Bullying in order to win friends

New research shows that immigrant boys in Norway bully because they want to belong to a group. Therefore they seem to have a different motive for bullying than ethic Norwegian boys have.

While ethnic Norwegian boys often bully because they want to have power over their victims, immigrant boys bully because have a need for affiliation, says assistant professor Hildegunn Fandrem at the Center for Behavioral Research in Stavanger.

According to Fandrem, research into bullying has so far not been interested in the reasons different groups may have for bullying.

Not seeking power.
Earlier research shows that the best explanation for bullying is that the bully wants to gain power over the victim and affiliate with the other individuals who bully, she says and adds:

“When we separate the immigrant boys from the whole group, my data show that power motivated aggression is not an adequate explanation for bullying among this group.” Fandrem is currently looking at social and emotional problems among youths with a multicultural background in her doctoral project.

She has obtained her data by accessing the research work from the national School Environment Investigation in 2001 which the Center for Behavioral Research carries out every third year.

Different explanations
There are two main categories of aggressive behavior. Some individuals become aggressive from anger and frustration when they don’t have their way, for example when they lose a game, Fandrem says.

This is reactive aggressiveness. This form of aggressiveness does not particularly explain bullying, she says.

The form of aggressiveness which best explains bullying is called proactive aggressiveness. This means that aggression can be used to obtain power. The bully is stimulated by seeing others become frightened, Fandrem says, and adds that aggression is also used to achieve acceptance by a group or to connect with others

A common enemy may forge strong ties. The bullies may experience “better” friendship when they leave somebody out in the cold or when they commit actions they know are wrong, she says.

New investigation
To find out who the immigrant boys want to affiliate with, Fandrem has started a new investigation.

Is it other minorities or the ethnic Norwegians they want to make friends with, Fandrem asks. She is anxious to find out whether the immigrant boys’ motivation for bullying is part of an integration or a separation strategy.

When we have the answer to the question who the young immigrants want to belong to, we will know more about what we have to do in order to give them good experiences of belonging. We may then compensate for and prevent the way they resort to unwanted strategies like bullying, she says.

Good experiences
Good experiences come mainly from whether you feel like an active participant. Teachers and other adults must in to a greater extent focus on what the minority pupils are preoccupied with and are good at. This can be done independent of ethnic origin, but for some pupils it may be OK to focus on ethnicity.

Fandrem underlines that it all depends on emphasizing difference positively. One has to work according to the principle that to be different is the norm.

Text: Silje Stangeland
Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen

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