All this week, Anderson Cooper has been dedicating his CNN show, Anderson Cooper 360°, to the results of a study he commissioned about bullying in New York high schools.
Cooper conducted the study at The Wheatley School, a top-ranked high school in New York. More than 700 students were given a 28-question survey about aggressive behaviour, four separate times during the spring semester.
The image most of us have of a bully reflects what could be seen in movies like The Mean Girls, where the “popular” students are considered the bullies. They have strong personalities and are determined to climb the social ladder. What we picture to be the victims are students that don’t quite fit in, are considered weird and have found themselves on the bad side of the popular students. Cooper’s study reveals that these views are misconceptions about the modern-day bully.
Bullying has changed drastically from the day of the bully versus the victim. Now, bullies are the victims, and vice versa. Students are exchanging in a battle of emotional, physical and online banter to make it to the top of their school’s hierarchy.
“Kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status,” said Robert Faris, sociologist and co-author of the study. “It’s really not the kids that are psychologically troubled, who are on the margins of the fringes of the school’s social life. It’s the kids right in the middle, at the heart of things… often… well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviours.”
The study also found that bullies and victims do not have defined roles, and can often times be the same person. A student will start bullying others to climb the school’s social ladder, and will in turn be bullied by his/her peers.
“No matter what high school you go to, what age you are, what social group you’re in, you’ve been bullied and you are a bully,” said Bridget, a junior at Wheatley. “Once you start realizing that you can have… higher social power by putting other people down… that’s, like, how people are moving up and that’s how they’re gaining respect.”
From the survey results, Bridget was considered to be both an aggressor and a victim. She was taunted about her weight to the point of forming an eating disorder, which she has since overcome.
If bullying is such a prevalent problem at this school, why aren’t administrators doing anything to stop it? Because 81 per cent of incidents don’t get reported.
“It breaks my heart when they keep that all inside and we’re not aware of it,” said Sean Feeney, Wheatley School’s principal. “Every high school has to deal with bullying. Every high school has to deal with drugs and alcohol… Just because we are in an absolutely wonderful school district… kids don’t have a pass on those just because they’re affluent and high-achieving.”
The study came to two conclusions that would surprise the students. First, being a bully doesn’t actually help you climb the school’s social ladder. In fact, it isn’t even a factor. Secondly, bullying is contagious. However, Faris says that this could also mean that positive behaviours can move around social groups in the same way.
What can parents do?
It is suggested by experts that parents can prevent their children from becoming bullies at a very young age.
Teaching children, as early as 3, the difference between an action, a feeling and a thought can help decrease the chance of them forming aggressive behaviour later one. Asking simple questions such as “Tell me three good things that happened to you today,” “Tell me three good things that happened to someone else,” and “Tell me something you did that worked out well,” can teach children to differentiate their emotions from an issue and will give them the ability to express themselves without using aggressive behaviour.
It is also important that children develop a strong sense of self. Being strong in who they are, without the influence of their peers, can help them stay true to themselves when faced with adversity.
Also encourage children to become involved in social clubs, extra curricular activities and sports. Not only will this give them a fun activity outside of school, but it was also introduce them to a new group of friends. If their peers at school start to show aggressive behaviour towards your child, they will have other friends to turn to for support.
Tune in all this week to Anderson Cooper 360° at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT on CNN to learn more about bullying. The week-long special will lead up to a bullying town hall on Friday October 14 hosted by Cooper titled “Bullying: It Stops Here.”
Image: All Things Anderson