Why isnít the Weekly Reader survey referred to here not scientifically reliable? First, it does not survey all students in the grades, only those who read the Weekly Reader that issue. Secondly, and most importantly,
it measures only those who responded, which would likely over represent those who are most concerned about the issue. Why is it worth reporting then? Mainly because of the large number of students who responded, 50,000 respondents is adequate enough to at least point to some trends and worthwhile speculation. When I spoke to Weekly Reader representative in the Spring of 1998, no other member of the news media had contacted them about their report. This Op-Ed piece was submitted to about 20 daily newspapers, none of them printed it. Had the Weekly Reader survey come out closer to the time of the Arkansas and Oregon school shootings later in the year, there might have been more interest.
This shows however, how often the print press can be relied upon to be reactive to issues of obvious concern, rather than proactive.
Children Who Bully and Batter
Is your child being bullied at school? It could be happening more often than you think, and who is doing some of the bullying may also surprise you. The Weekly Reader recently published responses from 50,000 of itís fourth through sixth grade readers. The survey is not scientific, but it does indicate how pervasive bullying is. Bullying was defined as name-calling, pushing, shoving or hitting, making threats or having things stolen. Forty-four percent of the fourth graders for example, said they were called names, and 6% said they had things stolen, but what is more worrisome is how many kids were victims of more serious forms of bullying. Thirty-four percent said they had been pushed, shoved, or hit, and sixteen percent said they were threatened. Most of the time, the bullying occurred at school (41%) or on the playground (26%). However, what should concern parents is that only twenty-eight percent of the fourth graders told their parents about the incidents and just sixteen percent told a teacher. In other words, if parents donít check in with their children on a regular basis about bullying, they might not know about a problem their child is having.
The most surprising finding from the Weekly Reader kids survey however, is who is doing the bullying. Most of us assume its only boys who engage in this type of behavior, with girls doing it very rarely. While the survey shows that most of the time it is boys or a group of boys bullying, (65%) a significant part of the time (24%) it was only girls or a group of girls involved. So, before a bullying victims parent automatically assumes a talk is needed with teachers or the other kids parents about little "Samís" behavior toward their child, it might be wise to check to see if it isnít really "Samantha" that needs a talking to.
Many parents assume that bullying violence is something most kids grow out of as they grow older except for gang activity and the like. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In a scientific survey published in the prestigious journal "Social Work" researchers found that one in four of the juniors and seniors
in high school had experienced actual violence (not just threats) in their dating relationships. In this particular survey published in 1996, the students came from mostly middle-class backgrounds. The researchers also reviewed other studies and found a remarkable consistency in how often teen dating violence occurs and who is doing it, regardless of family background. They found that an "equal number of boys and girls experienced as well as initiated abuse."
This finding may be particularly surprising to parents and to educators as well.
Many schools conduct domestic violence awareness programs these days, but in almost all of these programs instructors contend that 95% of the time it is only boys who are violent in dating relationships. This is far from the truth. By failing to discourage violence started by girls against their boyfriends, such programs only encourage reciprocal violence by their male dates.
The "Social Work" researchers, Nona OíKeeffe, Karen Brockopp, and Esther Chew, think they know why dating teenage girls are as violent as boys:
"Unlike older women in violent relationships, teenage girls have less at stake materially and emotionally and may therefore be more willing to take greater risks with their relationships. These findings may also indicate that future generations of women are more likely to participate equally in all aspects of their relationships, including violence."
Parents then, need to be more aware of the high incidence of school bullying at the lower grade levels, and they also need to be more aware of the high levels of teen dating violence. It also means that it isnít just "Sam" who needs to be told that it isnít right to hit girls, or other boys, but "Samantha" needs to hear this as well.
Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Praeger Publishing).
Copyright Ó 1998, Philip W. Cook