The Motivation of a Bully

Recently I wrote about a cyberbully’s motivation.  The same can be true of a conventional bully:

It is my belief that cyber-bullying is often based on “dominance” and “popularity” rather than “hate”.  I don’t think most cyberbullies hate their victims.  Instead, I think they see them as stepping-stones to wider acceptance from their peer group.  Often the victims are minorities or outcasts.  The pressure to be in the “in group” has always been high.  For an “in group” to exist there needs to be a clearly defined “out group”.  It is often seen as a sort of right of passage for someone seeking popularity to kick the easy target.

This view seems to be backed up by a recent study conducted by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°”:

A new study commissioned by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” found that the stereotype of the schoolyard bully preying on the weak doesn’t reflect reality in schools.

Instead, the research shows that many students are involved in “social combat” — a constant verbal, physical and cyber fight to the top of the school social hierarchy.

“Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status,” explains Robert Faris, a sociologist whom “Anderson Cooper 360°” partnered with for the pilot study. “It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins or the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things … often, typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors.”

Faris, along with the co-author of the study, Diane Felmlee, also found that bullies, whom they call aggressors, and victims are not defined roles, but in many cases, they can be the same person. The higher students rise on the social ladder, the more they bully other students, and the more other students bully them.

“When kids increase in their status, on average, they tend to have a higher risk of victimization as well as a higher risk of becoming aggressive,” Faris says.

The study was conducted this spring at The Wheatley School, a nationally top-ranked high school on Long Island, New York. More than 700 students at the school were given a survey with 28 questions on aggressive behavior four separate times throughout the semester. They were also given a roster of the entire school in which every student had an identification number and kids were asked to write down specifically who did what.

This is part of the reason why I am so critical of the way bullies are handled at some schools.  So often the emphasis is on the actions of the bully and not on the social environment that encourages bullying behaviour in the first place.  That is why so much of  my energy is devoted to changing the social fabric of my class.

After all, bullying isn’t a priority – it is THE PRIORITY.  As a teacher, I am entrusted not with people’s money or belongings but with the most important and precious things they have – their children.  It is my responsibility to ensure that they are safe and secure.  Sure, I have to teach them and help them grow academically, but even more so, I have to do my best to make sure that the child they dropped off at my classroom is going to come back in as good if not better emotional shape than when they arrived.

When I speak to my class at the beginning of the year, I tell them there is a sure-fire way for them to have to repeat the year a second time.  It’s not if they find the work difficult or are struggling to pass assessments – it’s if they are not treating their classmates with respect.  Because if they are not ready to treat others with respect, they are not emotionally ready to go up a year level.

I’m not joking.  I really do mean it.

There is a lot of talk about ‘child centered learning’ vs ‘teacher centered learning’.  I prescribe to neither.  Instead, I believe in what I call “class centred learning”.  The main focus of my teaching is that everyone in the class must respect each other.  It is the fundamental rule for assessing my own performance.  They don’t have to be best of friends, but they absolutely must respect each other.  And ultimately, it is my duty to empower the class and create an environment of closeness and mutual respect.

Does it mean that there is no bullying in my classroom?  Absolutely not.  I wish.  I’m only an ordinary teacher.  What it means is, I take more interest in the welfare of my class than any other consideration.

On the topic of bullying, I again strongly recommend (not for the last time) this most brilliant anti-bullying film developed by young students in their own free time.  It is the best of its kind by a long, long way!



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