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.