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Fat Shaming: Assessing Weight-Based Bullying
Adults involved in the care of children do not always know bullying behavior when they observe it (Hazler, Carney, Green, Powell, & Jolly, 1997). Additionally, aggressive behaviors among children and adolescents are not a "unitary construct" (Brown & Parson, 1998, p. 135); they are a multidimensional phenomena with identifiable characteristics. Counselors and others intervening on behalf of the parties involved in instances of known or suspected bullying behaviors will do well to answer four main questions in determining whether or not such behaviors are age-appropriate teasing or inappropriate bullying behavior:
Answers to any of the above four questions in the direction of inappropriate age-related behavior that is negative, intense, and frequently occurring are indicative of behavior which could be classified as bullying (Roberts, 2000). How the target responds to the behavior, however, may accelerate the professional's need to intervene on behalf of the intimidated. Agents of bullying behaviors targeting individuals who give no resistance to the bullying are more at risk to escalate and increase the frequency of their behaviors (Greenbaum et al., 1989).
Cognitive and Affective Considerations of Bully Behaviors
Much of the reluctance of professional school counselors and other helping professionals in confronting the bully and attempting methods of addressing the cognitive, affective, and behavioral needs of that individual are steeped in the stereotypical belief that bullies cannot be helped or, worse, that the only way to stop the bully is through physical retribution (Asidao, Vion, & Espelage, 1999). Olweus (1978) spoke of the "negative and aggressive reactions" (p. 174) bullies elicit from adults. Greenbaum et al. (1989) succinctly summed the feeling held by many: "Perhaps the single most outstanding error concerning bullying is that that only way to deal with a bully and solve the problem is to beat him up" (p. 49).
Asidao et al. (1999) noted that middle school students accepted physical retribution among students as one method for decreasing the aggressive behaviors of bullies. Beating up the bully was viewed as a method of teaching empathy. This view is further supported by Oliver, Young, and LaSalle (1994), whose examination of children's literature dealing with the topic of bullying revealed that 32% of those books reviewed used violence by the target against the agent as a solution to end the victimization. Additional pressures against peaceful solutions to interpersonal disputes come from the use of violence as portrayed in the media as a first remedy to solve conflicts of any kind (Garabino, 1999).
The Home Environment
Punishment is often capricious and physical. Minor infractions may bring violent verbal emotional, or physical overreactions from one or both parents, after which the child is often ignored for long stretches of time. Praise, encouragement, and humor are rare in the life of the bully. Put-downs, sarcasm, and criticism are more the rule than the exception (Greenbaum et al., 1989). Parents exhibit little in the way of positive role modeling behaviors. Bullies are seldom monitored for their whereabouts or activities (Roberts, 1988) or disciplined for antisocial behaviors.
Out of this home environment emerges a personality steeped in the belief and justification that intimidation and brute force are ways to interact with the obstacles encountered in life. Indeed, the parents of bullies often support their children's behavior as "'standing up' for oneself" (Ross, 1996, p. 73). Additionally, bullies empower themselves through aggression toward others.
In their need to dominate, they are quick to use force, display positive attitudes toward violence, hold little empathy toward victims, prone to temper tantrums, and tend to respond to imaginary provocations and unintended slights with force (Greenbaum et al., 1989). They see the less powerful as painful reminders of their own vulnerability. Bullies, through attacking the weaknesses of others, are striking out against the shame and humiliation they feel for their own inability to defend themselves against their own abusers. The bully usually knows no alternatives for nonviolent actions when confronted with frustrations.
Learned Aggression and Its Residual Impact
Hence, bullies model the aggressive behaviors they view as being successful to the attainment of their goals. Such modeling begins at home and expands outward toward the peer group. The behavior is vicariously reinforced via the violence portrayed in the general media (Espelage et al., 1996; Garabino, 1999). The developmental prognosis for the bully's future both male and female--is bleak (Craig et al., 1998; Pepler & Sedighdellami, 1998). Eron, Walder, and Lefkowitz (1971), Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz, and Walder (1984), and Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, and Huesmann (1977) examined (over a 22-year period) the lives of students identified in their third grade year as aggressive.
The results are alarming. Aggressive 8-year-olds, by the time they reached age 30, were more likely than their lesser and nonaggressive peers to have been involved in criminal convictions, cited for moving traffic violations (inclusive of drunk driving), and to have displayed more aggression toward both spouse and children. Their children were more likely to be severely physically punished. Even more alarming were the findings that the children of the aggressive adults displayed aggressive behaviors remarkably similar to that of their parents when they were the same age.
In sum, Huesmann et al. concluded that "the child who is at the top of the [aggression] distribution for 8-year-olds is likely to be near the top of the distribution for 30-year-olds two decades later" (p. 1131) and "once a characteristic of aggressive responding develops, it seems to persist" (p. 1131). Craig et al. (1998), Espelage et al. (1996), and Pepler and Sedighdellami (1998) all note similar futures for childhood bullies.
- Roberts, Jr., Walter B.; The Bully as Victim: Understanding Bully Behaviors To Increase the Effectiveness of... ; Professional School Counseling, Dec2000, Vol. 4 Issue 2, p148
Reflection Exercise #1
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