Study: Bullying rampant in U.S. middle schools
August 20, 1999
From staff and wire reports
CHICAGO (CNN) -- Four out of five middle school students say that they act like bullies at least once a month, according to a new study that found such aggressive behavior to be more common than previously thought.
The study of 558 students in a Midwestern middle school found that 80 percent said their behavior included physical aggression, social ridicule, teasing, name-calling and issuing threats within the previous 30 days.
And many middle school students are not shy about admitting such behavior.
"Yep, I get in fights with a lot of kids," one boy told CNN.
The classic image of the "lone" schoolyard bully doesn't ring true, according to the study, conducted by the University of Illinois.
"By asking students if they had engaged in certain behaviors over the past month without telling them those behaviors are defined as bullying, we found that our results support that adolescents don't neatly fall into categories of either bullies or non-bullies," said psychologist Dorothy Espelage, author of the study.
Earlier research had concluded that bullies account for up to only 15 percent of the school population.
"I think a lot more goes on in junior high than the teachers or supervisors really know about," said one girl.
Espelage believes adults should step in to stop bullies.
"Kids don't have the skills to stop it. They also fear that if they try, attention will turn to them," the psychologist said.
"They also have a sense that it's all in fun. But to the victims, it's not funny," Espelage said.
"It would hurt my feelings so bad, I would cry at home, tell my mother and my mother would come and, you know, talk to them and tell them that it's wrong," one young female victim of bullies told CNN.
The children who are different are usually the most vulnerable.
When one boy was asked why he thought the other students picked on him, he said, "I don't know, because I'm fat."
"If there's one message parents, teachers and administrators (should) hear out of all this (it's) pay attention to it," Espelage said.
So what makes bullies do what they do?
"It's fun," said one unrepentant bully. "These kids, they're like helpless -- I mean they've got the big glasses and fat stomachs."
Recent school shootings across the country have put a spotlight on bullying. The shooters in those tragedies had said they'd been made to feel like social outcasts.
Espelage is concerned that ignoring bullying behavior is the same as condoning it.
"We're creating a climate in which kids are sent the message, even those kids that don't do it, that it's okay to tease people," said Espelage.
The study concludes that parents and teachers must learn how to deal with bullying behavior, because that makes it clear that it's not just a normal part of growing up.
Reporter Lisa Price and Reuters contributed to this report.
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