Don’t Believe These 7 Bullying Myths

Two teenage boys bullying their classmate in school hall.
Two teenage boys bullying their classmate in school hall.

Bullying has been a favorite media topic since 2011 when President Obama launched his anti-bullying campaign. But too often, the media’s reports on bullying are just plain wrong, according to Dorothy Espelage, PhD.

“It’s not grounded in science or evidence,” she said at a Friday plenary address on the topic at APA’s Annual Convention.

Espelage, a professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, who for 20 years has conducted research on bullying, homophobic teasing, sexual harassment, dating violence and gang violence, listed seven the myths the media are irresponsibly reporting:

Myth #1: Bullying is an epidemic. Wrong. Bullying rates vary from school to school and some kids go to schools where there is no bullying.

Myth #2: Bullying is linked to suicide. No, it’s just one of many predictors of suicide.

Myth #3: Bullies are budding criminals. Research shows bullies have diverse outcomes.

Myth #4: Bullies need to be punished –- the idea of “zero tolerance.” That doesn’t work, she said, because it ignores that bullying is a group phenomenon that starts around fifth grade.

Myth #5: Bullies come from dysfunctional families. Not true. Lots of bullies come from typical families.

Myth #6: Bullying is “hard-wired” in youth. Really wrong -– it’s malleable and it’s environment that matters when it comes to bullying.

Myth #7: Cyberbullying is unique. No, cyberbullying is just one mode of bullying. Bullying usually starts face to face and continues online.

The fact Espelage wishes more people would realize is that 1 out of 3 boys and 1 out 5 girls engage homophobic teasing –- name calling or phrases like, “That’s so gay.” It emerges in middle school, but often teachers don’t address it. The result? “We are setting the groundwork for sexual harassment in our schools,” Espelage said.

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