Most of the time, being a bully means abusing someone (normally) smaller than you, either physically, emotionally or verbally. Still, there is another, much more subtle form of bullying. It’s called ostracism, which means ignoring someone, casting them out of the group, and it can have a decidedly detrimental effect on the self esteem of young dudes and dudettes.
A recent study based in England looked at how a group of children, a group of adolescents and a group of adults reacted to being ostracized during the playing of an online computer game.
The study was carried out by a team at the University’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes and was led by Professor Dominic Abrams. Professor Abrams explained that research into cyber-bullying usually focuses on direct abuse and insults.
“However, a more indirect and perhaps common form of bullying is ostracism — when people are purposefully ignored by others,” he said. Professor Abrams also explained that “online ostracism affects adults by threatening their basic needs for self-esteem, sense of belonging, sense of meaning and sense of control. We wanted to discover whether children and adolescents have similar reactions.”
And, yes, for those of you wondering, children and adolescents do have similar reactions. However, those reactions are more significant in the case of the children.
Ostracism affected the self-esteem of the eight and nine-year-old children more than the other groups. This suggests that the adolescents and adults have developed better buffers against threats to self-esteem.
What happened was that these folks were asked to play a game of online ‘cyberball’ in which three online players — depicted on screen by their names — passed a ball to one another. In games where the participant was included, they threw and received the ball four times within the trial. However, in a game when they were ostracized they received the ball only twice at the start, and then the other two players continued to play only passing the ball between themselves.
The good news is that the detrimental effects were basically cancelled out when the subjects were asked to play another game and then included, rather than excluded. This suggests that, if parents and or teachers are on the ball, it is possible to easily remediate any damage done intentionally or unintentionally by bullies.
I think it’s extremely important for us, as parents, to be on the watch for this. Now, I’m not advocating that we go nuts, hover over our little dudes and make sure everyone is included in everything. That would be nuts. Only that we listen to our kids, find out if they’re feeling excluded and find a way for them to participate in something where their input and presence is valued. Sounds like a pretty good way to make sure our kids keep feeling good about themselves, and for good reason.