A new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed that "cool" kids in middle school had a tendency to participate in bullying more than others.
Bullying was defined as either "starting fights or pushing other kids around" or "spreading nasty rumors about other kids." The UCLA psychology study found that bullying could help improve an individual's social status and popularity among middle school students. In addition, students who were already considered popular utilized these forms of bullying.
The researchers believe that the findings of the study, which were recently published in the online edition of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence
, could help school administrators and anti-bullying programs improve their tactics for eliminating school bullying.
"The ones who are cool bully more, and the ones who bully more are seen as cool," explained the study's lead author Jaana Juvonen
, a professor of psychology at UCLA. "What was particularly interesting was that the form of aggression, whether highly visible and clearly confrontational or not, did not matter. Pushing or shoving and gossiping worked the same for boys and girls."
In the project, the researchers observed 1,895 ethnically diverse students from 11 Los Angeles middle schools. The students were dispersed across 99 different classes, with investigators conducting surveys at the start of the seventh grade, the fall of eight grade, and the spring of eight grade. During each of the three surveys, the students filled out questionnaires asking them to name the students who were thought to be the "coolest," the students who usually started fights or pushed other students around, and those who spread mean rumors about other students.
Students who were considered "coolest" at some time during the study were also found to be the most aggressive the next time, and individuals who were named the most aggressive had a higher likelihood of being considered the coolest. The findings indicate that middle school kids reward both physical aggression and the spreading of nasty rumors.
"The impetus for the study was to figure out whether aggression promotes social status, or whether those who are perceived as popular abuse their social power and prestige by putting other kids down," continued Juvonen, who has also served as a consultant to schools on anti-bullying programs. "We found it works both ways for both 'male-typed' and 'female-typed' forms of aggression."
The outcomes of the research also show that anti-bullying programs need to be developed with sophistication and subtly to make an impact on students. The researchers propose that anti-bullying programs target bystanders whose responses to such incidents could help to either increase or decrease the interest in bullying.
"A simple message, such as 'Bullying is not tolerated,' is not likely to be very effective," noted Juvonen in the statement.
MORE AND MORE EDUCATORS JOIN THE ANTI-BULLY BANDWAGON
In the past year, an increasing number of schools are participating in local and national programs focused on curbing bullying.
"It is the responsibility of school districts, with support from their states, to provide anti-bullying training," explained Dennis Van Roekel
, president of the National Education Association (NEA). "And it is crucial that the bullying prevention training include not only administrators and classroom teachers, but also school bus drivers, paraeducators, office employees, custodians, and food service workers."
A collaborative website called "Stop Bullying
" was also created by the Department of Health and Human Services along with the Department of Education. It includes interactive videos, information on state laws and policies, suggestions on talking points for parents and practical strategies for schools so that people will be encouraged to take action to stop and prevent bullying.
"Bullying is not just an education or health problem, it is a community problem," explained HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the prepared statement. "We are committed to working together at the federal level to help communities, schools and families address it as a single problem."
The website was in response to a March 2011 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and a September 2011 Federal Partner in Bullying Prevention Summit
"We've come a long way in the past year in educating the public about the health and educational impacts that bullying can have on students. But simply being aware of the problem is not enough," explained Education Secretary Arne Duncan
in a statement. "Everyone has a role to play, and StopBullying.gov features ways we can all take action against bullying."
Research on bullies has been conducted in the past as well. In 2003, Juvonen and colleagues discovered that bullies were considered "cool" and were respected by their peers. Considered popular by others, these bullies often spread rumors about other students' families and sexuality. Another study by Juvonen found that almost three in four teenagers were bullied at least once online during a 12-month study period. Of those students, only one in 10 reported the cyber-bullying to their parents or other older individuals. Furthermore, middle school students who are bullied have a great likelihood of feeling depressed and lonely, making them even easier targets for future bullying.
"Bullying is a problem that large numbers of kids confront on a daily basis at school; it's not just an issue for the few unfortunate ones," commented Juvonen in the statement. "Students reported feeling humiliated, anxious or disliking school on days when they reported incidents, which shows there is no such thing as 'harmless' name-calling or an 'innocent' punch.'"
Juvonen recommends that parents speak to their children about bullying. By discussing the issue with their kids, parents can look out for any changes or serious concerns. Students who are bullied have a greater chance of suffering from colds, headaches and other physical illness along with psychological issues.