In May, a 12-year-old
boy in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City hanged himself, reportedly after relentless bullying and
cruel taunts about being short and brainy. It’s a heartbreaking story. And
sadly, it’s only one of several recent suicides in young people that have been linked to
Helping the victims of bullying is a top priority. But
finding ways to keep kids from becoming victims in the first place is even
better. A new study,
published in the July issue of Psychology
of Popular Media Culture, may be a step in that direction.
The study, led by psychologist Douglas Gentile at Iowa State
University, looked at the seeds of aggressive behavior in 430 third- and
fourth-graders. The hope is that, by identifying youngsters at risk for becoming
bullies, it may be possible to reach out and help them before lasting harm is
In Gentile’s study, these six risk factors did a good job of
predicting which students were most likely to get into a physical fight later
in the school year:
Spending a lot of time watching violent TV shows
or movies or playing violent videogames
Not having their media use monitored by parents
Having a tendency to think that other people’s
actions are motivated by hostility
Being the victim of bullying or physical abuse
Having a history of past physical fights
Most past research focused on just one or a few risk
factors. This study was among the first to look at how all these pieces of the
puzzle fit together.
It turns out that having only one or two risk factors isn’t such
a big deal. But the chance of getting into a fight within the next six months rises
to 50% once there are three risk factors together. And the likelihood of a fight just keeps
rising as more risk factors are piled on, reaching 67% for four factors, 84%
for five factors, and 94% when all six factors are present.
Before It Starts
For parents, the study highlights the importance of keeping
tabs on kids’ media use. According to the American
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 2,000 scientific studies and reviews
have now shown that being exposed to a lot of media violence increases the risk
of aggressive behavior in some children and teens. It may also also numb them
to the pain of others and lead them to conclude that the world is a darker,
scarier place than it really is.
The AAP advises limiting what kids are allowed to watch; for
example, by not letting children and preteens watch movies rated PG-13 or R.
With children and teens of any age, parents can also start a conversation about
what’s happening on the screen and how it relates to real life.
Gentile’s study also emphasizes the need to take bullying
seriously. Of course, many kids with risk factors never become either a bully or a victim.
But if you suspect that your child might be involved in bullying, experts recommend
taking action before the situation gets worse.
a federal government website devoted to the subject, suggests a number of ways for parents to handle bullying behavior. Among the tips:
Clearly spell out what the problem behavior
Calmly tell your child that it won’t be tolerated.
Have your child make
amends (for example, by writing an apology letter or volunteering to help others).
Look for underlying causes (for example, is your child also a victim or trying to fit it?)
Offer a positive alternative (for example, by signing up your child for a sports team or afterschool club).
More Tips for Managing Stressful Situations
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
Treat Psoriasis at Home. This frustrating skin disorder can range from a slight annoyance to a significant disruption in your daily life.