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Response paper questions to consider:What is the author’s central claim, argument, or point? (This may be a place to start from in your response papers.)What evidence does the author provide to support their arguments?What could be added to the work to make it more complete?For instance, is there other media, especially empirical research, that we can use to support/refute/or add to the evidence? What assumptions does the author make? What did you find surprising, important, interesting, or relevant? What do these arguments mean for children?Response paper “Dos and Don’ts”: DO Backup your claims with science and relevant material discussed in classBuild off ideas mentioned in class, adding your own thoughts and insights Use specific examples from the paper and, potentially, from other sourcesThink deeply: Analyze, Evaluate, Create DON’T Only summarize the paperMake superficial, obvious insightsSimply repeat ideas mentioned by others in class


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CHILDREN & SOCIETY VOLUME 31, (2017) pp. 441–451
A Study of the Portrayal of Bullying in
Magazines for Parents: It is Everywhere and
it is Growing
Juanne N. Clarke
Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada
The purpose of this research is to describe and explain the portrayal of bullying in three parenting
magazines from 2000 to 2014. Heightened awareness and recording of the problem of bullying began
after the Columbine school shooting in 1999. Recently cyber-bullying has become a grave concern. This
study found that stories focused on parental responsibility. Parents are exhorted to be constantly alert to
evidence of a child being involved in bullying and to intervene as soon as possible. Bullying was frequently represented as caused by and causing psychological pathologies in individuals. Theoretical
explanations of these findings include intensive parenting, risk society, medicalisation and criminalisation. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
Keywords: bullying, intensive mothering, magazines, parents, risk society.
Bullying and cyber-bullying are highly contested ideas in contemporary discourses (Bansel
and others, 2009; Davies, 2011; Duncan and Owens, 2011; Osvaldsson, 2011). Their definitions, putative causes and consequences are fraught with debate as well as contradictory and
confusing rhetoric. They interconnect at the boundaries of discourses of medicalisation, psychopathology (Boulton and others, 2010; Clarke and others, 2003; Conrad, 2005; van Noorden and others, 2015; Thornton and others, 2012) and criminalisation in children and youth
(Bazelon, 2014; Ttofi and others, 2012). Sometimes bullying behaviour is associated with a
diagnosis of a mental health or learning issue and sometimes it crosses the frontier into the
concern of the criminal justice system. It has been linked to suicide in children and youth
and to the raft of school shootings in the US (Bazelon, 2014). The American Academy of
Pediatrics has declared bullying to be a serious health risk for children and youth. Antibullying legislation and associated criminal charges have been passed across both Canada
and the US in the past decade and a half.
Bullying became a particularly salient topic and label for troublesome behaviour in children and youth after the school shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Denver, Colorado (US). ‘In the aftermath, a nation that had treated bullying as a rite of passage
suddenly started to rethink its indifference’ (Bazelon, 2014, p. 8). A great deal of speculation
about the mental health of the shooters as well as questions about whether they had themselves been the victims of bullying ensued. Recently, the rates of cyber-bullying appear to be
increasing (Jones and others, 2013). There have been a number of high profile cases of
cyber-bullying leading to suicide around the world such as Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince
in the US (Bazelon, 2014).
One often used definition of bullying is, ‘a person is bullied when he or she is exposed,
repeatedly and overtime, to negative actions on the part of one or more persons, and he or
she has difficulty defending himself or herself’ (Olweus, 2010, p. 93). This definition is
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
Juanne N. Clarke
sometimes expanded to include ‘intentional harm’ (Olweus, 2010; Salmivalli, 2010; Salmivalli and Peets, 2009). Bullying may encompass physical (e.g. attacking, hurting), verbal (e.g.
name calling) and/or relational (e.g. gossip, exclusion) components (van Noorden and others,
2015). Cyber-bullying, occurs indirectly, over the Internet, but its reach is into the homes
and daily lives of children on a 24/7 basis. Once posted, bullying messages are very difficult
to remove. The vastly greater potential audience in cyber-bullying may also increase its’
potential for harm (Thomas and others, 2014).
Numerous studies of bullying have been done. They have found that being involved in
bullying as the bully, the bullied or the bystander can be associated with lower self-esteem,
greater anxiety, depression and insecurity (Bazelon, 2014, p. 29). It can also have long term
negative behavioural consequences (Olweus, 1994) such as aggression and substance abuse
(Pepler and others, 2010), a higher rate of incarceration (Olweus, 1994), deleterious impacts
on academic performance (Shellard and Turner, 2004), psychiatric problems (Kumpulainen
and Rasanen, 2000), as well as unemployment, conflict with the law and drunk driving
(Holmes and Brandenburg-Ayres, 1998). Further bullying tends to carry over from situation
to situation and from school to the streets (Andershad and others, 2001). It is associated
with gender-based violence (Espelage and others, 2003) and harassment (Pellegrini, 2001).
The bullied have an increased propensity to become bullies (Kumpulainen and others,
The role of parenting in protecting children from both being a bully and from being bullied has also been the subject of repeated investigation. One meta-analysis of a number of
published studies evaluating how the quality of parenting contributes to being either a victim or a bully found a positive connection (Lereya and others, 2013). In particular this study
found that good parent and child communication, parental involvement, supervision and
support along with warm affect all diminished the likelihood of a child being bullied or bullying. On the other hand ‘negative’ parenting, or parenting that was not characterised by the
interactions noted above, increased the probability of the child being engaged in bullying.
One other study, this one of a national sample of 1116 twins, found that good parenting
increased childhood resilience, which heightened the social and emotional development of
children and their consequent ability to withstand bullying and its effects (Bowes and others,
2010). This study also demonstrated that the difference in the level of warmth between the
parent and each twin was correlated with resilience. The ‘favoured’ twin had fewer behavioural problems including bullying involvement (Bowes and others, 2010).
In contrast to the individualising perspectives described above, post-structuralist researchers emphasise the importance of understanding bullying as relational, situational and cultural (Davies, 2011, p. 278). Davies (2011), for example, thinks that it is important to ask
‘how might our understanding of bullying shift, if we focused not on sorting out the normal
individuals from bullies, but on the processes of the normative order itself’ (p. 279). She sees
the normative order ‘as an active player in the production of the behavior identified’
(p. 279). In this approach bullies can be seen as robustly advocating the basic values of the
normative system within which they operate. Thus, for example, they may pick on the obese
or otherwise different child because their marginalised and stigmatised behavior/appearance
violates the taken-for-granted rules of the social system within which the incidents occur.
The bully, in this case, can be seen as an ardent (or over-ardent) supporter and enforcer of
the operating values in a dialectical system and a part of ‘collective action’ (Thornberg,
2015). Supporting a structural perspective, bullying is also socially patterned (Espelage and
others, 2000). For example, direct physical bullying is more common among boys, while girls
typically use more subtle, indirect forms of harassment (Harris and Petrie, 2002).
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol. 31, 441–451 (2017)
Portrayal of Bullying in Parents Magazines
The ways that bullying is understood in mass media informs, reflects and reinforces social,
educational, parenting and other policies. Mass media play a significant role in creating the
‘public eye’ (Conrad, 1997) regarding the social, cultural and value contexts of lives lived in
late modern societies (Giddens, 1991). In fact, the pervasiveness of the media has led to the
notion that our lives are mediated (Altheide, 2002). Media are now basic to fundamental
social, economic and political realities (Altheide, 2002; Barker, 2002; Cheek, 1997; Gollust
and others, 2009; Kitzinger, 1999; Lupton, 2003; Saguy and Almeling, 2008). One significant
genre in the realm of mass media is magazines designed for parents. This category of
magazines, a billion dollar industry, is an important part of the marketplace (Hoffman,
2009). While parenting magazines are not a direct reflection or creator of social beliefs,
actions or attitudes regarding how to parent, they are a potent agenda-setting social force
(Scheufele and Tewksbury, 2007).
This paper is an analysis of the portrayal of bullying in three high–circulating magazines
designed for parents and/ or mothers, available in the US and Canada. The magazines utilised, Working Mother, Parents and Parents Canada, are indexed in the Reader’s Guide to
Periodicals Index during 2000–2014.
Sample/population selection
The search for magazine stories examined the Reader’s Guide Retrospective and Reader’s
Guide Full Text indexes using the search terms youth, ‘bully’, ‘bullied’, ‘bullies’, and ‘bullying’ from 1980 to 2014. Cross- referenced terms included children and youth, violence, conflict, aggression, cyber-bullying and so on. This source was chosen because it is a highly
reliable indexing reference guide, which has indexed the content of virtually all North American magazines since 1901. The accessibility of this source is particularly important as it
allows other researchers to build on the study using the same population as the database.
We limited the magazine selection to three high circulating magazines available in both the
US and Canada that are designed for parents, including Parents (US-based), Working Mother
(US-based) and Parents Canada (Canada-based). We focused on these magazines because
they are high circulating and could provide a sufficient, saturated sample, with a preliminary
search revealing a vast quantity of articles on the topic of bullying. There has been a significant growth in the numbers of stories on bullying. In the 1980s there were 105 articles, in
the 1990s there were 250 articles, from 2000 to 2010 there were 377 articles and from 2010
to 2014 there were 371 articles in all magazines. This paper focuses on magazine stories
directed at parents from these three sources. It is limited to the period from 2000 to 2014. In
total there were 122 articles analysed for this paper.
Data analysis
The method used to examine the portrayal of bullying and cyber-bullying was inductive
qualitative content analysis (Berg, 1989) and framing. Coding was initially open in order to
generate as many ideas and connections within and between articles as possible, and then
became more selective and focused (Charmaz, 2000). Analysis was an iterative or cyclical
process, in which concepts, codes, and relationships were examined within the data and
then constantly compared to one another and the previous literature. This form of analysis
considered both manifest and latent content. Manifest texts are observable and countable
(Berg and Lune, 2011). Latent analysis looks for the implicit, underlying meaning (Neuman,
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol. 31, 441–451 (2017)
Juanne N. Clarke
During analysis, all articles were read and coded as answering one of the following four
questions: what is it? (bullying/cyber-bullying)? what are the consequences of it? what
causes it? and what can be done about it? (Clarke, 2013, 2014). I have combined the answers
to the first two questions in the ensuing analysis as they were mostly intertwined in the
data. Illustrative quotations in answer to the four questions were selected to demonstrate the
What do the magazines say bullying and its consequences are?
Within the magazine sample, bullying and its dire consequences are conflated as a way to
emphasise the severity of bullying/victimhood. Bullying is portrayed as an endemic, serious
and a growing problem. It is frequently represented as newly discovered but highly dangerous. It is linked to the most fearsome of presumed bullying outcomes such as suicide, murder, and following the events at Columbine High School, school shootings.
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold gunned down 13 people at Columbine High School in April of
last year, parents everywhere lost faith in what seemed like the last safe haven for our children.
(Working Mother, 2000)
Clearly, the spate of school shootings in recent years has turned a powerful spotlight on the
(Working Mother, 2002)
According to the U.S. Secret Service the shooters in school shootings shared a common
denominator ‘they were bullied repeatedly at school’ (Working Mother, 2002). Below, bullying is also linked to suicide.
Children who are bullied may be more than twice as likely to commit or attempt suicide than kids
who do not experience bullying, according to a new study.
(Parents, 2014)
Magazine articles repeatedly assert the reality of and the worry about the dangers of bullying. It is the ‘go-to’ explanation for many problems a child might have. Typically, one
story begins as follows:
It seems barely a day goes by that another horrible story of bullying or cyber-bullying doesn’t take
hold of the national media. Despite school programs, public and private sector initiatives and even
government intervention, bullying continues.
(Parents, 2013)
Buttressing the claim that bullying is a significant cause for concern are the stories
emphasising that the problem is increasing. For example,
80 percent of middle school students engage in some form of bullying, while previous studies had
indicated that only 15 percent of kids exhibited the behavior.
(Working Mother, 2002)
The assertion that bullying is mounting is supported by the emphasis on its spread to children of all ages, even babies and toddlers.
Now it (bullying) has trickled down to the youngest students. In fact some research shows that tormenting has become even more common among 2–6 year olds than among tweens and teens.
(Parents, 2010)
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol. 31, 441–451 (2017)
Portrayal of Bullying in Parents Magazines
Ironically, even the following naysaying writer underscores the need for concern about
While many parents of hitters, biters, and spitters panic when their toddler acts out, they shouldn’t
feel too bad. Technically, a child this young can’t be a bully.
(Parents, 2008)
This suggests that it is not aggressive behaviour per se that is the problem but only that
behaviour labeled bullying. Being on the alert to combat bullying is described as necessary
everywhere, even at home, because ‘sibling bullying is harmful to a child or teenager’s mental health’ (Parents, 2013).
Further highlighting and claims-making (Best, 1987) that this is a significant problem is
the use of seemingly objective and comprehensive checklists designed for parents to determine whether their child is being bullied. These lists reflect commonsense concerns that
might alert a parent to all sorts of potential problems including possibly physical, mental
health, and learning issues or signs of normal development. One typical list of what issues
are now represented as indicative of being bullied follows (Parents, 2013).
• Shifts in habits
• Personality change
• Loss of interest in social events
There are also lists of things to look for in order to determine whether your child is a
bully. A shortened list follows (Parents, 2003).
• Is your child hyperactive most of the time?
• Does your child act on impulse?
Magazine stories underscore their credibility by referencing scientific surveys. Numbers
are often cited to enhance the sense of objectivity and emphasise the magnitude of the new
and egregious danger facing children. To illustrate, one magazine cited the following from
research commissioned by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (Parents Canada, 2012):
• 95 per cent of adults now believe people have a responsibility to take action to reduce
• 89 per cent think bullies pose a serious threat to the long- term well-being of children
and teenagers
• 87 per cent agree that action taken to reduce bullying strengthens communities over time.
If bullying is described as a serious and an increasing problem, cyber-bullying is described
as even more worrisome. The following itemises the ubiquity of the possible sites for cyberbullying and refers, almost, longingly to the good old days when bullying only occurred in
real life.
Cyber-bullying, the deliberate sending of hostile messages by email, cell phone text message, instant
messaging (IM), on personal websites and on sites such as MySpace and Facebook that are intended
to harm an individual, is a far cry from the days of being pushed around in the schoolyard.
(Parents, 2013)
Further, ‘a new study finds parents more concerned about cyber-bullying than drugs, teen
pregnancy and alcohol’ (Parents, 2014). It is called, ‘The cyber-bullying epidemic’ (Parents,
2013). It ‘goes viral’ (Parents, 2013). It is said to be particularly dangerous because there is
‘nowhere to hide’ (Parents, 2014). Thus, it is described as commonplace.
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and National Children’s Bureau
CHILDREN & SOCIETY Vol. 31, 441–451 (2017)
Juanne N. Clarke
That cyber-bullying is impossible to get away from and continues around the clock and
around the world is reiterated. ‘These are networks that run 24 hours a day. As a result, victims
have very little time to breathe or escape from constant online harassment’ (Parents, 2013).
Cyber-bullying is portrayed as having more far-reaching possible dangers than simple bullying.
It takes on a much wider spectrum of behaviors. It can be social, verbal and psychological, and
opens the door to much more serious problems such as sexual harassment and cyber-stalking.
(Parents, 2014)
It is emphasised across articles that ‘now the bully can find you where you live or sleep—
just a few keystrokes or clicks away’ (Parents, 2013). Furthermore the cyber-world is ‘largely
ungoverned’ (Parents, 2014).
What do the magazine stories say about the causes of bullying?
There is much less discussion of the causes of bullying than there are assertions about its
severity. The typical explanation locates the cause within the psychologically pathological
individual child or implies a failure in parenting. Highlighting the need for parents to be
ever alert to the dangers of bullying, stories emphasise circularity in the bullied/bullying distinction: bullies bully others who become bullies who bully others who become bullies. This
model of bullying causation suggests a never-ending cycle and an uncontrollable growth in
bullying. In another twist, the following story suggests that some children are essentially to
blame because of their psychological pathology when they are bullied.
University of Illinois researchers talked to a group of kindergartners at the start of the school year
and found 22 per cent reporting bullies were picking on them. By the end of the year only 8 per
cent were being picked on, meaning the bullies had narrowed their focus. Why did some children
continue to be abused and not others? One theory is that shy or anxious children are more natural
targets. Another is that children who are somewhat passive—who don’t protest or who cry if others
snatch a toy—open themselves up to future attacks.
(Parents, 2001)
There are a few stories that attribute being bullied to specific physical and other characteristics of th …
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