When It Comes to School Bullying, We May Not Be Asking the Right Questions
by Ronald B. Jacobson - April 02, 2012
In a bullying encounter, we ask why a bully bullies in the first place, but part of such an inquiry almost always includes a focus on the victim—that is, what is it about the victim that draws the ire of the bully? Researchers have spent great effort seeking to understand the motivations behind bullying, including why victims are targetable. Once we understand what causes a victim to be targeted, then, we believe, we can “fix up” the victim (to make him or her less targetable), and we can focus our work with the bully—helping him or her to be more tolerant of the “targetable” qualities held by the victim. But research also indicates that we may actually be asking the wrong question. Although bullying involves a victim and a bully, the literature also describes bullying as a social event, most often enacted within the purview of onlookers, accomplices, and bystanders. In this commentary, I argue that the victim is often incidental to the bullying encounter (i.e., the bully typically isn’t annoyed with, angry with, or threatened by the victim). Rather, the bully’s focus is on those watching the encounter—seeking to gain status with peers through the public domination of a classmate.
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