Bully Pulpit

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Certain friends can help kids who are picked on at school.

Parents may be quick to offer advice to kids who are being bullied, but Amy Bellmore is devoting her efforts to finding more realistic answers.

Bellmore, an assistant professor of educational psychology, is surveying sixth graders at two Wisconsin middle schools to learn how they cope with bullying. Students read a hypothetical situation and a checklist of options to indicate how they would respond, including standing up to the bully, ignoring the bully, or telling a teacher, a parent, or a friend.

But Bellmore is also asking kids to do something researchers haven’t done before: describe an actual event from the recent past where they felt bullied and what they did in response.

“Most kids can readily recall an incident where they did feel picked on, which is the bad news,” says Bellmore.

“I think one of the behaviors that flies under the radar is calling kids names,” she says. “We assume that that’s okay or that’s not going to be harmful to kids, but it’s the most frequent event they report.”

To develop strategies, Bellmore is determining the popularity of the kids in the study, if they have friendships, and what kind of friendships they are. “If the strategy is, ‘I want to tell a friend,’ you need to have a certain kind of friend — a friend who’s empathetic, or who will listen or who could potentially go stand up to the bully,” she says.

She figures that out by asking the students to tell them whom they hang out with and which peers are the most popular. “They take it very seriously. They are really methodical about telling us,” she says.

Bellmore says the broad range of responses kids have to being bullied demonstrates what parents may not want to hear: “There’s no one right coping strategy.”

Published in the Spring 2010 issue

Tags: Faculty, Research, Social sciences

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