JAMES GARBARINO: Why do bullying, harassment, and sexual violence happen at school at all? Well, we're sitting on a school bus because often they begin before the day even begins, right here on the bus. A lot of kids report in Ellen Delara's research that this is a tough time for them, partly because it's such an uncontrolled environment. Drivers are trying to look at the road. They can't really monitor kids. When you get to the back of the bus, it's very hard to have an adult presence. So this is a tough setting for kids.
When they get to school, the dynamics continue. Why does bullying take place? Why are kids harassed? Why is there emotional violence? Well, of course, you know from our ecological perspective, the answer is going to be, it depends. But what does it depend on? Well, it depends, of course, on characteristics that kids bring with them. Some kids bring with them a package of accumulated risk factors, or lack of assets. They come with problems of aggression that started outside the school, at home. And we have a chart in your materials that gives you some of the characteristics of kids who are particularly likely to become bullies-- kids who have problems with aggression, kids who are colder.
But even that list does not cover everything, because there's a lot of bullying that goes on not by losers or marginal kids, but by leaders-- athletes in many schools are almost given permission to bully, to make use of their special status. And they often do. That's one reason why character education for the athletes in any school is an important part of bullying prevention, harassment prevention.
Some kids come to school, because they've been bullied at home, they take it out on kids at the school. That's why there is, as you see in your chart, a whole section on characteristics of parents and families from which bullies are likely to come. To some degree, what you get at home is what you get at school.
And, of course, there are kids who are particularly prone to be victims. They don't deserve to be victimized, but they have characteristics that bring them to others' attentions, that perhaps aren't consistent with the macho stereotype of their school, or their school's idea of beauty or popularity. And, of course, that can become a sort of self-fulfilling vicious cycle. Kids become victims, and other people identify them as victims, they start acting like victims, and that may intensify the problem across the board.
But I think you have to understand that this issue of where does bullying, harassment, and emotional violence come from is not simply a matter of kids bringing it with them. It has a lot to do with the setting they come into when they get off this bus-- what goes on at school. For example, there's a lot of research that shows that delinquent or violent kids, which could include some bullies, don't automatically end up getting in big trouble, aren't automatically acting out on these things they bring with them.
Research shows, for example, that, yes, kids who by age eight have developed a chronic pattern of aggression, bad behavior, acting out, violating the rights of others-- kids who a psychologist or psychiatrist might diagnose with conduct disorder-- yes, these kids, on average, are particularly prone to get involved in serious violent delinquency when they become teenagers. But there's an important ecological point to be made-- in some settings, some neighborhoods, some communities, some schools, only 15% of those kids who are in trouble at age eight become violent delinquents at age 18.
In other schools, and communities, and neighborhoods, it's 60%. So the likelihood of this early pattern translating into a later pattern differs by a factor of four from community to community, neighborhood to neighborhood, school to school.
Another example of context has to do with the size of the school. It's been known for almost 50 years now that big schools create a different social environment than small schools, and that the effects of school size are particularly noticeable in the behavior of high-risk kids, marginal kids, kids who might be particularly likely to end up as bullies, victims, or both. The research showed that in the small high school, there was more effective social control by adults, because adults can see the environment, because they know every kid.
Anyone who's been a teacher knows that if you look out at a couple of kids about to get in trouble, or somebody about to start bullying or harassing, it's a whole world of difference to look at them and say, Joe, Mary, I see you-- don't do it-- as opposed to hey, you two, whoever you are, don't do it. So the small high school provides much more of that.
I remember interviewing some kids in a small high school a few years ago, and at one point one of them said, well, you know, we have friends that go to big high schools and they say it's better. And I said, why? And they said, well, they say it's better because you can get away with more. And I thought, that's hardly what we want kids to take as a message from school-- you can get away with more.
Also, the small school is a more humane environment, on average, because more kids are drawn into active participatory roles. And, as a result, they get more developmental assets added to their accumulation. Because in the small high school, you still have to have a football team, you still have to have a choir. In the small high school, the coach may walk through the halls and say, hey, you, you've got two arms and legs. Come on down, you're on the team. Or the choir director may say, hey, sing me a note. And you go "ah", and, OK, you're an alto. We need you in the choir.
So kids participate more. And because they participate more, they have a greater sense of positive feeling about themselves and their school. What is more, because they're participating with diverse groups of kids, they break down some of the stereotypes. In a small school, it's harder to have separate cliques, because people are drawn into cooperative activities.
Indeed, one researcher has a whole curriculum approach to improving the social environment of the school called the Jigsaw Curriculum, which involves bringing kids together in cooperative roles, which is more likely to lead to positive attitudes, positive treatment of each other. The more you put them in competitive roles, you're more likely to bring out whatever nastiness or negativity there is.
But all of these things conspire to make the small school, on average, more likely to be a place where kids will be treated with care and dignity. In the big high school, an environment in which adults will have a harder time gaining control, and more of the negativity will come out. Well, it's kind of an unfortunate historical fact that this research found that when a high school got bigger than about 500 students, grades nine through 12, it very quickly slipped over into becoming big. And all those dynamics of alienation, and depersonalization, and being out of control take over.
Well, in the 1950s-- in 1955-- the average size of our high schools was about 500. 20 years later, by 1975, the average size of our high schools was about 1,500. And this needs to be understood in understanding why the problem of bullying, harassment, and emotional violence, in many ways, may have gotten worse rather than better over the last 20, or 30, or 40 years, because big schools create an environment in which this is more likely to happen.
Now, there is other research that we could point to that begins to shed light on why bullying arises in a school. For example, the work of Sheppard Kellam, who studied first graders, found that when kids walk into first grade, what happens there has a lot to do with how aggressive they'll become in school later on. In particular, Kellam found that if kids walk into first grade and find a chaotic classroom, a teacher who doesn't take charge of the environment, these kids are more likely to group together and build higher and higher levels of violence as they go forward. When they walk into a classroom that has very strong control by the teacher, they're more likely to move away from aggression rather than towards it.
James Gilligan, a psychiatrist, found the same thing about prisons-- that shame in prisons drives violence. That because people in prison feel devalued and hated, it undermines their ability to feel good, and it generates aggression because people feel always psychologically at risk.
This is a very important transition to thinking about who's responsible for dealing with the problem of bullying, and harassment, and emotional violence. Because the real responsibility lies not in the kids bringing things into school with them that come from their families, or their backgrounds, or their psychologies, or their physiology. It really will hinge upon who's taking charge of the social environment in the school. And that's where we're going to go next.
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While there are fewer than 100 child fatalities each year at school, literally millions of kids suffer from physical and emotional violence in the form of bullying, harassment, stalking, intimidation, humiliation, and fear. Beyond the rare events of gun shots at school are the common events of psychological stabbings- the millions of kids who suffer emotional daggers to their hearts at school. Sticks and stones and bullets may break their bones, and words can break their hearts.
This presentation offers a guide for parents, professionals, and other concerned adults seeking to help their adolescents, their schools, and their communities overcome this problem. The presentation focuses on how the social system of the school plays a decisive role in the process of bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence in the lives of teenagers. It is based upon James Garbarino and Ellen deLara's
And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (NY: The Free Press, 2002).
This video is part 6 of 7 in the Protecting adolescents from bullying, sexual harassment, and emotional violence series.