Schoolyard bullying: are boys meaner than girls? [The Age National, by Amy McNeilage,01/2/2015]

In anecdotal tales of schoolyard bullying, young girls spread rumours and alienate their victims, while boys push and shove.

But new research is challenging these cliches, which experts say are shaped by  gender stereotypes rather than evidence.

The preliminary findings of a study conducted in Sydney high schools suggests female students are more likely to engage in social and relational aggression – rumour spreading and manipulation – in the junior years. But, by years 9 and 10, the boys overtake them.

The researcher Katrina Newey, a developmental psychologist and PhD candidate at the University of Western Sydney, also found male students were more commonly the perpetrators of cyberbullying, particularly when it comes to hacking social media accounts or spreading embarrassing videos and photos online.

The research follows the recent publication of a major longitudinal study from the University of Georgia in the US that found boys were more likely to indulge in rumour spreading and social exclusion than girls.

Jennifer Germon, a gender studies academic at The University of Sydney, says there is mounting evidence to debunk the myth that boys use their fists as weapons and girls use words.

“It seems very clear to me that, when boys bully, social exclusion, gossiping and name-calling are crucial to their arsenal,” she says. “It’s really a misnomer to just attribute the language-based forms of bullying to girls.”

Dr Germon says ignoring the nuances of anti-social behaviour means interventions risk overlooking crucial aspects of bullying, particularly among boys.

“Those old arguments just don’t hold,” she says. “They’re counterproductive and they get in the way of effective interventions.”

Helen McGrath, from Deakin University, is a psychologist and leading education academic in the area of bullying.

She says myths around the ways boys and girls bully emerged to fill a research vacuum.

“There was a lack of good research in this area, so people made the assumption that it was more consistent with socialisation for girls to use rumours and social exclusion and for boys to use direct aggression,” she says.

Professor McGrath says while studies suggest there may be some differences, they are not as great as once thought. She says girls might focus more on subtle ways of excluding their peers, while boys have been shown to prefer direct attacks.

The Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study published in 2009, for example, found girls were more likely than boys to bully in covert ways, with the behaviour beginning as early as year 3.

Girls were also more likely to have been sent mean messages over the internet, while boys in junior high school were more afraid that they would be physically hurt by bullies.

Bullying affects one in three kids with food allergies, study finds [ CBS News, by Ryan Jaslow, 24/12/2012].

As if having food allergies isn’t hard enough on a child, new research finds at least one-third of kids with food allergies said they are targets of bullying.

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City surveyed about 250 children with food allergies and their parents and found 31.5 percent said they are subjected to taunts and threats that frequently involve the allergy-inducing food.

Bullying not only caused higher levels of stress for these children and their parents, but could potentially risk a child’s life if they have a history of severe allergic reactions to the food they’re being taunted with.

“Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel, and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population,” study author Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, chief of the pediatric allergy division at Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

Children who reported bullying and their parents were more likely to report a lower quality of life on the survey. About half of surveyed parents said they were “aware” of bullying, and children of parents who said they were aware were more likely to report less stress and a higher quality of life than parents who were unaware of a problem.

The research was published Dec. 24 in Pediatrics.

“Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergy about bullying,” said study author Dr. Eyal Shemesh, chief of the division of behavioral and developmental health in the department of pediatrics at The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Finding out about the child’s experience might allow targeted interventions, and would be expected to reduce additional stress and improve quality of life for these children trying to manage their food allergies.”

Bullying at school or on the Internet — known as cyberbullying — has made headlines in recent years as stories emerge of suicides and the severe emotional toll the mean-spirited teasing can have on children.

“There has been a shift and people are more and more recognizing that bullying has real consequences, it’s not just something to be making jokes about,” Dr. Mark Schuster, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. who wrote am accompanying commentary with the new study, told Reuters.

Schuster also told HealthDay that parents themselves could be more understanding of their classmates’ food allergies, because they may unknowingly be encouraging bullying. He noted some parents may “roll their eyes” or complain they can’t send cookies and other foods to schools because classmates have food allergies, and kids can pick up on this negativity.

Approximately 8 percent of U.S. children have food allergies, according to estimates from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Nearly 40 percent of these children have a history of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

Bullying At School Linked To Violence At Home [ Medicalnewstoday.com, by Christian Nordqvist, 24/4/2011]

Bullies and those being bullied are more likely to be experiencing family violence at home, a new report issued by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and prepared together with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has found. The researchers found that among middle and high school pupils across the state, encounters of family violence were more common among young people who had both taken part in bullying and been victims of it.

Since the two suicides in 2009 – Phoebe Prince, 15, in South Hadley, and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, in Springfield – bullying has been a big theme in Massachusetts, leading to anti-bullying laws in 2010 which ban bullying both online and in schools. Since the new legislation, schools have had to develop bullying intervention and prevention policies.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) report explains that a growing body of evidence has been linking family violence with bullying. The authors write that they gathered and analyzed data from the Massachusetts Youth Health Survey (2009), an anonymous, paper and pencil survey carried out every 24 months.

There are considerable differences in risk factors contributing to individuals involved in varying categories of bullying, compared to those who have never been active bullies or victims of it.

The AORs (adjusted odds ratios) for middle school pupils for being physically hurt by a member of the family were:

    • 2.9 for victims
    • 4.4 for bullies
    • 5 for bully victims
    • For being witnesses of family violence the AORs were:

  • 2.6 for victims
  • 2.9 for bullies
  • 3.9 for bully victims

The authors say adjustments were made for factors which might alter the figures, such as the individuals age, sex, race and ethnicity.

The AORs for high school pupils for witnessing violence in the family were:

    • 2.8 for victims
    • 3.8 for bullies
    • 5.4 for bully victims
    • For being witnesses of family violence the AORs were:

  • 2.3 for victims
  • 2.7 for bullies
  • 6.8 for bully victims

In order to develop effective bullying intervention and prevention strategies, the authors say schools and health departments are finding that it is vital to include involvements in families.

The Massachusetts Youth Health Survey defines bullying as being “repeatedly teased, threatened, hit, kicked, or excluded by another student or group of students.”

In the Massachusetts Youth Health Survey, which involves hundreds of schools in the state, pupils were asked two questions (among many):

  • Over the last year, how often have you been bullied at school?
    They could answer from 0 to at least 12 times.
    Pupils who said they had been bullied at least once were categorized as victims.
  • “Did you do any of the following over the last year? a) Bully or push someone around, and b) Initiate or start a physical fight with someone.
    This second question was asked immediately after the student answered the first.
    Students answered with a simple yes or no to both questions. An individual who answered yes to question “a” was categorized as a bully. Those who answered yes to question “b” were not classed as bullies because there was not enough deter to determine.

The researchers gathered the data they received from the two bullying questions and created four categories:

  • Bullies – those who had bullied, but had not been bullied
  • Victims – those who had been bullied, but had not bullied
  • Bully-victims – those who had bullied and had also been bullied
  • Neither – those who had neither been bullied nor bullied

Below are some highlighted results from this study:

  • Victims of bullying – 26.8% of middle school and 15.6% of high school students
  • Victims – 7.5%% of middle school and 8.4% of high school students
  • Bully victims – 9.6% of middle school and 6.5% of high school students. There was no significant difference between male and female rates.
  • Neither – 50.6% of middle school and 69.5% of high school students.
  • Males bullies – 9.9% of middle school and 12.1% of high school students
  • Female bullies – 5% of middle school and 4.8% of high school students
  • Male victims – 24.1% of middle school and 13.3% of high school students
  • Female victims – 29.8% of middle school and 17.8% of high school students

A higher percentage of bully-victims were exposed to violent family encounters compared to bullies.

The authors wrote that those associated with bullying are more likely to be involved in substance abuse, attempt or consider suicide, and have poor academic grades.

It was clear that bullies and their victims were much more likely to be physically hurt by a member of the family, or witness family violence compared to those who claimed they had never been bullied.

The authors wrote:

“A comprehensive approach that encompasses school officials, students and their families is needed to prevent bullying among middle school and high school students.”

“Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students – Massachusetts, 2009”
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) April 22, 2011 / 60(15);465-471