Articles by Susan Swearer
Dr. Susan Swearer, creator of the Bully Survey, presented some of her research at a White House Conference on School Bullying. A summary of her remarks follows.
- Summary of White House Conference on School Bullying
There is no, one single causal factor for bullying. To understand bullying behavior, it is necessary to study the individual and the environment in which he/she operates. This means that Bullying is a phenomenon that is idiosyncratic to individuals, schools, and communities. There is no longitudinal, nationally representative assessment of bullying and victimization in the United States.
There have been national estimates of bullying activity:
- 22% of males are bully perpetrators;
- 15% of females are bully perpetrators;
- 24% of males are bully victims;
- 19% of females are bully victims
Each school, however, may have percents far different than these national estimates.
Generally speaking, your school/district is likely to confirm that:
- Boys are involved in bullying at greater rates than girls.
- Bullying is most prevalent in middle school with a likely peak during school transition (i.e., between elementary and middle school and between middle and high school).
- Involvement in bullying is a cross-cultural phenomenon and transcends ethnicity. It may, however, increase a student’s risk as a victim when he/she is in an ethnic minority.
- There may be some connection between bullying behavior and religious orientation, but the reports of most bully victims generally suggest that the cause was because they are different from the normative group.
- There is a suggestion that low income status is a risk factor for bullying, but this factor seems to vary more across communities.
- Victims and bullies display deficits in social skills.
- For some bullies, their popularity status affords them high social standing which contributes to their ability to bully and manipulate others.
- There is a relationship between bullying and academic achievement. In general, victims do poorly in school.
- Some research has found that sexual orientation is a reported cause of a significant number of students being verbally or physically harassed.
- 1Some research has found that students on the autism spectrum are more likely to be victimized than their non-disabled peers. Other research has found that students with behavior disorders are more likely to perpetrate bullying, but the bullying behavior may be retaliatory.
- 1Bullying is an aggressive behavior and studies have consistently found an association between conduct problems and Bullying
- Research has found that those involved in bullying events often experience depressive disorders. In a recent study depression and suicidality were predictors of both bullying and victimization.
Peer Group Risk Factors
Homophily. Birds of a feather flock together is an expression that explains how bullying is a peer group phenomenon.
Peer norms. When some members in a peer group are involved in bullying, other members tend to take part.
Delinquency. In a recent study, the strongest predictor of both bullying and victimization was delinquency (measured as engaging in vandalism, being a member of a gang, and carrying a weapon onto school property).
Alcohol/Drug use. The relationship between alcohol/drug use and bullying is well documented. Aggressive victims and aggressive non-victims were more likely than their non- aggressive counterparts to use drugs and alcohol. Thus, involvement in bullying is related to concurrent alcohol/drug use as well as future alcohol/drug use.
School Risk Factors
School climate. The adults in schools play a major role in creating a positive or negative school climate. When the school climate is not supportive and unhealthy, then bullying and concomitant problems proliferate.
Teacher attitudes. When adults in the school system ignore bullying or feel that bullying is just “kids being kids,” then higher levels of bullying will exist.
Classroom characteristics. Healthy classroom environments have less bullying. There are four classroom characteristics that have been found to be associated with greater levels of bullying and victimization: (1) negative peer friendships, (2) poor teacher-student relationships, (3) lack of self-control, and (4) poor problem-solving among students.
Academic engagement. Students involved in bullying and victimization are less academically engaged.
School belonging. Elementary students who bullied others reported lower rates of school belonging than students who were victimized or not involved in bullying.
Family Risk Factors
Parental characteristics. Bullies typically come from families with low cohesion, little warmth, absent fathers, high power needs, permit aggressive behavior, physical abuse, poor family functioning, and authoritarian parenting. Bully-victims come from families with physical abuse, domestic violence, hostile mothers, powerless mothers, uninvolved parents, neglect, low warmth, inconsistent discipline, and negative environment. Male victims had mothers who were overprotective, controlling, restrictive, coddling, over-involved, and warm while their fathers were distant, critical, absent, uncaring, neglectful, and controlling. Female victims had mothers who were hostile, rejecting, withdrawing love, threatening, and controlling, while their fathers were uncaring and controlling.
Family discord. Youth who bully others consistently report family conflict and poor parental monitoring.
Community Risk Factor. Neighborhoods that are unsafe, violent, and disorganized are breeding grounds for bullying. Living in a safe, connected neighborhood predicted less bullying and victimization.
Societal Risk Factors
Media. Studies clearly support the fact that media violence is correlated with aggressive and antisocial Behavior. Playing mature video games predicted greater risk for bully perpetration among middle school Students.
Intolerance. Discrimination and prejudice have been documented since Biblical times. Prejudices such as homophobia, sexism, classism, racism, set fertile ground for bullying and victimization.
Outcomes of Bullying and Victimization
Consequences. Without effective intervention, the consequences of bullying and victimization are dire for individuals, peer groups, schools, families, communities, and society at large.
Biological. Social environments alter brain functioning. Bullying research extends the truth of this statement. The stress of being bullied has been hypothesized to depress immune functioning. Neuroscientists have long argued, it is impossible to separate the brain from behavior.
Educational. Over 160,000 students miss school each day due to fears of being bullied. It stands to reason that bullying detracts from academic achievement.
Psychological. Individuals involved in bullying and victimization have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and externalizing behavior.
Two decades of basic research have illuminated the risk factors and negative outcomes of bullying and victimization. The picture for our nation’s youth is bleak. Researchers and educators have argued that research across the social ecology must inform bullying prevention and intervention practices if we ever hope to significantly reduce bullying in our nation’s schools. Bullying and victimization are social-ecological phenomena that require comprehensive, data-based prevention and intervention efforts.