What makes someone a chronic victim of bullying? That’s what a Missouri State University professor is studying through the concept of victimization, or the victim’s point of view.
Dr. Leslie Echols, an assistant psychology professor, gathered first-hand accounts of aggression for her research in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and the cities of Los Angeles and Springfield. She found the likelihood of being bullied could depend on the characteristics of a person and those they associate with.
“If you’re with the same kids all the time does your reputation stick more than if you are switching classmates all the time?” Echols asks.
She notes that friends who have similar social flaws will lead to more vulnerability for that group over time.
In each city she conducted research, Echols says the friendship process related to victimization is similar, and there are only a few differences depending on school context. If a school counselor sees a student being victimized repeatedly and sees that they are in a lot of classes with the same peers or known bullies, then one fix could be to change the victim’s class schedule.
When she was conducting the studies in Harlem and Los Angeles she focused on racial and ethnic diversity, but in Springfield took a different approach.
“I think there is a lot of socio economic diversity here and that could be used as the basis for social status differences, similar to how racial or ethnic diversity might be used as social status differences in more diverse areas.”
Echols says there are several negative consequences for victims of bullying.
“Students who are victimized have poor mental health outcomes, certainly poor social adjustment, and then we also know that they suffer academically,” says Echols. “A lot of that has to do with increased absences from school because students who are being bullied are more likely to wanna stay home and not have to face their aggressors,” says Echols.
Echols suggests parents should let their kids know that bullying happens to everyone and it is important to de-personalize it. She also recommends that students who are being bullied should try to not react to the negativity.
“If you do take it personally and peers see that they are getting a big negative reaction out of you that often can be incentive for peers to target you again in the future because you seem like an easy target,” she says.
She encourages students to reach out to school administrators, teachers, or a school counselor if they feel they are being bullied.
Dr. Echols is currently working on a project that will move toward intervention programs that include training personnel and providing opportunities for students to build positive relationships with one another.
In July, she’ll be working with a field expert at the University of California Los Angeles to prepare a grant application to fund the pilot study.