A lot of questions have arisen lately about the statistics of bullying. People often wonder if we are blowing things out of proportion. Does it really happen? Do programs focusing on prevention really work? My next series of blogs will attempt to answer those questions and more as I look at several age groups and what they are experiencing, what they understand and which programs appear to actually work.
This week I will look at middle school aged children. Most people assume that bullying is at its peak in middle school. Many adults I talk to remember middle school/jr. high as the worst time in their life. Mine certainly was. I wouldn’t go back to jr. high if you paid me, and yet, I work in a middle school and love it. I think the kids are awesome and I love spending time with them. Many of my elementary teacher friends are shocked by this. I spent over six years as a counselor at the elementary level. I enjoyed it, but after awhile there was not much challenge for me. I am often asked by teacher friends if I am ever frightened in the hallways…are you kidding? Elementary hallways are just as crazy, except that the kids only come up to my middle, whereas in middle school many of them can look me in the chin if not my eye. At least I can see them coming when they get ready to hug me. In elementary school I can be taken out by a kindergartner quite easily.
Middle school aged students are an interesting bunch. They are not as grown up as they may appear, nor as mature as they think they are. Basically they are elementary kids in big bodies. They certainly would not want you to know that they are just as uncertain and frightened as they were when they were in elementary school, but they are. This past fall, I went into seven sixth grade classrooms to conduct a guidance lesson on bullying prevention. None of these students had been part of a school-wide bullying prevention program at their elementary school, nor was the middle school using one. I began by defining bullying and administering a true/false quiz. The quiz consisted of eight questions. It was administered to 158 students during the month of November. The results were as follows:
1. Studies suggest that fewer than 10% of children are involved in bully/victim problems in elementary or middle school. Answer: false
All kids are touched by bullying in one form or another. They are either a victim, bully or bystander. Once we discuss this question all students agree that the percentage would be closer to 90%. Initially only 88 students believed that more kids were involved in some way. Kids and adults alike often forget the impact upon bystanders.
2. Children are more likely to be bullied in middle school than in elementary school. Answer: false
Bullying behaviors begin in preschool. By second grade they are quite adept at it. As children age and move into the upper grades into larger populations, they often find their own little crowd and do not experience an increase in bullying. Many students will say that they experience less or about the same. Only 43 students believed this to be false. They told me that while they themselves had not seen or experienced more, they were told by teachers, parents and siblings that it was worse in middle school and so they just assumed it was. (Moral: don’t listen to rumors)
3. Most bullying is physical in nature. Answer: false
Most bullying is emotional, verbal, relational. Physical bullying is very difficult to get away with. It’s quite obvious when you are hitting or tripping someone. Spreading rumors, cyber-bullying or calling names is much more difficult for adults to detect. It is also much harder to prove and parents are much more likely to dismiss it or tell the child to ignore it. 117 students got this one correct. Kids know how it happens. They are tuned in to what is going on even when they don’t wish to admit it.
4. Girls bully just as much as boys; they just do it differently. Answer: true
Girls are quite good at bullying. They’ve been working on it for generations. They ostracize, spread rumors, taunt, ridicule, play tricks, ruin reputations and cause a great deal of emotional distress in their victims. If anything, girls bully more than boys. I don’t have too many complaints about boys during the school year. They seem to work out their differences and move onto either a friendship or live and let live relationship. Often I find them having lunch 20 minutes later. Girls will hold onto things like it was the last loaf of bread available during a famine. They seem to enjoy watching others hurting. Years later that issue is still bubbling there just under the surface. 123 students guessed this one correctly. The ones who did not, were all girls.
5. Boys are more likely than girls to be involved in cyber-bullying. Answer: false
Cyber-bullying is relational aggression. Girls do far more texting, emailing, IM’ing and they like. Being verbal beings, girls excel at anything requiring language and a turn of phrase. 121 students got this one correct. Again, girls were the majority of those who believed boys were the biggest culprits in cyber land.
6. The vast majority of children who are bullied tell a teacher or other member of the school staff. Answer: false
Most students do not tell anyone, even parents. They are afraid of retribution. They have learned from experience that adults don’t follow through and do anything to stop the bullying. When they do tell someone, it is usually a sibling or friend. Surprisingly only 87 got this right. Some say they misread it, they thought it said “don’t tell”. Others responded with “Really, oh, we just thought the teachers didn’t care”. They assume when the bully is not punished, then the staff really don’t care about them. It doesn’t occur to them that adults need to be told things in order to help.
7. Bullying is just as likely on the way to and from school as during school hours. Answer: false
When schools complete bullying surveys, they are often surprised by the answers they receive. My experience as a trainer of trainers has shown me that the most common place for bullying to occur is in the classroom with the teacher present. Second would be the cafeteria. Although in some schools they run neck and neck. PE and/or playground comes in next; the bus after that. The students are often confused about this. In schools where many students ride the bus into rougher neighborhoods, they feel more afraid on the bus and at the bus stop. In neighborhoods where they walk home, they also may feel more fear in the neighborhood walking home. Surprisingly only 22 students believed school to be a more dangerous place. I’m betting they are car riders. I hear an awful lot of stories about the neighborhoods from the students. This is where I have to stop and differentiate between bullying and assault. Although it is sometimes a fine line, what happens in the neighborhood often crosses the line into a violation of the law.
8. Most students who observe bullying don’t think they should get involved. Answer: false
Students often have a difficult time answering this one. They really do want to help and do what is right. They would hate to see something happen to a loved one or a friend. Most of the time they just have no idea what to do. We have never told them. We pass on to our kids what our parents told us…ignore, walk away, they are just jealous. Those tips really don’t help. 23 students answered false. They said they really do want to help if only they could do it without getting into trouble with the bullying. The other 100+ kids stated that they too would help if the bully wasn’t going to turn on them next, but since that’s what happens, they decided to play it safe and put true. Even in an anonymous questionnaire, kids fear the bully’s reaction.
Using a quick quiz like this helps me to understand the mindset of the students. It tells me what they know and what they do not know. It allows the teachers listening in to the lesson to hear a bit about their students they may not otherwise have time to learn and it gives the kids a lifeline to someone they can always seek out for help when needed. If nothing else, it shows those in doubt that it really is happening and on kids minds. They are confused, frightened and worried. They want help, but don’t always know how to access it and they most certainly do not know the power they hold as bystanders to make their school a happier place to be.
Next week I will review the outcome of a survey done by fourth grade students.
Clip Art courtesy of Phillip Martin
[The quiz used for the guidance lessons was administered by a Certified Olweus Bullying Prevention Trainer/Consultant. It was published by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Group copyright 2007.]