A recent study of British teenagers investigated the self-concept and self-esteem of students who exhibit bullying behavior. The study included students from a wide range of backgrounds in single-sex and coeducational settings. Researchers found that most of the young bullies, particularly the boys, had a relatively positive view of themselves, although, they were less confident in the academic area.
In general, these students saw themselves as likable. Indications were that they were either unaware of or did not care about the effect of their bullying on other students. Often these students appeared to lack empathy for others or to have a “thick skin” that researchers hypothesized might be due to a combination of temperament and upbringing in an aggressive or dysfunctional family that perceived aggression as the norm.
Past research on bullies shows that their popularity declines as they get older. Children who have not been socialized to inhibit their aggressive tendencies, or whose families model aggressive behavior, do not appear to have the same awareness of what is right or wrong in their behavior toward others. The generally positive self-concept of these bullies implies that they see their behavior as acceptable or that they are confident enough not to care.
Intervention methods have not been very successful with bullies. The results of this study lead researchers to speculate that it may be important to recognize and respond to bullying behavior early both to protect other children who may be victims and to have a greater chance to change the bully’s behavior. Bullying youngsters are more likely to become criminals in adulthood.
Statistics in Britain show that 35-40 percent of boys classified as bullies in secondary school had three or more convictions by the age of 24. Parenting programs may be an important and potentially more effective way to reduce bullying behavior in young children. Intervention in school to improve academic competence should also be investigated as a way to reduce bullying.
“Do You Like What You See? Self-Perceptions of Adolescent Bullies,” British Educational Research Journal, Volume 25, Number 5, December 1999.
Published in ERN March 2000 Volume 13 Number 3