Rather than another story about my experiences volunteering with the after school program, I have decided to take this post as an opportunity to make others more aware about bullying and its effects– especially at the middle school age. My earlier post about Opal and her playground bullies sparked interest regarding bullying at this age group, as well as about bullying in general.
Children across the country, across the world, face the ridicule of their peers every single day. While many are working to prevent this, bullying never seems to go away despite the efforts. Most people tend to associate bullies as people compensating for having low self esteems. However, recent studies beg to differ.
According to a study conducted by Jaana Juvonen (professor of developmental psychology at UCLA) that evaluated over 2,000 sixth graders, bullying at the middle school age allows a student to appear “cooler” to their peers. “Most bullies have almost ridiculously high levels of self-esteem…they are viewed by their fellow students and even by teachers…as popular — in fact, as some of the coolest kids at school.” The study was then expanded to evaluate students enrolled in grades 4th-8th. It was found that this type of bullying did not appear until 6th grade, which is when students enter middle school.
Juvonen attributes this change in behavior to how the students transition from elementary schools to middle schools: “Think about all the changes that kids go through when they transfer from elementary school to middle school. The school not only becomes an average seven times larger than their elementary school, but now they go from one [class] period to the next, having a different teacher in each and also different classmates.” She also attests that this unfamiliar atmosphere triggers a “primal tendency to rely on dominance behaviors.” Juvonen continues by explaining how this can create a vicious cycle in the lives of students that only leads to more and more bullying.
With one in every four US students reporting that they are bullied on a regular basis, and 85% of students who are regularly bullied at school reporting that there is no bystander intervention made by school administration, it is clear that action needs to be taken. It becomes even more apparent when a study conducted by Yale University found that “bully victims are 7 to 9% more likely to consider suicide”, studies in Britain have found that “half of the suicides among youth related to bullying”, and, according to a study by ABC News, “over 30,000 children stay home every day due to the fear of being bullied.” Juvonen believes that some type of buddy program should be implemented at schools so that victims can be greeted with a friendly hello rather than a snide remark or punch to the face.
My school district has a “buddy program” where socially and educationally well-off high school students take time out of their school day to mentor and spend time with a troubled middle school student. I was able to participate in this program as a “big buddy” and would spend one lunch period a week with a young girl who had recently transferred into the school district and was having a lot of trouble making friends and keeping up with her school work. We would spend our first half hour eating and discussing school work, then spend the second half hour playing board games or shooting hoops in the gym with other “big buddies” and “little buddies” in the program.
By the end of the school year, the little buddies had formed a very close knit friendship and everyone (teachers, parents, the big buddies, counselors and peers) could see a noticeable difference in their behavior, ego, and work ethic. Fortunately for these troubled students, the school had a thorough anti-bullying regimine and buddy program in place. Other students across the world in similar circumstances do not have these opportunities made available to them, leading to the seemingly endless cycle of bullying.
A larger, more effective effort must be made by everyone–children and adults alike–in order to dispel harmful bullying in schools, playgrounds, and on the internet today. I encourage you to inquire about these programs at your local school district, and if they aren’t in place, work to establish one.
Lin, Judy. “Psychologist’s Studies Make Sense of Bullying.” UCLA Newsroom. UCLA, 3 May 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
“School Bullying Statistics.” Bullying Statistics. WordPress, 07 July 2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.