• We hear a great deal about bullying in schools and on the internet across the nation and even around the world.  Some common myths about bullying and bullies as delineated by the American Psychological Association are noted below:

    Myths and facts about bullying

    Many beliefs about school bullying are not supported by current research. Among the most common myths that even some teachers have been known to endorse are the following:

    Myth #1: Bullies are rejected by their peers and have no friends

    Many people believe that everybody dislikes the class bully. But in truth, research shows that many bullies have high status in the classroom and lots of friends (e.g., Cairns & Cairns, 1994; Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van Acker, 2000). Particularly during the middle school years, some bullies are actually popular among classmates who perceive them as “cool” (Juvonen et al., 2003).  Many classmates admire their toughness and may even try to imitate them.

    Myth #2: Bullies have low self-esteem

    Just as it has been incorrectly assumed that bullies are rejected by peers and have no friends, there is a general belief that such youths have low self-esteem. That myth has its roots in the widely accepted view that people who bully others must act that way because they think poorly of themselves. Some readers may remember the self-esteem movement of the 1980s when many people argued that raising self-esteem was the key to improving the outcomes of children with academic and social problems (Baumeister, 1996). But, there is little evidence that bullies suffer from low self-esteem. (Baumeister, Smart & Boden, 1996). To the contrary, many studies report that bullies perceive themselves in a positive light, perhaps sometimes displaying inflated self-views (Zariski & Coie, 1996). Therefore, just focusing on self-esteem enhancement will probably not improve the outcomes of youths who pick on others.

    Myth #3: Being a victim builds character

    Another misconception is that bullying is a normal part of the childhood and adolescence experience, and that surviving peer harassment builds character. In contrast to this view, research findings clearly show that being bullied increases the vulnerabilities of bullied children. For example, we know that children who are passive and socially withdrawn are at a heightened risk of getting bullied and these children become even more withdrawn after incidents of harassment (Schwartz, Dodge & Coie, 1993).

    Myth #4: Many childhood victims of harassment become violent as teens

    The portrayal of bullying victims lashing out in anger at their tormentors in school shooting incidents has been reinforced by the media over the past few years. However, most victims of bullying are more likely to suffer in silence than to retaliate. As indicated above, many victims experience psychological adjustment problems like depression and low self-esteem that encourage them to turn their anger inward rather than outward.

    Myth #5: Bullying involves only perpetrators and victims

    Many parents, teachers and students view bullying as a problem that is limited to bullies and victims. Yet, bullying involves more than the bully-victim dyad (Salmivalli, 2001). Studies based on playground observations found that in 75 percent of bullying incidents, at least four other peers were present as either witnesses, bystanders, assistants to bullies, reinforcers or defenders of victims (O’Connel, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). Assistants to bullies take part in ridiculing or intimidating a schoolmate. Reinforcers, in turn, encourage the bully by showing signs of approval (e.g., smiling when someone is bullied). In contrast to the pro-bully participants, those who defend victims are rare. One observation study found that in more than 50 percent of observed incidents of bullying, peers reinforced bullies by passively watching. In only about 25 percent of the incidents did witnesses support the victim by directly intervening, distracting or discouraging the bully (O’Connel et al., 1999).

    Understanding facts versus myths about bullies and victims is important for intervention. The problems of victims and bullies are not the same. (Profiles of Early Adolescents). Victims of harassment need interventions that help them develop more positive self-views and learn not to blame themselves for their experiences with harassment (Graham et al., 2006). Bullies need to acquire strategies that help them control their anger and their tendency to blame other people for their problems. And peers need to learn that bullying is a whole school problem for which everyone is responsible.

    For more information on bullying, see  http://www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx?item=1