Bullying and Academic Performance – No

As an educator and full-time student in a school counseling Master’s degree program, I have done my share of research on the topic of bullying.  The increase in youth suicide and other acts of violence by young students has made the issue of bullying a priority in our schools.  Of course, in every problem there are multiple solutions and multiple opinions on the best course of action.  Illinois has passed a mandate that schools implement some “anti-bullying” programs in their schools, and has defined expectations of how bullying will be punished and prevented. 

The bullying we knew as children is not the same as the bullying I see in schools today.  Whereas many of us went to smaller schools within our communities comprised of a less transient population of students, children today are moving more, encountering larger schools, and often feel less supported as individuals. One of the most important tasks of today’s educators and school counselors is to address bullying.  It is important to start separating the myths from the facts.

What I have discovered is that many of the commonly held beliefs about the causes of bullying behavior, including that academic failure is a contributing factor, are false.  In fact, bullies are often popular, well-liked by teachers, and academically successful students.  Card and Hodges (2005) found that aggressors of bullying are often physically stronger, more popular (i.e., well-liked by peers), and less anxious or depressed than the victims they target.   Bullying is fundamentally about power and dominance.  Most bullies report that they enjoy being a bully (Batsche & Knoff, 1994).

Bullies often target those who are “different”, such as those with a different sexual orientation and those with disabilities (Card 2010).  So it may, in fact, be more accurate to say that academic difficulty would put one at more risk for abuse from a bully, rather than to become one.  And to make matters worse, victims often have increased academic trouble.  Often victims will avoid school – increasing absenteeism, be more anxious and therefore distracted, and have increased risk of mental illness, such as depression.  These things obviously have a devastating effect on the victim’s academic performance and can lead to irreversible damage if not addressed. 

Understanding that negative self-image, low self-esteem and academic failure are not predicating factors for bullying behavior is the first step in the process of forming valuable and effective interventions for both bullies and their victims.  Using research-based interventions is our best hope for thwarting the increase in bullying and its devastating effects on our children.

References

Batsche & Knoff, Howard (1994).  Bullies and their victims: understanding a pervasive problem in the schools, School Psychology Review, 23, 165-175.

Card, N. A., & Hodges, E. V. E. (2005, April). Power differential in aggressor-victim relationships. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Atlanta, GA.

Card, N.A. (2010).  Bullying as a relationship between aggressor and victim, Bullying Special Edition, as found at http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Bullying_as.