UCLA Research Finds Positives in Childhood Bullying

In a recently published UCLA study, the scientists have found that children who stand up to childhood bullies are more likely to develop stronger social and emotional skills. The study showed that children who stood up for themselves when being attacked were more respected by friends and teachers. The research does not promote such action or say that there isn’t damage from the bullying though.

As published in a UK Times article, the research was quantified as:

A LITTLE childhood bullying may be good for you. Researchers have found that if boys or girls are able to stand up for themselves, being attacked by enemies can help their development.

Studies have shown that children become more popular among, and respected by, teachers and fellow pupils if they repay hostility in kind. They remember such experiences more vividly than friendly episodes, helping them to develop healthy social and emotional skills.

The research shows that while bullying is not always character-building, there can be advantages to being shouted at, or ostracised on Facebook.

In a series of experiments, psychologists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), measured the friendships and hostile relationships of 2,000 schoolchildren aged 11 and 12.

Researchers compared children who reciprocated a fellow pupil’s dislike with those who tried to ignore or placate their enemy. Those with the highest “antipathy” marks — repaying hostility with hostility — seemed the most mature.

Girls who gave as good as they got scored significantly higher on teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular in class and often admired throughout the school.Boys who stood up for themselves were judged to be better behaved in the classroom than those who suffered in silence.

The researchers are not arguing that being tormented by bullies or being on hostile terms with a string of classmates is healthy.

Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, who led the UCLA study, said: “The children who are not disliked by anybody are the most well-adjusted, not surprisingly.

“However, among kids who are disliked by a peer, our research suggests it may be [helpful] for some young adolescents to return that peer’s dislike than to either not be aware or to continue liking that peer.”

The experience gives children an early lesson that not everybody is going to like them in life and teaches them about conflict resolution.

What do you think? Should children be taught to “fight back” when confronted? What messages does that send to our children about how to respond to conflict? Is that how adults respond or should respond? This study leads me to more questions about how we should ultimately respond to such actions by bullies.

7 thoughts on “UCLA Research Finds Positives in Childhood Bullying

  1. I noticed some of my worst detractors backed off when I started getting rather vicious verbally and snarky with them, but then I had to contend with being reported for being rude or profane either to the school or my parents. I am all for standing up for yourself,but I also know the mob mentality and how standing up to one person can mean you end up getting attacked by five of their friends. There are no easy answers,but I strongly believe conflict resolution can be learned in more productive,less harmful ways than being bullied.

  2. I am sure that there is some value to finding it within yourself to stand up to a bully. I am presently, at the age of 47, trying to find the courage to stand up to my stepmother who has been bullying me for 40 years in one way or another. I’m sure I will learn great lessons when I finally do, and as an adult I think I can handle the fall out, but with children I am not sure the ends justify the means. In that UK research it seems like trying to find a silver lining in a very dark cloud.

  3. I think that these same positives could be developed through less emotionally harmful methods than “mild” bullying.

    The emotional scars last a lifetime, whether you stood up and fended the bully off or not.

    Many adults who are on facebook occaisionally find that their school year tormentors are not trying to “friend” them – not so much to say sorry, but to merely ramp up their facebook friend count – in a way, the bully behavior continues.

    A better method to teach children and teens to stand up for themselves is to get them involved in the community, standing up for others – learning about civil rights movements, learning debate and critical thinking skills to defend a position, not having to defend their person.

    After all, what does the child who stands up to the bully and fails learn?


  4. I don’t know about this study. Correlation does not equal causation. I think it could just as easily be said that popular children tend to have the confidence to stand up for themselves as it is to say that children who have the confidence to stand up for themselves tend to be popular.

  5. I call some level of bulls*** on this just because standing up never did ME any good. All it did was get me into the “I don’t care if Rachel pushed you, I saw YOU hit her, so YOU get detention.”

    Teachers were so wonderful at coming around the corner when I was retaliating, but never catching the bullies in the act of bothering me. It was all he said she said all the time.

    I think standing up is over glorified. These days, you tell off a bully, the bully comes back with a weapon after school and threatens to or even uses it on you. (I had a knife pulled on me once! Do you know how hard it is to run for your life when your backpack weighs 30 lbs and you weigh barely 80 lbs?)

  6. Well now I have heard everything – I really do not place much credence in this article – bullying must stop and the ADULTS are the ones to stand up to it – have you ever heard of such a ridiculous conclusion in all your life? Yes I am a Christian – yes I believe in loving all, even the bully. Did it ever occur to anyone the bully has been “broken” lets let love fix this – and ADULTS stand up for the kids already –

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