Bullies on Parade

Scientific American Mind has an story on schoolyard bullying and mobbing. Mechthild Schäfer, the author, was part of a study that aimed to discover why bullies bully. The results are discouraging, if not altogether surprising:

Likewise, we encountered eight-year-olds who, by their own statements and those of their contemporaries, had been the butt of mobbing for quite a while. They endured harassment and exclusion yet never put up resistance or informed adults about their situation. The consequences can be long-lasting. In earlier studies we had shown that children who are harassed by schoolmates over a lengthy period are often unable to defend themselves against hostility and react to attack with anxiety and helplessness. Such terrible experiences make it all the more likely that they will fall into the traps set by bullies.

When we asked the same questions six years later, the students’ answers bore this out. After asking the 13- and 14-year-olds which kids they liked and which they did not, we developed a preference profile that gave us a good sense of an individual’s social ranking in a class. The result was surprising. In contrast to the bullies’ relative lower standing during elementary school, they had actually become very popular with their classmates. Their victims, on the other hand, got few sympathy points.

The good news?

The one positive note was that [the] previous experience [of former mobbing victims] was not usually repeated in their work lives, although mobbing in the workplace–the ganging up of subordinates or superiors through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting and isolation–does happen.

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd so, as a kid, I took my fair share of name-calling and teasing, though I avoided the worst of it by having some athletic talent.

If you are still in school and having a tough go of things, keep in mind that it won’t last forever. As Paul Graham writes:

It’s important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It’s all-encompassing, like life, but it isn’t the real thing. It’s only temporary, and if you look, you can see beyond it even while you’re still in it.

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