Clyde Hertzman on Aggression and Bullying


Where does aggression come from? What creates a bully?

Listen to world renowned child development and population health researcher, Dr. Clyde Hertzman, re-frame “bullying”.

The negative impacts of bullying among children and youth has received considerable attention over the past decade. It is well-known that children and youth who are bullied have poorer outcomes in the areas of mental and physical health. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools has been disappointing. Anti-bullying approaches are proactive responses (on behalf of the bullied) to make potential bullies aware that mistreating another person is not acceptable. This is in contrast to social and emotional learning efforts that aim to boost the capacity of individuals to deal with conflict, strong emotions and confusing relationships using prosocial and interpersonal tools.  A recent meta-analysis[1] found that anti-bullying programs in high school have been ineffective[2] and programs for younger children have only been modestly effective.  

What is becoming obvious is that bullying is not, solely, a school-based issue but rather an interplay between the family environment, the school environment, social identity, and problem-solving skills. Children who are victimized report poorer family relations, less encouragement from parents and teachers, less effective problem-solving skills and lower social status. These findings[3] speak to the needs for more effort at the family, school and community levels in supporting children to build social and emotional skills rather than focusing on bullying behaviour.

A "meta analysis" uses a statistical approach to combine the results from multiple studies in an effort to:

  • identify patterns among many study results
  • increase the power of the conclusions (over individual studies)
  • resolve uncertainty when research results disagree

A meta-analysis of research on anti-bullying programs found that:

  • Bullying appears to be effectively prevented in 7th grade and below.
  • In 8th grade there is a sharp drop in efficacy to an average of zero.
  • There was a "reversal in efficacy through the high school years, such that programs, if anything, cause harm."

Study by Yeager, Fong, Lee and Espelage in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (January 2015).


461 children between the ages of 11 and 15 were surveyed to find the links between victimization, gender, family situation, social identity and problem solving style.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.