New Study About the Psychology of Bullying

By Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT

Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA developmental psychologist has published new study that sheds a different light on the psychology of bullying here. What I found most enlightening was that, contrary to popular belief that bullies are young people who have low self-esteem and thus bully to compensate, Ms. Juvonen’s study notes that bullies,”…have almost ridiculously high levels of self-esteem… what’s more, they are viewed by their fellow students and even by teachers not as pariahs but as popular — in fact, as some of the coolest kids at school.”
When I think about  all my work with kids in classrooms (and reflecting on my own adolescences) the students with the most social clout are some of the kids that bully. Ms. Juvonen’s study validates what victims of bullying have known anecdotally.
Perhaps this is what makes bullying such a difficult problem to address – young people who bully benefit from it by being viewed as powerful, likable and cool. Which in turn, helps the child develop a sense of self-worth, albeit at the expense of another child. I found the research enlightening and thought provoking. Ms. Juvonen notes that bullying is not just an individual problem but a systemic problem in which adults have to be creative in how to address bullies:

“Think if there might be another way to provide them with a sense of control and power other than being mean to others,” she suggested. “I’ve seen some very clever teachers do that. When they see a kid who’s constantly on the case of other kids, these clever teachers give this kid a special role” that channels the bully’s energies more positively.

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