The Passive Aggression: Students Act of Purposeful Hidden Revenge

The Passive Aggression: Students Act of Purposeful Hidden Revenge
By Ahmad Amirali

Being a teacher, every year, I encountered numerous students’ behaviour. Some behaviours and its reasons are known to me, but some are way too tricky for a teacher to understand at first instance. We, teachers and parents, all aware that adolescents procrastinate when it comes to finishing any tasks on time. It is because their mind prioritises the tasks as per the level of their boredom (Previous Article: Why Do Children Misbehave? – Reasons and Solutions). There is nothing to worry about it as this behaviour is common among all ages and every kid. However, it can become the matter of concern for most of the teachers and parents when student chronically procrastinates, tempers underperforms, tests the spirit of class rules, and challenges teacher’s authority in the classroom. In my early teaching years, these types of students were the ones who always know how to break every rule of my diary in a subtle way that at times I felt emotional and helpless in front of such kids. If you, as a teacher or a parent, ever dealt with or encounter such students’ behaviours, chances are maybe you’re dealing with a ‘Passive Aggressive’ student.

Passive-aggressive (PA) behaviours are the ones that involve acting indirectly aggressive rather than directly aggressive. PA students frequently show resistance to requests or demands from family and students often by procrastinating, expressing moodiness, or acting stubborn. The passive-aggressive student believes life will only get worse if adults know of his anger, so he expresses anger indirectly, through the types of behaviours described above. These behaviours are designed to challenge an authority figure without that person, immediately recognising the child’s underlying anger.

Signe Whitson L.S.W., the author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behaviour in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, proposed five levels of adolescents passive-aggressive behaviour.

  1. Temporary Compliance: At this level, the passive-aggressive student verbally agrees to a request from an authority figure but behaviourally delays completing it
  2. Intentional Efficiency: At this stage, the passive-aggressive student verbally complies with a request and, unlike in Level 1, they carry it out. However, they do so in a way that is purposefully below expected standards.
  3. Letting a Problem Escalate: The students’ deliberate attempt of ‘not doing’ even though they know how to do it. For example, in one of my sessions, students need to present their work on the slide show, and then there was a student who had a rivalry with one of the class-reps as the class-rep went to present her work, the passive-aggressive student simple unplugged the projector computer. As a result of which, the class-rep USB drive blown out and all her work destroyed.
  4. The Hidden but conscious revenge: At this level, the passive-aggressive student is no longer withholding behaviour, but rather they are quite actively seeking ways to get hidden but conscious revenge on the object of their anger.
  5. Self-depreciation: This level is identified as Self-Depreciation because the passive-aggressive student is so determined on getting back at a specific person (teacher/student/parent) that he/she is willing to behave in self-destructive ways that lead to their own personal rejection and isolation.

The above mentioned five types of aggression are found common in students age between 12 to 19 and its continuously growing among teens each year. The following remedies, which I normally used during the time of need, can help teachers/parents to understand and control the passive aggression in their kids.

  1. Level 1: Teachers and parents have many options to deal with passive-aggressive behaviours in their kids, starting with early recognition of what they are dealing with. The challenge becomes worst when PA students displaying a series of minor but irritating excuses and suddenly the tendency of these excuses increased, and so the teacher starts losing his/her patience, handling out punishments and start reacting. The PA students, on the other hand, sits there cool as a cucumber, having succeeded in frustrating their teachers. The patience is the key, avoid reacting and stay cool as long as the session ends.
  2. Level 2: One of the ways to handle level 2 aggression is setting-up the crystal-clear expectations at the start of any assignment and when a student turns in messy, careless, intentionally sub-standard work, the teacher or a parent would refer back to the expectations list stated at the beginning of the assignment and re-direct the child to better their work.
  3. Level 3: This level is especially frustrating for adults as a student would legitimately say, I didn’t do anything. In this kind of situation, the teacher/parent’s best option is to maintain calm and try to portray as a role model for his/her students by providing solutions on how to cope with difficult, frustrating situations
  4. Level 4 and 5: At these levels, student’s behaviour reaches the extreme edge of passive aggression. However, the key to putting an end to passive aggression at this level is to take away any gratification that a student gets from his/her passive-aggressive behaviour. The gratification of PA students from his/her aggression is the rage teacher/parents sometimes showed in the classroom in the form of raising voices and severe punishments. In this way, the PA student feels ‘mission success’. It is when caring educators can connect the PA students (and their parents as needed) to sources of help and support; they become true champions for passive-aggressive children.

Passive aggression among adolescents is on the rise in both Eastern as well as Western countries. The wireless technology and high-tech social media provide multiple new ways to PA students to fuel their hidden revenge and negatively use their abilities against their rivalries. It is we, teachers and parents, who can make our children aware of the long-term impact of their bad behaviours but in a friendly and understandable manner.

Good Luck 😊

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