The Passive Aggression: Students Act of Purposeful Hidden Revenge

Every year, I encountered numerous students’ behaviour. Some are known to me, but some are way tricky to understand in the first instance. Teachers and parents are aware that adolescents procrastinate to complete any task on time. It is because their mind prioritises the tasks as per the level of their boredom. There is nothing to worry about as this behaviour is common among all ages and context. However, it can become a matter of concern for most teachers when students chronically procrastinate, tests the spirit of class rules, and challenges teachers’ authority in the classroom. In my early teaching years, students who possess such behaviour knew how to break every rule of my diary subtly. At times I felt emotional and helpless in front of them. If you, as a teacher or a parent, ever dealt with such students’ behaviours, chances are maybe you’re dealing with a ‘Passive Aggressive’ student.

Also Read | Why Do Children Misbehave? – Reasons and Solutions)

Passive-aggressive (PA) behaviours are the ones that involve acting indirectly rather than directly aggressive. PA students frequently show resistance to requests or demands from family and students by procrastinating, expressing moodiness, or acting stubborn. The passive-aggressive student believes life will only worsen 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 offence.

Levels of PA

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 to ‘not do’ even though they know how to do it. For example, students need to present their work on the slide show in one of my sessions. A student who had a rivalry with one of the class-reps as the class-rep went to explain her work. The passive-aggressive student simply 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 withhold his/her behaviour, but instead, they are pretty 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.

Possible Remedies to PA

The above mentioned five types of aggression are found common in students aged between 12 to 19 and continuously grow especially in teens each year. The following remedies, which I usually use during the classroom, might help teachers/parents understand and control their kids’ passive aggression.

  1. Level 1: Teachers and parents have many options to deal with passive-aggressive behaviours, starting with early recognition of what they are dealing with. The challenge becomes worst when PA students display a series of minor but irritating excuses. Suddenly, the tendency of these excuses increased, so the teacher starts losing his/her patience, handing out punishments, and start reacting. On the other hand, the PA students sit there cool as a cucumber, having succeeded in frustrating their teachers. Patience is the key, avoid reacting and stay calm 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 rectify their work.
  3. Level 3: This level is incredibly 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: Students’ behaviour reaches the extreme edge of passive aggression at these levels. 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’. However, 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 and Western countries. The wireless technology and high-tech social media provide multiple ways for PA students to fuel their hidden revenge and negatively use their abilities against their rivalries. We, teachers and parents, can make our children aware of the long-term impact of their destructive behaviours but in a friendly and understandable manner.

Good Luck 😊

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