Why Bullying is on the Rise and How to Challenge it
April 20, 2010
Online social networks and reality television have created a "perfect storm" for fostering bullying, said Dr. Karol Maybury, a psychology expert, who spoke before 100 students on April 19 at the Martin Institute.
Maybury's theme was "Resilient Girls and Relational Aggression" - a kind of emotional and psychological violence that affects children's social and psychological adjustment.
A professor at the University of Maine in Farmington, she advises parents and educators around the country about girls, media, mental health and parenting.
Professor Michael Tirrell, chairman of the psychology department, welcomed Maybury back to Stonehill, where she was an adjunct professor from 2004-2005. Maybury said she was "astonished at the transformation" at the College and "literally almost drove off the road" when she saw the new Science Center.
The Digital Generation Gap
Some unique factors have combined to create the "perfect storm" for bullying, Maybury explained. One is the "digital divide" - the generation gap between children who are electronically savvy and use Facebook, cell phones and laptops in ways in which their parents are not yet familiar. Not since rock music was introduced in the 1950s has there been such a disconnect, Maybury suggested.
Especially worrisome is the introduction of such online services as "Formspring," which allows users to post anonymous comments on the pages of account-holders, she said.
"Many pre-teens and teens are using it to find out what their peers really think about them," said Maybury. "‘My parents say I'm wonderful, my teachers say I'm wonderful, but what do people really think?' And what we find is that people are saying things just to 'diss' them."
Studies have shown that with "the cloak of anonymity and distance, people are more likely to aggress with much greater strength and sometimes to deadly results," Maybury said. She called the introduction of the anonymous postings a "really worrisome development."
How Reality Television Desensitizes
Secondly, through popular television shows such as American Idol, Survivor, The Biggest Loser and The Apprentice, people have become desensitized to "the pain of social ostracism," said Maybury.
Week after week, children watch contestants eliminated by voting on American Idol, "voted off the island" on Survivor and "fired" on The Apprentice "without the sense of how painful it is to be excluded from the group," Maybury said.