life.

  6. Our county is still in the process of tackling this most difficult issue. I guess we can never completely rid our schools of bullying, but we have an obligation to keep the issue on the table and keep pushing and innovating to keep our kids safe.

  7. Well, that’s nice. Just “fix” the bullied kid. I’m sure that will work for my severely autistic child. We’ll just teach him exactly what to say and do in all these social situations. Yep.

    For THAT matter, most of us have read about the NJ teacher who bullied a special-ed student recently in the news. Note how the school district did nothing of substance to make things right for that family.

  8. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The best way to end bullying is to have parents teach their kids from day 1 that bullying behavior is unacceptable, and to have adults intervene in the early grades to nip bullying in the bud before it escalates. Then, by later in life, the kids have a clear idea that “We HELP the weak.” But that takes committed, caring, vigilant adults from ages 0-10. And a larger system of beliefs (religious, or secular like the BSA) that declares bullying sinful and helping the downtrodden courageous.

    I think a large part of the bullying epidemic is that many kids today are basically feral–so perhaps it is easy to fix the bullied but socialized kids than the kids who never learned the lessons that most small children learned. (We don’t exclude people. We don’t try to make others cry…)

  9. The article is written from the point of view of individual child development, and it sounds plausible as far as it goes. But it should not take institutions (schools) and adults (teachers, parents, coaches, etc) off the hook for acting to prevent and sanction bullying generically. I went to a high school where there was no bullying not because every student had great social skills, but because the adults would not tolerate it.

    • I agree. It’s not inevitable. That’s the pity of it all. Adults in the school community have immense influence over bullies–if they choose to exercise that influence. One of our children was bullied in middle school. Changing schools meant changing peer groups and administrators–the new school has a healthy climate.

      Also, second graders are not seventh graders. A child who is bullied in second grade may need advice on social skills. A seventh grader who is getting bullied might be unfashionably smart, or not wear the right clothes.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      That’s supremely odd behavior. I can totally understand why a parent might want to drive their kid to a fight. It’s weird and creepy in the way that omnipresent helicopter parents are weird and creepy, but I totally get it: The kid has to show up, can’t back down, has to stand up for themselves. And you don’t want them seriously hurt, so you want to be there to provide medical attention and to break it up when it’s really over.

      And kids get driven everywhere these days. Fine, whatever. I get it. Yes, it’s conspiracy to commit assault and it’s criminal… but kids and teenagers fighting hasn’t always been a criminal matter and to a lot of people it still doesn’t seem like it should be, so I can at least understand the motivation.

      But if that’s your motivation, how do you justify jumping in yourself? Doesn’t that undermine the only sensible explanation for why you drove the kid in the first place?

      Of course, we could all grow old and die waiting for people to make sense.

  10. I love the cite to Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. One of my favorites and yes, it’s apt here. Thanks, Joanne!