Bullying in schools can be explained by the fact that the needs of kids for autonomy, competence and relatedness are not being met. Traditional approaches to bullying focus on behavior - the symptoms of the underlying problems - instead of lagging skills and unmet concerns and needs of bullies , their victims and the student body as a whole.
The needs for competence can be addressed by using collaborative problem solving. Many cognitive skills are taught indirectly when using CPS. Problems are solved in the context of the child's concerns and when he participates in finding mutually satisfying solutions . The process also supports the autonomy of the child. Traditional social skills training is top down skills training and ignores the 'concerns' of the child. Bullies are lacking the skills to have their needs being met and rewards, punishments and other consequences won't teach them lacking skills.
Relatedness - It is not enough to avoid external control and motivation and have trusting relationships between teachers and kids , schools need to move away from compliance and focus on building a caring community of learners. This framework supports kids' autonomy – being connected to their true inner selves , competence and relatedness. The fact that bullies were often bullied themselves , means that the need for relatedness was not being met , instead they were being emotionally tormented.
According to Po Bronson – Nurtureshock
' The science of bullying has shown that bullies feed off of bystanders’ reactions. While we might wish bystanders intervened, in fact all they have to do is turn their backs and stop rewarding the bully with their attention, because it’s attention that bullies seek. The worst thing bystanders can do is be a rapt audience'
It appears that the bully is using ' relatedness ' of other kids to support him in bullying the victim.
Alfie Kohn 'Another reason why social skills training is unsuccessful is that social skills are taught ,' but not the traits of generosity , caring and altruism. Schools are rather competitive with no cooperative learning , kids ranked one against another, and academic and sports achievement glorified with award ceremonies. Schools themselves are under pressure of high stakes standardized testing and little time is left for promoting socio-moral learning or building a caring community of learners. We can't expect kids to internalize conflict resolution skills and values of community when the ' structure ' of school - the competitive nature and zero tolerance discipline policies go against collaborative solving of problems and cooperative learning needed to create a caring community of learners. In fact , since the introduction of zero tolerance discipline policies behavior problems have increased and kids feel less safer in schools.
The finding that schools become less safe as a result of adopting zero-tolerance policies will sound paradoxical only to those readers who believe that threats and punishment can create safety. In reality, safety is put at risk by such an approach. A safe school environment is one where students are able to really know and trust – and be known and trusted by – adults. Those bonds, however, are ruptured by a system that’s about doing things to students who act inappropriately rather than working with them to solve problems. “The first casualty” of zero-tolerance policies “is the central, critical relationship between teacher and student, a relationship that is now being damaged or broken in favor of tough-sounding, impersonal, uniform procedures. ' Alfie Kohn
Po Bronson says that bullies are not lacking skills. In fact being a bully requires some sophisticated social skills. – see below
I still contend that they lack the skills to assert their leadership talents in appropriate ways. Bullying is also not an expression of autonomy , being connected to your true inner self and self worth. The bully is not acting like an autonomous subject giving to the world but rather taking from others.
'What about negative interactions between peers? It appears that being too protective can also have a negative effect. A policy for "zero tolerance" (toward bullying at school) found that it had a negative effect on children. Although bullying should not be accepted as a normal part of childhood, implementing a policy for "zero tolerance" is not the solution. This is because children are young and they make mistakes. Inflicting severe, automatic responses for these mistakes erodes their trust in authority figures. The children end up being more fearful of "accidentally" breaking the rules which increases their anxiety.
There is a complex relationship regarding bullying among children. Ironically, most of the meanness, cruelty and torment are not inflicted by the "bad" kids or those most commonly labeled as bullies. They are mostly inflicted by the popular, well-liked, and admired children. Contrary to the idea that non-aggressive children were simply being "good" children, it was theorized that these children merely lacked the savvy and confidence to assert themselves as often.
Aggressiveness is used to assert dominance to gain control and protect status. It is not necessarily the mark of a child who lack social skills but the contrary - it often requires a child to be extremely sensitive to his/her peers. To be able to attack in a subtle and strategic way, the child has to be socially intelligent - the child needs to know just the right buttons to push to drive his/her opponent crazy.
So if the popular kids are more aggressive, then why are they admired and held in such high regard? Because they are seen as being independent and older because of their willingness to defy authority. Children who always conform to adult expectations are often seen as wimps. However, this doesn't make the popular children worse. These children not only use antisocial tactics for controlling their peers, they are adept at pro-social skills. They cleverly deal the right balance of power (kindness and cruelty) to achieve what they want.
. Peer aggression alone is not an accurate measure of social development. By lumping children of a similar age together, we are forcing them to socialize themselves. We have created an environment that drives children to seek peer status and social ranking and this sometimes involves the use of aggression.' Po Bronson