Gentile featured in WalletHub’s study examining 2015′s ‘Best & Worst States at Controlling Bullying’

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Bullying can result in many negative consequences not only for the victim but also for the bullies themselves, their parents, their schools and society as a whole. In order to understand the causes of bullying and identify ways to prevent it, WalletHub enlisted the help of several experts with extensive knowledge of bullying. Among the featured was Doug Gentile, associate professor of psychology.

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Gentile’s interview: What are the main factors that contribute to a child becoming a bully? There are over 100 known risk factors for youth aggression, some of which are biological, some environmental, some family, etc. Seeing aggression in the neighborhood, at home, on the media, all help to teach the scripts and acceptability of aggression. Having been aggressive in the past is the biggest predictor of future aggression. Mental health problems, uninvolved parents, antisocial peers, etc. There is no one of these that matters the most, but what matters is how many risk factors a kid has.

Specific to bullying, what matters for physical bullying is also a strength differential – you need to be a little bigger or stronger usually.

Specific to cyber-bullying, what matters is the lack of a strength differential and also the possibility of anonymity.

How can parents protect their children against cyberbullying in our socially connected society? Teach them how to recognize it and to immediately bring it to the attention of a parent. Parents need to then not punish the child for telling them (usually by taking their media away from them), otherwise the children won’t report problems.

Are bullied kids likely to be more or less successful later in life?

As with everything in human life, it depends. Did they get the help they needed? Did they get support during it? Did it continue for a long time? Did they have someone who took their side they could trust? Did they feel entirely powerless? These things have an impact on how we see ourselves, whether we feel self-efficacy, whether we feel valuable, etc., and those have a big effect on how successful you are.

What kind of programs should state and local governments develop in order to prevent bullying incidents?

I think the most promising interventions are the ones that focus on bystander intervention. When you go into a school to do a bullying prevention program and you bring all the kids into the auditorium, no one thinks it’s about them. The victims know they are the victims, not the bullies, so it’s not about them. Most kids are neither bullies nor victims, so they know it’s not about them. Even the bullies don’t think it’s about them, either! So no one pays attention. Since the majority are bystanders, they are the best group to approach to teach them to get involved to change the culture so that bullying becomes unacceptable.