It passes for a fact that bullying is one among the most noteworthy public health problems in the United States today. Bullying, which is an age old vice, has serious detrimental effects of the lives of both the victims and the perpetrators in the long run. There has been significant debate on whether bullying is an aspect of nature or nurture. While this is the case, political leaders have turned to psychologists in search of a potential explanation of the causes and potential solutions of the phenomenon. Psychologists, lead by Dan Olweus PhD, commonly referred to as the father and pioneer of psychology related explanations to the vice of bullying. While there are many definitions of the term bullying, Olweus thinks, “bullying is a negative ill-intentioned behavior by one or more students, directed against a student who has difficulty defending him or herself” (Harris, 2009). While this definition has been criticized as being incomplete, it addresses the worst form of bullying – school bullying. This paper aims at explaining bullying from a social psychological viewpoint and recommending different psychology-based strategies of addressing the phenomenon.
Bullying is associated with intentional harming, hurting and humiliating of individuals who, in most cases are defenseless, and incapable of provoking others (Reid et al 2004). While many people think bullying is only a common ingredient of school life, various social and political activists hold the belief that it is a detrimental vice that deserves to be uprooted at the closest opportunity. Bishop and Casida (2011) argue that bullies are made and not born. This means that in reality, bullies develop their behavior from the environment and not as a result of genetic makeup. It is a result of untamed childhood aggression. According to Jing and Iannotti (2012), bullies have some common characteristics. Foremost, bullies are obsessed with the need to dominate. Secondly, they are aggressive and defiant against adults. Thirdly, they are easily angered and have no empathy for people going through human suffering. On the other hand, Reid et al (2004) lists the common features of the bullying victims as: low self esteem, inability to make close friends, suicidal ideation, and withdrawal and introvert tendencies.
Research carried out in 2010 by prominent psychologist Tonja Nansel PhD involving 15000 American students between the 6th and the 10th grades, showed that 17% of them had been bullied at some point in time, in the course of their schooling. On the other hand, 19% of the students confessed to have bullied others in one way or another. The research further showed that 6% had both bullied and fallen victim to other bullies. Overall, the research established that most of the bullies were boys. 50% of the female victims reported that they had been bullied by boys. The topic of viewing bullying as a social psychological issue is exceptionally important because, according to Nansel’s research, studies carried out by the secret service and the U.S Department of Education found out that two thirds of the 37 most prominent school shootings were performed by people that felt threatened, bullied, and harassed. Such incidences make the understanding of bullying remarkably important. Secondly, the importance of the topic is enhanced by the fact that studies show that most victims of bullying develop serious problems in the future. For instance, they find themselves struggling to keep a job, and maintain social relationships.
One among the most noteworthy social psychological theories that can be employed in explaining bullying is the cognitive dissonance theory. According to this theory, when human beings do something that is not in line with their values, it is likely that they will reconsider their decisions and embrace change (Harris, 2009). The theory, which is based on the broader self concept theory, explains the behaviors of the unique class of bullies referred to as the victim-bullies. Such people are equally as victims as bullies. They bully and get bullied at different times. Jing and Iannotti (2012) believe that cognitive dissonance is the explanation behind the existence of this class. The victim-bullies reach a point when their unconscious tells them to refrain from such ills as bullying. At such a time, they act like the best students, staying away from the perceived bad company of bullies. However, peer pressure sometimes forces them into bullying others. Due to this cycle, they cannot maintain permanent friends. They grow particularly unpopular among the victims, the aggressors and the teachers.
According to Bishop and Casida (2011), social learning theory is another noteworthy social psychological concept that can potently explain the root of bullying. The researchers believe that children learn through imitating adults and more so those adults that the children consider being their role models. Typically the parents are the foremost heroes to a child. Since the children want to be like their parents, they will always endeavor to learn from them. Aggressive parents are likely to bring up bullies. Where the father is a wife batterer, for instance, the children will learn that the best way of unleashing anger is to beat up a person. Similarly, a parent that spanks his or her children when they make silly mistakes, are among the factors fostering a culture of bullying (Harris, 2009). Research has it that parents that counsel and guide their children when they go wrong, bring up sane children who are both social and disciplined.
Another key social psychological theory that can be employed in explaining bully behavior is the self verification concept. Aronson et al (2013) define self verification as the desire to be recognized by others and be understood by friends. When such recognition and understanding has been achieved, the person develops firm beliefs and conducts that that person wants everybody around him to know about. This leads to an individual developing a tendency to force and impose his ideas on people through various ways, including physical abuse. Such assault is what constitutes bullying. According to many scholars (Bishop and Casida (2011), Harris (2009) and Reid et al (2004), the self verification theory is the most prominent cause of bullying. Related with this concept is the social comparison theory, which states that people gain information from others, about themselves and make false assumptions that they are associated with high self esteem. In order to maintain the new found source of self esteem, an individual grows into a bully that wants everything to go his way
The first recommendation that I would make with regard to ending this vice is that all schools ought to employ professionally trained psychologist, who will be in charge of guiding the children and advising them on the essence of friendship using the social identity concept. Social identity is the element of socialization that makes an individual have feelings of belonging and affiliated to such groups as family. Applying the social identity theory in the school setting will ensure the establishment of friendships that are indiscriminate. The psychologist can collaborate with the teacher in ensuring that the teams and groups formed, however informal, should be given collective assignments to enhance their solidarity, and eliminate unfounded enmity.
Secondly, I would recommend that bullying be addressed from the point of view of parenting. In line with the social learning theory, the parents should not only seek to impart knowledge and decision making power, guided by ethical thinking. They should endeavor to achieve this through acting as the role models. This way, children will learn positive behavior and approaches from their parents. Additionally, teachers and the school administrations should seek to find ways of reducing social distance among the children. Among the most recommended ways of introducing order and lessening the social distance is through introducing uniforms. School uniforms eliminate the visible differences between the students because no one can physically judge another as the uniforms conceal a lot. Similarly, the school curriculum ought to be changed to incorporate studies that focus on teaching the children the need to overlook prejudices such as race. Racism has been recognized as one among the causes of discrimination. Through proper parenting, and the establishment of strong parent-teacher relationships, congruency can be attained. Reid et al (2004) describe congruency as the harmony between the real self and the ideal self of the children. Incongruent states make the children vulnerable to bullying because their self esteem drops.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2013). Social psychology (8th ed.). Garden City, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Bishop, H. N., & Casida, H. (2011). Preventing Bullying and Harassment of Sexual Minority Students in Schools. Clearing House, 84(4), 134-138
Harris, M. J. (2009). Bullying, Rejection, and Peer Victimization: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective. New York: Springer Pub. Co.
Jing Wang1, w., & Iannotti, R. (2012). Bullying Among U.S. Adolescents. Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 3-6.
Reid, P., Monsen, J., & Rivers, I. (2004). Psychology's Contribution to Understanding and Managing Bullying within Schools. Educational Psychology In Practice, 20(3), 241-258