Majority of Students Encounter, Engage in Bullying Behavior
> 4/12/2007 11:13:30 AM

A recent survey of American elementary school students found that nine out of ten reported at least occasionally being victim to behaviors consistent with bullying. Yet these incidents are clearly not the work of a sinister minority: six out of ten of the same kids confessed to participating in or initiating acts of bullying themselves. Earlier studies claiming that "as many as half" of all kids find themselves the object of a bully's attention at some point during their school careers are apparently lacking.

The study involved 270 children in grades three through six, a period when they are particularly vulnerable to these sorts of problems. One reason for the survey's surprisingly high numbers is the fact that the definition of bullying considered by researchers was fairly expansive. While the word brings to mind instances of physical intimidation, harassment and schoolyard fights, other, subtler forms of the practice included spreading rumors and ignoring or excluding certain individuals from group activities. These offenses are not minor, as studies have reported that verbal and social assaults are often more damaging to those who suffer through them than actual physical conflicts.

Seeking help or treatment for the bully is just as important as attention paid to his or her victims. The sources of such behavior are numerous and often unclear, but circumstance, though it cannot be used to excuse the practice, often contributes to it. The standard belief that low self-esteem and problems in the home often lie at the root of bullies' behavior largely holds true, and those who perpetuate intimidation and abuse are more likely to serve time in prison and suffer from depression throughout their lives. Early intervention on both sides of the issue is the best way to counter it.

An interesting follow-up to this study might be an extensive survey regarding bullies in the workplace. The habit is not limited to schoolkids, and among adults it usually receives less attention as those under its influence are often told to "grow up" or "stop complaining." Present-day emphasis on tolerance and the threat of litigation have reduced the amount of sexual harassment and directly threatening behavior perpetuated in the workplace, but attitudes of intimidation and condescension persist. We've reported on the workplace phenomenon, but organized studies have yet to tackle it on any large scale. Employers concerned about productivity and job satisfaction levels would be well advised to consider the issue more carefully. Abusive children will, in many cases, become abusive adults and employees.

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