“I wanted to join a club called the Good Birds Club,” Sesame Street’s Big Bird tells Jamie Ostrov, a psychology professor. “They didn’t want me because my beak was too long and I was too big and too yellow.”
Ostrov is featured in a series of web-based videos to accompany a recent episode of the new season of “Sesame Street.” In his recent appearance opposite Big Bird and his furry friends, he counsels the “Sesame Street” characters on what to do when confronted with aggressive behavior, physical bullying and verbal bullying.
“Essentially, my research is geared towards preschoolers, which is the target audience of ‘Sesame Street,’” explains Ostrov, a developmental psychologist at New York’s State University at Buffalo. His work has led him to join federal efforts to develop a uniform definition of bullying, and to adapt bullying prevention materials for young children. He also served as a consultant to the Children’s Television Workshop, creator of Sesame Street and Big Bird, for its bullying prevention initiative.
In the video, when Ostrov suggests to Big Bird and friends that they find a grown-up
and report what has happened, the blue muppet named Rosita worries about being labeled a tattletale.
“Oh no, Rosita. That’s not tattling,” reassures Ostrov. “That’s reporting. Reporting is important when our friends are hurt. It’s important to find a grown-up to report it so our friends can stay safe.”
Ostrov’s research centers around understanding the development of types of aggression in children ages 3 to 5. One of those subtypes of aggressive behavior is bullying. All bullying is aggressive behavior, Ostrov explains, but not all aggressive behavior is bullying.
His research addresses what Ostrov calls “forms and functions” of aggressive behavior. “Forms” of aggression are ways aggression is displayed. “Functions” are the reasons why children behave in aggressive ways.
“Distinguishing between the various forms and functions of aggression has important implications [pullquote]All bullying is aggressive behavior, Ostrov explains, but not all aggressive behavior is bullying. [/pullquote]for understanding the development of aggression and bullying in children,” Ostrov says.
Previous studies in the social development laboratory, which Ostrov directs at Buffalo, have shown that children who are victimized by their peers become the aggressors over time, and that the type of victimization that they experience predicts the type of aggression that they display with their peers over time.
“Thus, children are likely learning from peer victimization experiences how to become an aggressor,” says Ostrov.