13 December 2010
Teen bullies and victims linked by distorted thinking
The study found both bullies and victims have distorted patterns of thinking. Image © iStockphoto.
Dr Geraldine Abdilla is graduating with her PhD from RMIT this week.
Teenage bullies, victims and bully-victims have distinctive and distorted patterns of thinking that affect their emotional and social functioning, an RMIT University doctoral researcher has found.
Dr Geraldine Abdilla, a PhD candidate in the School of Health Sciences, surveyed 1,086 adolescents aged 13 to 17 for her research and found distorted thinking played an important role in the emergence of bullying and victimisation.
Dr Abdilla said the results showed anti-bullying interventions that included cognitive-behavioural techniques could help both the bullies and their victims.
“The study showed there were strong links between bullying, cognitive distortions and psychosocial functioning among teenagers,” Dr Abdilla said.
“While bullies have self-serving patterns of thinking – in which they justify and rationalise their behaviour – victims are characterised by self-debasing cognitive distortions, where they blame themselves, put themselves down and are generally associated with feelings of guilt and shame.
“Both these distorted patterns have a negative impact on teenagers’ psychosocial functioning, with victims reporting a number of difficulties, including higher levels of depression, anxiety, and anger, and lower levels of self-esteem and school connectedness. Similar results were obtained for victims of online bullying.
“For bullies distortions were associated with lower peer attachment and school connectedness.
“By integrating cognitive-behaviour techniques that challenge these destructive thinking patterns into our approach to bullying, we could not only help reduce the long-term impact on victims but also change the bullies themselves.”
The research found teenagers who were both the perpetrators and victims of bullying (bully-victims) experienced both self-serving and self-debasing patterns of thinking, and were the worst affected in their psychosocial functioning.
Only a small proportion of victims in the survey had been cyber-bullied, but those who were bullied both online and in real life had the worst psychosocial outcomes.
“The notion that children and adolescents have a right to be educated free from bullying first sparked my interest in this research topic,” Dr Abdilla said.
“I have always had a strong passion and interest in promoting adolescent mental health, and noticed how young peoples' social and academic potential can be severely impeded by experiences of bullying.
“Bullying has long-standing effects including depression and anxiety that go beyond the teenage years and can cause suffering decades
“I hope these research findings lead to the development of better anti-bullying interventions for all involved in the bully-victim cycle, as well as raising more awareness of the problem and providing an impetus for further training and resources to assist people to manage bullying when it occurs.”
Dr Abdilla is currently a psychologist at a child and adolescent mental health service, where she works with teenagers aged 13 to 18.
She described the experience of undertaking her doctorate as like “embarking on a journey on an open road”.
“You start with nothing, but slowly you begin to make your way through, not just through all the academic work, but you start to meet new people, you experience new situations, and you begin to develop as a person,” Dr Abdilla said.
“It opens your mind both academically and personally.
“It is stressful, trying, and exhausting, but you have to think of the bigger picture and remind yourself of why you started this in the first place.
“Graduation symbolises the completion of a journey, and for me, an opportunity to share this special day with my family and friends to express my sincere gratitude for their love, help, and support in getting me through.”
Dr Abdilla will be celebrating her achievements with more than 6,000 other graduates at RMIT’s spectacular Graduation Ceremony at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, 15 December.