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April 23, 2004

Bully For You

Some conclusions from a really long article on bullies.

Both bullies and victims are socially incompetent, and guess whose fault that is?

Human "mothers" Kraemer finds, do a swell job of raising physically robust monkeys. But only the monkey moms raise socially competent ones. The human-reared monkeys are either impulsively aggressive or inordinately reclusive--their behavior varies unpredictably. They have a collage of changes in the way they see the world, deficits in cognitive problem-solving that endure no matter how much social interaction with their peers the monkeys later get.

"Peer-reared monkeys can't anticipate what is going to happen next in social interactions" says Kraemer. "They look like a wild cannon. Something will set them off. And they have no 'off' button. Once in agonistic encounters, they have a hard time stopping." These monkeys not only display unregulated aggression and antisocial behavior, they contribute to the instability of the whole group. They just don't "get" the rhythms of relationships.
"Noncontingent parenting is unable to stop, deviant or aggressive behavior," Patterson emphasizes. "What goes along with it that makes it a Greek tragedy is that the families that get swept up in it not only inadvertently reinforce antisocial behavior, they fail to reinforce prosocial behavior. They don't sit down with their kid, give him a nod, a hug--the kinds of things good parents normally do hundreds of times a day." They don't engage in the dance.

That dance is "extremely important to foster growth" Patterson says. "These kids get slowed in language development. The child doesn't learn to ask for things; he takes things," living on the edge of his impulses.

Bullies stay bullies for life.

In a classic long-term study that is still ongoing, University of Michigan psychologist Leonard Eron, Ph.D., and colleagues have been following 518 children in upstate New York from the age of eight. All are now in their 40s. The most astonishing finding is that the kids who were named by their peers--at age eight--as most aggressive commit more crimes, and more serious crimes, as adults. They have more driving offenses. More court convictions. More alcoholism. More antisocial personality disorder. More use of mental health services.

The older they get, the less popular they are, and the lower their levels of testosterone.

"They are losers," he states emphatically. "Their testosterone status at puberty reflects the fact that they are not dominating their environment. The human behaviors of dominance are not the same as animal ones," he insists. In humans, even in beefy boys, social dominance has less and less to do with physical aggression--and more and more with language. "While aggression is important for attaining high social status," says Tremblay, "it is not the only strategy. And when sustained, it is not decisive at all."

Bullies are economically expensive for society.

Bullies wind up being very costly to society, says Gerald Patterson: "We're talking about the production of marginally skilled adults who will be at the margins of society even if they don't commit crimes. They cost the rest of us a lot." They have more accidents; more illness; shorter, less productive lives; pay less in taxes; and use more welfare services. In school they tended to get lots of services, things that were not very effective.

I don't recall anyone in my family being terribly troubled by bullies in our childhood years, though the middle brother had a first rough day at school. A brother and sister team chased him about the playground until I, going against all the advice given in the article above-- hey, I was only in the fourth grade, told him to fight back.

Within a minute, he cornered the brother by a water fountain and decked him with an uppercut that was a thing of beauty to behold. The sister then ran off to the principal, in whose office we spent a good part of the morning as he sorted out the various stories.

Neither of us was punished, as I recall.

Posted by Bigwig at April 23, 2004 01:21 PM | TrackBack

How come I never heard that story before?

Posted by: Yomamma at April 25, 2004 01:45 PM
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