Vanessa Kirk of the Office of Research recently spoke with Dr. Nadine Connell, assistant professor of criminology, to discuss her research about the nature of bullies and the people affected by them.
Why do bullies bully?
There are a lot of potential reasons why someone bullies. In research I conducted with a colleague, we found that certain childhood experiences were more likely to predict bullying during adolescence. These things could include experiences that would be traumatic to a young person, such as having a sibling face an extensive illness or having trouble with friends in school. This speaks to the importance of how an individual’s life circumstances can impact their behavior. This type of research into what predicts adolescent bullying is really important because it opens up avenues for prevention and intervention. The more we can do to intervene with the behavior early, the more options we have to help children and adolescents while also limiting negative consequences to both the bullies and the victims. It’s important to note that some people are bullies because they are aggressive — due to a variety of factors — and bullying is just another form of aggression.
The internet has changed the face of bullying substantially. What signs should we watch for to prevent and/or help with a bully?
Keep the computer in a central family location in order to be able to monitor use. Have copies of children’s passwords. Let children know that accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be monitored. Explain that privacy is earned and that children must demonstrate that they deserve it. Watch for sudden personality changes, academic changes, abrupt changes in friendships, or withdrawal from activities as signs that something troubling may be happening at school or in a child’s life.
What resources are available to help resolve abuse and cope with trauma?
Ask the child’s teacher. Teachers can be a great first line of information and can often spot signs of trouble before a child will tell you. Pediatricians and family doctors can offer insights into resources and referrals to other professionals if the problem reaches that level of concern. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; whether you think your child is being victimized or you think your child is being hurtful to others, there are options. Remember that, even though it is difficult in the moment, it is beneficial for children to experience some hardships and frustrations because it develops problem-solving skills and will help your child become a more successful adult.