Facts About Bullying


What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior that is intentional, hurtful, (physical and psychological), and/or threatening and persistent (repeated). There is an imbalance of strength (power and dominance).

The above definition includes the following criteria that will help you determine if a student is being bullied:

  • The mistreatment must be intentional.
  • The mistreatment must be hurtful (physical or psychological).
  • The mistreatment is threatening. The individual fears harms.  Fear their safety.
  • The mistreatment must occur more than once. However, some disagree with this. They say one very hurtful event is enough to label it bullying.
  • There must be a power imbalance.

What Does Bullying Look Like?


Direct Bullying Behaviors

Physical Bullying (a few examples)

  • Hitting, slapping, elbowing, shouldering (slamming someone with your shoulder)
  • Shoving in a hurtful or embarrassing way
  • Kicking
  • Taking, stealing, damaging or defacing belongings or other property
  • Restraining
  • Pinching
  • Flushing someone’s head in the toilet
  • Cramming someone into his or her locke
  • Attacking with spit wads or food

Verbal Bullying (a few examples)

  • Name-calling
  • Insulting remarks and put-downs
  • Repeated teasing
  • Racist remarks or other harassment
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Whispering behind someone’s back

Indirect Bullying Behaviors

Social/Relational (a few examples)

  • Destroying and manipulating relationships (turning your best friend against you)
  • Destroying status within a peer group
  • Destroying reputations
  • Humiliation and embarrassment
  • Intimidation
  • Gossiping, spreading nasty and malicious rumors and lies about someone
  • Hurtful graffiti
  • Excluding someone from a group (social rejection or isolation)
  • Stealing boyfriends or girlfriends to hurt someone
  • Negative body language (facial expressions, turning your back to someone)
  • Threatening gestures, taunting, pestering, insulting remarks and gestures
  • Glares and dirty looks, nasty jokes, notes passed around, anonymous notes
  • Hate petitions (promising to hate someone)

Other Bullying Behaviors

  • Cyber bullying: negative text messages on cell phones, e-mail, or voice-mail messages, Web pages, and so on Direct and indirect forms of bullying often occur together. All of these behaviors can be interrelated.

How Are Boys and Girls Different in Their Bullying?

Both boys and girls use verbal aggression (such as mocking, name-calling, teasing, mean telephone calls, verbal threats of aggression) and intimidation (such as graffiti, publicly challenging someone to do something, playing a dirty trick, taking possessions, coercion) (Garrity, Jens, Porter, Sager, and Short-Camilli, 1996). Nevertheless, there are some differences.

Boy Bullies:

  • Boys may bully more than girls. However, some question this.
  • Boys bully both boys and girls (Olweus, 1993).
  • Boys use more direct behaviors (physical and verbal bullying) than girls do. They usually use more indirect bullying as their verbal skills increase (Mullin-Rindler, 2002).
  • Boys may use more physical aggression than girls (Espelage, Bosworth, & Simon, 2000; Hyde, 1986; McDermott, 1966). However, more research is needed to verify this, and the research indicates that assumptions should not be made about the nature of their aggression (Espelage & Swearer, 2004).
  • Boys are just as likely as girls to use social and emotional taunting.

Girl Bullies:

  • Girls are aggressive, but may use more indirect behaviors to damage relationshipsand can be sneaky and nasty.
  • Girls are becoming more physical in bullying than in the past
  • Girls are more likely to bully other girls, but sometimes they bully boys (Olweus, 1993).
  • Girls bully in groups more than boys do.
  • Girls seek to inflict psychological pain on their victims, which hurts as much as, if not more than, physical attacks and has long-lasting effects.
  • Girls behave well around adults but can be cruel and mean to peers.
  • Girls target weaknesses in others.
  • Girls frequently make comments regarding the sexual behavior of girls they don’t like (Byrne, 1994a, 1994b).
  • Girls attack within tightly knit networks of friends, which intensifies the hurt.

How Frequently Does Bullying Occur?

There are different estimates of how often children are bullied or engage in bullying:

  • According to the American Medical Association, 3.7 million youths engage in bullying, and more than 3.2 million are victims of “moderate” or “serious” bullying each year (Cohn & Canter, 2003).
  • Some studies have shown that between 15 and 25 percent of U.S. students are frequently bullied; 15 to 20 percent report that they bully others frequently (Nansel et al., 2001; Melton et al., 1998; Geffner, Loring, & Young, 2001).
  • Over the course of a year, nearly one-fourth of students across grades reported that they had been harassed or bullied on school property because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability (Austin, Huh-Kim, Skage, & Furlong, 2002).
  • Almost 30 percent of youth in the United States (or over 5.7 million) are estimated to be involved in bullying as either a bully, a target of bullying, or both. In a national survey of students in grades 6 to 10, 13 percent reported bullying others, 11 percent reported being the target of bullies, and another 6 percent said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves (Nansel et al., 2001).
  • Seventy-four percent of eight- to eleven-year-old students said teasing and bullying occur at their schools (Kaiser Family Foundation & Nickelodeon, 2001).
  • Every seven minutes, a child on an elementary playground is bullied (Pepler, Craig, & Roberts, 1998).

When and Where Does Bullying Usually Occur?

  • It occurs at early ages and in all grades, with an onset between three and four years of age (Byrne, 1994a, 1994b).
  • In the United States, it increases for boys and girls during late elementary years, peaks during the middle school years, and decreases in high school (Hoover, Oliver, & Hazler, 1992; Banks, 1997; Garrett, 2003).
  • Physical severity may decrease with age (Sharp & Smith, 1994).
  • At the start of the school year, bullies begin looking for easy targets.
  • It occurs two to three times more often at school than on the trip to and from school (Olweus, 1995).
  • It is most likely to occur where there is no adult supervision, inadequate adult supervision, poor supervision, a lack of structure, and few or no anti-bullying rules; it is also more likely to occur where teachers and students accept bullying or are indifferent to it (Beane, 2008).
  • It occurs virtually everywhere: in homes, nursery schools, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, neighborhoods, churches, city parks, on the trip to and from school, on the streets, and in the workplace, for example. It occurs in large cities and small towns, large schools and small schools—and even one-room schools in other countries (Olweus, 1995).
  • It occurs mainly in hidden areas and areas lacking adult supervision: halls, stairwells, the playground, areas where students take brief breaks, between buildings, restrooms, locker rooms, the cafeteria, on buses, and parking lots; it occurs when students are walking to and from school, but also in classrooms.

Why Do Students Keep Bullying a Secret?

  • They are taught not to “tattle.” They think telling someone they are being hurt orsomeone else is being hurt is wrong.
  • They have told or heard someone else tell adults about bullying before, and nothing was done about it.
  • They are afraid adults will make the situation worse.
  • They are embarrassed or feel shame because they feel no one likes them; they feel defective.
  • They feel shame because they cannot stand up for themselves as they have been taught.
  • They do not want to worry their parents. They love their parents and want to protect them from worry and anxiety.

Why Must Bullying Be Stopped?

  • It is more prevalent today than in the past and occurs in more serious forms today.
  • The intensity of bullying has increased because more students join in.
  • More kids are participating—and even encouraging bullies to victimize others.
  • There have been numerous criminal cases because of bullying.
  • There have been numerous lawsuits because of bullying.
  • It creates a fearful school climate.
    • Other students worry they may become victims.
    • Twenty percent of students are scared throughout much of the school day (Garrity, Jens, Porter, Sager, & Short-Camilli, 1997).
    • It causes confusion and fear in bystanders (Pepler, Craig, Ziegler, & o Charach, 1993). It intensifies normal fears of being laughed at, losing what they have, rejection, fear of the unknown, and exposure.
  • It is a common theme in school shootings as students retaliate for the bullying.
    •  It is a path taken by students who retaliate: they are hurt, are fearful, overwhelmed by anxiety, angry, and filled with hate and rage, and have a desirfor revenge.
    • Roughly two-thirds of school shooters “felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others” (Bowman, 2001, p. 11).
  • It causes stress in students.
  • It causes a lack of trust in oneself to cope appropriately, in adults to help, and in life to be good to them in the future.
  • It causes “toxic shame,” which is destructive to one’s sense of worth (Garbarino, 1999).
  • It causes some students to harm themselves, cutting themselves, for example.
  • Thirty percent of all child suicides can be directly related to bullying (Hawker & Boulton, 2000).
  • It may raise suicide risk in bystanders who are considering suicide for other reasons.
  • Every environment is social, and there seems to be no escape.  “Every day of school can be a new social mine field” (Simmons, 2002).
  • Rejected students may withdraw and commit social suicide, and in the process they are robbed of opportunities to develop needed social skills.
  • It encourages students to run away from home, when they are rejected at home and school.
  • It encourages gang membership. Victims may find acceptance, security, and a sense of family. Bullies who over time lose their peer group status may seek association with other aggressive students found in gangs (Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Gest, & Gariepy, 1988).
  • Some victims join a cult, drug group, or hate group to find acceptance and a sense of  belonging.
  • It encourages teen pregnancies. Rejected girls may seek someone to love, and someone to love them unconditionally.
  • It encourages dropping out of school. Ten percent of dropouts do so because of repeated bullying (Weinhold &Weinhold, 1998).
  • It contributes to poor school attendance. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, 160,000 students per day stay home from school because of bullying (Fried & Fried, 2003).
    • Seven percent of eighth graders stay home at least once a month because of bullies (Banks, 2000).
    • Twenty-five percent of girls grades 8 to 12 don’t want to attend school and stay home or skip classes because of sexual bullying (American Association of University Women, 1993)
  •  It leads to loneliness, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress, eating disorders, and other long-lasting harmful emotional effects in the adult years (Olweus, 1993; McMaster, Connolly, Pepler, & Craig, 1998; Rigby, 2001).
  • It has a negative impact on student morale and learning and achievement. Fourteen percent of surveyed students in grades 8 to 12 and 22 percent in grades 4 to 8 reported that “bullying diminished their ability to learn in school” (Hoover & Oliver, 1996, p. 10). Seventeen percent of students said bullying interfered with academic performance (Hazler, Hoover, & Oliver, 1992).
  • It is a root cause of discipline problems for both the victim and bully. Bullied students have behavior problems after the bullying, and those problems get worse over time (Schwartz, McFayden-Ketchum, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1998).
  • Hostile children are more likely to develop diabetes and develop cardiac problems as they age (Elias, 2002).
  • It prevents the full inclusion of students with disabilities.
  • It creates societal problems. Bullies identified by age eight are six times more likely to be convicted of a crime by age twenty-four and five times more likely than nonbullies to end up with serious criminal records by age thirty (Maine Project Against Bullying, 2000). Sixty percent of students characterized as bullies in grades 6 to 9 had at least one criminal conviction by age twenty-four and 40 percent had three or more arrests by that age (Banks, 2000; Olweus, 1993). Chronic bullies often bully in their adult years, which hinders their ability to develop and maintain positive relationships (Oliver, Hoover, & Hazler, 1994). Bullies may grow up to abuse their spouse, children, and coworkers (Beane, 2008).

Are There Different Types of Victims?

There are two types of victims. Parents and school personnel should avoid speaking about these characteristics as weaknesses.

Typical Characteristics of Passive or Submissive Students who are Bullied:

  • They are generally quiet, cautious, sensitive, and perhaps easily moved to tears.
  • They are insecure and have little self-confidence (negative self-esteem), perhaps as the result of bullying.
  • If boys, they are usually physically weaker than their classmates, particularly the bullies, and they do not like to fight.
  • They have few or no friends, perhaps as a result of bullying.
  • They may be afraid of getting hurt or hurting themselves.
  • They find it easier to associate with adults than peers.

Typical Characteristics of Provocative Students who are Bullied:

  • Only 15 to 20 percent of victims are of this type.
  • They are often bullied more often and by more peers than passive or submissive
  • They have tempers and may try to fight back if bullied, but usually without
  • They are restless, clumsy, immature, unfocused, and generally perceived as
    awkward or tiresome. Some are hyperactive; they may be fidgety, impulsive, or
    restless and have difficulty concentrating.
  • They may have reading and writing problems.
  • They may be disliked by adults because of their often irritating behavior.
  • They may try to bully weaker students and therefore may be both victims and
  • Some are popular, and some are not. Their popularity may decrease in higher
    grades, but it never reaches the lowest popularity levels.

For a detailed description of these types, see Olweus (1993).

What are the Warning Signs that a Child is Being Bullied?

  • Sudden decrease in school attendance or skipping certain classes
  • Decline in quality of academic performance
  • Difficulty concentrating in class and easily distracted
  • Wants to take a different route to school or different transportation to school
  • Sudden lack of interest in school-sponsored activities and events
  • Seems happy on weekends but unhappy and preoccupied or tense on Sundays
  • Uses “victim” body language: hunches shoulders, hangs head, will not look people in the eye, and backs off from others
  • Suddenly prefers the company of adults
  • Frequent illness or fakes illness (headaches, stomachaches, pains)
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Comes home with unexplainable scratches and bruises
  • Suddenly develops a stammer or stutter
  • Angry, irritable, disruptive, aggressive, quick-tempered, and fights back (but always loses)
  • Cautious, clingy, nervous, anxious, worried, fearful, and insecure
  • Overly concerned about personal safety; spends a lot of time and effort thinking  or worrying about getting safely to and from school and getting around in the school (to and from lunch, to and from recess, to and from the bathroom, to and from the lockers); wants to stay in at night and prefers to stay home on weekends
  • Talks about avoiding certain areas of the school
  • Carries protection devices (knife, box opener, fork, gun)
  • Frequently asks for extra money, saying it is for lunch or school supplies
  • Possessions (books, money, clothing) are often “lost,” damaged, or destroyed without an explanation
  • Sudden change in behavior (bed-wetting, nail-biting, tics)
  • Cries easily or often, becomes emotionally distraught and has extreme mood swings
  • Blames self for problems or difficulties; feels defective and inadequate.
  • Talks about being made fun of, laughed at, picked on, teased, put down, pushed around, threatened, kicked, hit, called names, or students telling lies about them, gossiping about them, or excluding them from a group, and other bullying behaviors
  • Talks about not being able to stand up for himself or herself
  • Expresses lack of self value and self confidence
  • Talks about dropping out of school
  • Expresses lack of trust in and respect for school personnel
  • Suddenly starts bullying other students, siblings, or children in the neighborhood
  • Becomes overly aggressive, rebellious, and unreasonable
  • Sudden loss of respect for authority figures
  • Seeks the wrong friends in the wrong places
  • Talks about joining or forming a cult
  • Sudden interest in violent movies, video games, and books
  • Talks about running away
  • Talks about feeling depressed
  • Talks about or attempts suicide
  • Self harms (cutting, no eating, overeating)
  • Drastic change in appearance

What are the Warning Signs that a Child Might Bully Someone?

  • Enjoys feeling powerful and in control (Olweus, 1993)
  • Seeks to dominate or manipulate others (Olweus, 1993)
  • May be popular with other students, who envy his or her power
  • Is physically larger or makes himself or herself seem larger than his or her peers; exhibits physical or psychological power, or both
  • Is impulsive (Olweus, 1993)
  • Exhibits low tolerance of frustration (Olweus, 1993)
  • Loves to win at everything; hates to lose at anything and is a poor winner; can be Boastful
  • Seems to derive satisfaction or pleasure from others’ fear, discomfort, or pain
  • Seems overly concerned with others “disrespecting” him or her; equates respect with fear
  • Expects to be “misunderstood,” “disrespected,” and picked on; attacks before he or she can be attacked
  • Interprets ambiguous or innocent acts as purposeful and hostile; uses these as excuses to strike out at others verbally or physically
  • Seems to have little or no empathy or compassion for others (Olweus, 1993)
  • Seems unable or unwilling to see things from another person’s perspective
  • Seems willing to use and abuse other people to get what he or she wants
  • Defends his or her negative actions by insisting that others “deserve it,” “asked for it,” or “provoked it”; often describes a conflict as someone else’s “fault”
  • Is good at hiding negative behaviors or doing them where adults cannot see them
  • Gets excited when conflicts arise between others
  • Is more likely to get into trouble, smoke, drink, and fight (Nansel et al., 2001; Ericson, 2001)
  • Stays cool during conflicts in which he or she is directly involved
  • Exhibits little or no emotion when talking about his or her part in a conflict
  • Blames other people for his or her problems
  • Refuses to accept responsibility for his or her negative behaviors
  • Shows little or no remorse for his or her negative behaviors
  • Lies in an attempt to stay out of trouble
  • “Tests” authority by committing minor infractions, then waits to see what will happen
  • Disregards or breaks school or class rules
  • Is generally defiant or oppositional toward adults
  • Seeks, even craves, attention; seems just as satisfied with negative attention as positive attention
  • Attracts more than the usual amount of negative attention from others and is therefore disciplined more often than most other students
  • Tends to be confident, with high self-esteem (Nansel et al., 2001)
  • Seems mainly concerned with his or her own pleasure and well-being
  • Seems antisocial or lacks social skills
  • Has difficulty fitting into groups; may experience loneliness (Ericson, 2001)
  • Has a close network of friends (actually “henchmen” or “lieutenants”) who
    follow along with whatever he or she wants to do
  • Has average or above-average performance in school (Olweus, 1993); however, some studies say they may do poorly (Schwartz, 2006; Ericson, 2001)
  • May have problems at school or at home
  • Lacks coping skills
  • Average in anxiety and uncertainty
  • May be a victim of bullying (Nansel et al., 2001; Crawford, 2002)

What Does the Research Say about the Response of Adults who are Aware of the Bullying?

  • Forty percent of bullied students in elementary and 60 percent of bullied studentsin middle school report that teachers intervene in bullying incidents “once in a while” or “almost never” (Olweus, 1993; Charach, Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995).
  • Twenty-five percent of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying or put-downs and consequently intervene in only 4 percent of bullying incidents (Cohn & Canter, 2003).
  • Researchers Craig and Pepler (1995) have found that adults are often unaware of bullying problems (Mullin-Rindler, 2002).
  • In an initial survey of students in fourteen Massachusetts schools, over 30 percent believed that adults did little or nothing to help with bullying (Mullin-Rindler, 2002)
  • Almost 25 percent of the more than twenty-three hundred girls surveyed felt that they did not know three adults they could go to for support if they were bullied (Girl Scout Research Institute, 2003).
  • Students often feel that adult intervention is infrequent and unhelpful, and fear that telling adults will only bring more harassment from bullies (Banks 1997; Cohn & Canter, 2003).

References and Other Valuable Work and Resources

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