Victims, in contrast to bullies, are the recipients of peer abuse. The majority of bullying victims, about two-thirds, are passive or submissive; the remaining one-third appear to have aggressive attitudes (Brockenbrough etal.). Physically, victims tend to be small in stature, weak, and frail compared with bullies; thus, victims are often unable to protect themselves from abuse (McNamara & McNamara). These physical characteristics are particularly poignant for placing boys at risk of victimization. In addition, victims may have "body anxiety," fear getting hurt, and have a negative attitude toward violence. They also may be unsuccessful at sports or other physical activities (Olweus). When attacked, many victims react by crying or withdrawing, especially those in lower elementary school grades. Victims also tend to be more quiet, cautious, anxious, insecure, and sensitive than most other children and have rather poor communication and problem-solving skills (Glew et al.). As a result, these children tend to initiate conversation less than other children and lack assertiveness skills (Schwartz et al.). Consequently, many victims are abandoned by other children, have few to no friends, and are often found alone on the playground or at lunchtime (Olweus).One study found that victims of bullying demonstrated poorer social and emotional adjustment, greater difficulty making friends, fewer relationships with peers, and greater loneliness (Nansel et al.). Another study found that many victims relate better to adults such as parents and teachers than their own peers (Olweus). In addition, victims tend to suffer from poor self-esteem (O'Moore & Kirkham).They often see themselves as failures—unattractive, unintelligent, and insignificant. Because of these negative cognitions, victims may wrongly blame themselves for the bullying (Carney & Merrell). Lacking sufficient self-esteem and assertiveness to stand up for themselves, victims are usually not willing to report the bullying. This unwillingness to disclose their victimization may act as a signal for bullies and may cause these victims to be targeted repeatedly. Academically, victims may perform average or better in elementary school, but usually tend to be less successful than other children in middle school (Olweus). This deterioration in academic performance may be due to the negative impact of the bullying experience on the victim's sense of bonding or engagement with school.
Generally, victimized children come from families that tend to be overprotective and sheltering because they realize that the child is anxious and insecure. As a result, parents may avoid conflict because they believe their child would not be able to cope. However, by avoiding conflict parents fail to teach their child appropriate conflict resolution skills (McNamara & McNamara). Many parents become overly involved in their child's activities to compensate for their child's social deficiencies. Researchers believe that the family's tendency to shelter their child may serve as both a cause and a consequence of bullying (Olweus).
Short-Term Effects of Victimization
Victims may gradually see themselves as outcasts and failures. Studies suggest that victimization has a significant positive correlation with several internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression (Brockenbrough et al.; Kaltiala-Heino et al).This link between victimization and internalizing disorders is particularly strong for adolescent girls and may contribute to the development of eating disorders (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin, & Patton). One study found that attention deficit disorder was common among victims (Kumpulainen et al.).This connection with attention-deficit disorder is understandable considering that these children may feel the need to constantly monitor their environment, anxiously anticipating the next victimization episode. Victims of bullying often suffer from one or more of the following: chronic absenteeism, reduced academic performance, increased apprehension, loneliness, feelings of abandonment, and suicidalideation (Beale; Roberts & Coursol). Because the bullying most often occurs at school, many victims are reluctant or afraid to go to school and may develop psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains in the morning. One study found that 7 percent of U.S. eighth graders stayed home at least one day a month because of bullying (Foltz-Gray).
Other researchers reported that more than one in five middle school students said that they avoid restrooms at school out of fear of being bullied, and another study suggested that at least 20 percent of all students are frightened during much of their school day (Glew et al.; Hazier, Hoover, & Oliver). Victims may also experience physical injury (bruises, cuts, and scratches), torn clothing, and damaged property as a result of the bullying. To appease bullies and avoid injury, victims may request or steal extra money from family members. At night victims may experience difficulty sleeping and have nightmares (McNamara & McNamara).Victims are more likely than non-victims to bring weapons to school to feel safe or to retaliate (Brockenbrough et al). It is more common, however, for victims to internalize their problems. Unfortunately, victims sometimes attempt suicide (Olweus).
Long-Term Effects of Victimization
Victims also experience negative long-term effects as a result of childhood bullying. Because victims tend to miss many days of school, their achievement level tends to be lower than their peers and many do not achieve their academic potential (McNamara & McNamara). In addition, at age 23, former victims tend to be more depressed and have poorer self-esteem than non-victimized young adults (Olweus). Hugh-Jones and Smith found that one-half of former victims reported long-term effects of being bullied as a child, mostly affecting their personal relationships in adulthood.
Researchers have indicated that male victims experience psychosocial difficulties such as inhibition with women during adulthood and may have problems in their sexual relationships (Gilmartin). In extreme cases, former victims have carried out acts of retribution, including murder, against former bullies (Carney & Merrell). When former victims have their own children, they may overreact to behaviors that they perceive as bullying, contributing to an intergenerational cycle of overprotection (McNamara & McNamara). This may inhibit the development of conflict resolution skills in their children, placing the children at heightened risk of becoming the next generation of victims. The risk of victimization may be transferred by genetic predisposition for a small body, by the perpetuation of overprotective parenting, and by negative cognitions that children internalize.
- Smokowski PhD MSW, Paul R and Kelly Holland Kopasz MSW; Bulling in School: An Overview of Types, Effects, Family Characteristics, and Intervention Strategies; Children & Schools; Apr2005, Vol. 27 Issue 2, p101
Personal Reflection Exercise #4
The preceding section contained information about characteristics of victims of bullying in schools. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
According to Smokowski, what is a typical family background for a victimized child?
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