THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BULLIES
Subject: Health (Bullying)
Length: Film Clip: 4 minutes, 15 seconds; Lesson: 30 minutes
The short film clip and the suggestions for classroom activities contained in this Snippet Lesson Plan are intended to supplement a larger lesson on bullying. They will provide a change of pace and add media to the lesson.
Students will be introduced to the psychology of bullies.
15 – 25% of students report being bullied. Considered by some to be an epidemic, bullying is often commonplace in school settings. It can cause physical, mental, and emotional damage. The first step in building a school culture that resists bullying is to help students understand the psychology of bullies.
DESCRIPTION OF SNIPPET
The best time of Mike’s life was when he was the star of the high school basketball team, on track to earn a college scholarship, and totally in love with his girlfriend. Except that they got her pregnant and then married. Mike had to drop out of school and get a job — no scholarship and no college for Mike. Now, about seventeen years later, Mike is out of shape, unemployed, and alienated from his high-school-aged-son and daughter. In addition, his wife has filed for divorce. One day, as Mike bitterly regrets his decision to forgo the basketball scholarship and his education, an angel appears and offers him the opportunity to do it all over, to be “17 Again.”
Back in his 17-year-old body and with a new identity, Mike re-enrolls in his old school, now attended by his children. However, Mike soon realizes that the second chance he has been given is to be the father that he never was and to help his kids out of their various difficulties. Specifically, his son is being bullied by the star of the basketball team who is also dating and trying to seduce Mike’s daughter.
The clip shows a scene in which Mike confronts the bully in the cafeteria, humiliating him, and providing an introduction to the psychology of bullies.
1. Review the film clip and to make sure it is suitable for the class. Review the materials referenced below and decide whether to integrate them into a lesson plan on bullying.
2. Cue the DVD so that the clip starts immediately. Make sure that all necessary materials are available.
STEP BY STEP
1. Tell students that the class will be about the psychology and dangers of bullying — dangers to the bully as well as to the victim.
2. Solicit suggestions from the class about a definition of bullying. Write the main points on the board, steering the definition toward the components recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA:
physical (hitting, punching)
verbal (teasing and name calling; this is the most frequent type of bullying)
social (usually exclusion)
involves an imbalance of power or strength
is usually repeated or maintained over a period of time
girls bully as well as boys but usually use social exclusion
bullying sets up a climate of fear and disrespect in a school
3. Write the following words on the board: “Bully, Victim, Bystander = accomplice” Usually teachers need to say no more. Most classes will get the concept that bystanders are accomplices.
4. Introduce the clip to the class using the information in the description section above.
5. Play the clip beginning with DVD Scene 10 (“Bully Ball”) and allow it to play for a little over four minutes. Stop the film when the scene cuts from the cafeteria to Mike back at home, digging through the refrigerator. Mike’s psychological analysis of Stan, the school bully, is reproduced below:
Mike: You know, Stan, I feel sorry for you.
Stan: You don’t know me.
Mike: Oh, but I do, all too well. You’re the man. Captain of the basketball team, dates the pretty girls, high school is your kingdom. But people, Stan is a bully. Why? It’d be way too easy to say Stan preys on the weak simply because he’s a dick. No . . . no . . . no. . . . Stan here is much more complex than that. See, according to leading psychiatrists Stan is a bully for one of three reasons. . . .
One . . . underneath all that male bravado there’s an insecure little girl just banging on the closet door trying to get out.
Two . . . like a caveman, Stan’s brain is . . . underdeveloped, therefore Stan is unable to use self-control and so he acts out aggressively.
And the third reason? Stan has a small wiener. . . . .
5. Analyze with the class whether Mike’s analysis of Stan is correct. Here are some points to bring out in the discussion.
DO BULLIES PUT DOWN OTHERS TO COVER FOR THEIR OWN INSECURITIES?
In his first insult Mike compares Stan to someone who is insecure, to a weak girl and to a gay boy who doesn’t quite have the courage to come out of the closet. Mike’s comments are sexist and homophobic. They are also inaccurate. Obviously, being female or being gay have nothing to do with being a bully.
Nor does insecurity have much to do with being a bully. Psychological studies find that most bullies “see themselves quite positively” and are unaware of what their fellow students actually think of them. What makes most bullies starts in early childhood. They have ingrained patterns of using aggression and hostility in their relationships with others. To solve conflicts and get along in life, bullies rely on aggression and the fear and power that their aggression creates. They have difficulty relating to people on other levels. Marano, H.E., Big Bad Bully Psychology Today.
A feeling of insecurity is only one of many things that can trigger a hostile or violent response from a bully. In fact, no trigger is necessary for a bully to be hostile or aggressive.
The idea that bullying behavior arises from feelings of insecurity comes from the efforts of normal people to understand what makes a bully. When most people think about this question they use the context of their own, more normal personalities. For them, covering feelings of insecurity by lashing out at others is a natural, if dysfunctional, response. However, bullies don’t see the world that way. For them, aggression, violence, and hostility in human relations are the norm.
DO BULLIES HAVE AN UNDERDEVELOPED BRAIN?
While bullies don’t have underdeveloped brains per se, they do have cognitive differences from other people. They “perceive provocation where it does not exist . . . [they] act aggressively because they process social information inaccurately.” Ibid. An example is when someone accidentally bumps into a bully and the bully sees it as an aggressive action, triggering a violent or abusive response. It’s not that bullies lack the ability to control their aggressive impulses; they don’t see the need to control them.
However, the truth of Mike’s comment lies in the fact that the aggressive behavior patterns of bullies often hinder the development of intellectual skills, specifically verbal intelligence. By the sixth grade, half of all students identified by their classmates as bullies have been kept back a grade or are taking remedial classes. But it doesn’t stop there. Id.
Compared to kids who are not physically aggressive, students who use violence, aggression, and hostility in their interactions with others are setting themselves up for a downward spiral into a life of alcoholism, depression, crime, spousal abuse, and child abuse. Studies show that more than half of boys who were named as bullies in middle school have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24. Id.
DO BULLIES HAVE SMALL PENISES?
This is another joke. There is no scientific study that inversely links penis size to bullying. However, one long-term study showed that at age 13, boys who had been identified as the most physically aggressive in elementary school had lower testosterone than their fellow students. Scientists are not exactly sure how this finding relates to bullying.
6. Show the clip again and ask the class to look for any classic bullying techniques that Mike employs to humiliate Stan.
- Mike keeps possession of something that belongs to Stan and won’t give it back;
- Mike calls Stan derogatory names; this is the basic technique of verbal bullying;
- Mike takes advantage of a power imbalance between the two of them because Mike is better at controlling the basketball than Stan; Mike is also smarter and more experienced than Stan and uses that against his adversary;
- Mike uses the reaction of the bystanders to hurt Stan’s feelings.
More Bullying Facts:
- Victims of bullies often feel isolated, but they are not alone. That is the significance of the statistic that 15 to 25% of students report that they have been bullied “sometimes or more often.”
- Derogatory comments about sexual orientation are so common that many people don’t even think of them as harassment. However, these comments dehumanize people and cause serious emotional distress.
- The bully and the victim are sometimes locked into their roles by the social stigmas surrounding them (tough, mean, scary, vs. weak, crybaby, wimpy), and these stigmas are perpetuated by their peers, who are reluctant to change their opinion of a bully or of victim, no matter what they do.
- “bystander = accomplice” — Bullies are encouraged when other students treat the bullying episodes as entertainment, encourage fights (have you ever crowded around two people going at it, chanting “fight, fight, fight”?), or help to spread rumors. By laughing at the insult or the tease, by watching the fight, or just by being an audience to the bullying behavior, bystanders become low-level accomplices.
- Another interesting point is that the relationship between a bully and his or her victim can be complex. Bullies don’t choose their victims at random. Not only are most victims weaker than the bully, but they also appear sensitive and quiet compared to other kids. Some bullies and their victims are a dyad, with each getting something that satisfies some needs in the short term. The bully rewards the victim with attention and the victim rewards the bully with submission. It’s almost as if there are deep-rooted solace and familiarity in their relationship. After all, more often than not, they are both disliked by other students. However, overall and in the long term, the bully/victim relationship is harmful to both. One way to describe the relationship between bullies and their victims is that they are “negatively symbiotic.”
- What can one do about bullying? There are many differing ideas, but a majority involve two similar strands: a school-wide campaign and the intervention of peers. It’s important to tell an adult, intervene without resorting to violence, and verbally stand up for the person being bullied, i.e., “Hey, enough, give it a rest.”
- If people don’t band together to work out a solution, they become part of the problem.
ACTIVITIES / ASSESSMENT
Ask students to research either of the following prompts and report back their findings in essay format or as a presentation to the class. The article “Big Bad Bully” has answers to many of these questions, and can be used as a student handout.
1. Are there different types, or categories, of bullies? If so, what are their different traits?
There are two general divisions. The first is the “proactive aggressors,” who are the typical playground bullies, the give-me-your-lunch-money-now type. The second is the “reactive bullies” who pick and lose fights constantly, are bullied themselves, and are quick to escalate any situation into an aggressive conflict.
2. What are the differences between male and female bullies? How do their techniques differ?
Male bullies favor more physically aggressive, confrontational behavior, whereas female bullies thrive on “relational” aggressive behavior: spreading rumors, giving the silent treatment, manipulating relationships, and excluding people from their group of friends.