The Power of Peers: Why Some Students Bully Others to Conform

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Abstract

Utilizing an interactionist perspective, two associated sensitizing constructs, and a combination of social psychological theory, this article reports on the influence of the peer group on individual perceptions, and its impact on initiation and persistence of bullying. The specific research question, “How does the need to conform with peers and the peer group influence the initiation and persistence of bullying others?” is investigated. Semistructured, one-on-one interviews with a purposive sample of 51 Grade 7 students (aged 12 years) were conducted during school time to investigate factors that influence students to bully others and what might help them to stop. Emerging from the theme of peer group was the need for belonging and group status, in particular social norms or the need to conform, which was influential when students described why they initiated and persisted with bullying others. The influence of labeling, the group process, and the aspiration to be like others within their group emerged as key constructs. The implications of these data for schools will be described and recommendations made.

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