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Victims of Bullies Share Common Traits

October 21, 2008 10:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
A recent Canadian study tracking nearly 2,000 children from birth to age six illuminates key risk factors that may lead to chronic victimization.

Bully Victims Have Similar Backgrounds, Study Shows

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A recent study from Canada has found that victims of bullies share similar personal histories and traits, such as aggressive behavior in early childhood, overly stern parents, and low socioeconomic status. Time magazine noted the long-term effects of being bullied, including depression, academic decline, physical health problems, and suicidal ideation. The full report, "The Quebec Longitudinal Study of Childhood Development," was published in this month’s “Archives of General Psychiatry."

In 1997, researchers from the University of Quebec at Montreal began surveying the mothers of 1,970 Canadian children, roughly half boys and half girls, every six months for six years. In first grade, they also surveyed the children and their teachers.  According to Canadian paper Globe & Mail, in the past, researchers shied away from studying what makes an individual a target of bullies, because they worried they were "blaming the victim." Researchers ultimately decided they could help stop bullying by learning how it evolved, however.

The researchers concluded that aggressive behavior in early childhood was the strongest determinant of later victimhood. Dr. Mara Brendgen, a psychologist and author of the study, explained to the Globe & Mail, "It's not... the more cold-blooded aggression you find in the bullies. It's really this hyper-reactivity ... It might be fun for the bullies to upset the victim." Michel Boivin, a psychologist and also an author of the study, explained to Time magazine that having a mother who is “hostile and reactive” also increases the risk of a child being bullied, as does having low socio-economic status. According to Brendgen, a low SES has been linked through other studies with unpopularity, a likely antecedent to being bullied.

The study divided children into three categories: those with a low trajectory for victimization (71 percent of the subjects), those with a moderate trajectory (25 percent), and chronic victims (4 percent). The chronic victims were mostly boys. Dr. Brendgen explained that as children grow, the level of harassment experienced by the moderate group starts to catch up to that of the chronically victimized group. Similarly, Boivin explained to Time, "As [these] children get older, in grade school, they slowly shift their aggression and tend to withdraw into shyness."As Tralee Pearce, a journalist for the Globe writes, "Once a victim always a victim."

The study's authors agree that further research is necessary, as they are still unclear about whether childhood aggression is a cause or an effect of harsh parenting styles. Studies like this one may help parents and teachers to intervene sooner and correct behaviors, however, both the parents' and the child's, and possibly decrease the likelihood of victimization. The need for early intervention is crucial for the well-being of the victims as well as all the students and teachers that surround them. An earlier study, from the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found that between 1974 and 2000, in 37 school shootings, 71 percent of the shooters had “felt bullied, threatened, attacked or persecuted.”

Related Topics: A new Web site to report bullies; cyberbullying in Missouri; advice on dealing with cyberbullies

Reference: Stop Bullying Now; how to stop cyberbullies

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