The internet is a pretty crazy place. Five weeks ago I posted “Son, as soon as someone puts their hands on you…” - it was a well enough received post, y'know, normal par for the course type stuff. Then a couple days ago it gets submitted to a few places around the internet, and over 20,000 people come and read it. There's over 120 new comments there, many of them really intelligent and insightful.
This one stands out to me by "A Psychologist" -
I've studied bullying for a number of years now. The social dynamics of bullying are very old, evolutionarily speaking. The references to dominance hierarchies and such are not ill-placed, teenagers are primates after all.
Coupled with that, they're grappling with all sorts of psycho-social issues ranging from hormones to newly placed pressures to define themselves and seek a future worthy of respect, etc.
Moreover, this is the first and last place (outside prison) where physical dominance really matters and can be exercised with relatively little consequence - so bullies milk it the best they can.
More interestingly, however, is the folk psychology behind bullying - especially the post-70's origins of the "low self-esteem" theory of bullying; which is the pseudo-scientific backing to what is essentially a Christian message of passivity (to whit, many low self-esteem theory experiments were sponsored by Christian institutions).
The evidence, however, just doesn't stack up. Bullies frequently score much higher than normal on self-esteem tests. Nearly all research done in the last 20 years confirms most people's intuitions - bullies are self-centered assholes who hurt other people because its fun and they can get away with it.
The best way to handle it, it seems, is to increase accountability. This is distinct from consequence. If a bully thinks he will get caught and in trouble (virtually any amount of trouble) the likelihood of him bullying abates. Whereas, even if the penalties are very stiff, if a bully doesn't think he'll get caught or the punishment will "stick" he'll bully remorselessly.
It's unlikely we (as parents, teachers and legislators) can remove or reduce the social incentives to bullying - as mentioned above dominance hierarchies are instinctive. But we can improve the ways bullying is monitored and punished.
In my research, a big barrier to bully accountability is actually that the punishments are too harsh and not contextually determined. If a teacher gets wind of bullying, there are usually pre-determined routines of punishment to be exacted. Not only is this a lot of work for teachers, many back-off because the punishment is often very severe (thanks to the 'zero-tolerance' system) and ill-fitting to the offence. These systems were erected to be "fair" and to avoid teachers being victimized by overly defensive parents of bullies (side note: bullying is strongly hereditary).
This allows bullying to continue so long as its below some arbitrary threshold of severity.
A lot of insight there. Gosh, I'm lucky I've got such smart readers. If you're looking for some interesting insights, that post and the 120+ comments on it might not be a bad place to visit/revisit skim and read through.