Parent's Resource Center

What Is Bullying?

Bullying in its truest form is comprised of a series of repeated intentionally cruel incidents, involving the same children, in the same bully and victim roles. This, however, does not mean that in order for bullying to occur there must be repeat offenses. Bullying can consist of a single interaction. Bullying behavior may also be defined as a criminal act if the bully is twelve years of age or older.

What makes a victim?

Why aren't all children victims? Research on bullying states that sixty percent of all students are never involved in any kind of bullying incidents, either as victims or as bullies (Psychology Today, Sept. 1996). However, every day in schools, many students witness bullying incidents as they happen, and this forces their involvement. Often, these students do not realize that what they are witnessing is, in fact, bullying. Good natured teasing and rough-housing are only fun if both parties involved agree that it is fun. The power difference between bullies and victims determines the nature of the interaction.

Most children are approached by a bully early in their school career, and/or when they change schools. It is often the child's reaction to that first encounter with being bullied which determines whether or not he/she will be approached again. Children who are victimized tend to display "vulnerable behaviors". People who are identified as being highly vulnerable are often singled out as victims.

What happens to Bullies?

The life-long outlook for bullies is not good. If bullies don't learn how to change their behavior, the pattern of bullying behavior often becomes a habit as the bully gets older.

Bullies have average social popularity up to approximately age 14 or 15. In fact, some children even look up to bullies in some ways because they are powerful and do what they want to, or have to, to get their way with their peers. However, by late adolescence, the bully's popularity begins to wane. By senior high school, if a bully is still attending school, his or her peers group includes other bullies, or more seriously, he or she has developed or is developing gang alliances. By late high school, school-yard bullying is a rare occurrence, but what takes its place is more serious.

By age 24, up to sixty percent of people who are identified as childhood bullies have at least one criminal conviction. A study spanning 35 years by psychologist E. Eron at the University of Michigan found that children who were named by their school mates, at age eight, as the bullies of the school were often bullies throughout their lives. In this longitudinal study of bullies, many of these children, as adults, required more support from government agencies (Psychology Today, Sept. 1995). For example, these children later had more court convictions, more alcoholism, more antisocial personality disorders and used more of the mental health services than the other children.

Unless new behaviors are learned and adopted, bullies continue to bully throughout their lifetime. They bully their mates, their children, and possibly their underlings in their place of business. Bullying gets them what they want, and although some bullies learn to refine the art of bullying in their professional lives and use it in situations where there is a power imbalance, it creates less than harmonious relations in the workplace.

What happens to Victims?

Adults, like children, resent being bullied, except that adult victims have more options available to them than do child victims. Children cannot escape the school yard, the change room, or the cafeteria. Sometimes, victims do not survive the torture and humiliation of bullying.

In most situations, victims do survive, but carry their emotional scars for a lifetime.

By senior high school, regular bullying incidents are often a thing of the past, but all victims know who the bullies are, and avoid them. By age 16 or 17, bullies and victims are usually moving in different directions in terms of curricular interests in school, therefore their paths rarely cross. Social groupings are clearly defined by this time in a student's life and invisible boundaries have been drawn.

When a child has been repeatedly victimized, certain behaviors and attitudes tend to emerge which are inconsistent with his/her typical behaviors. Often children are too embarrassed and humiliated to report victimization.

Benefits of an Anti- Bullying Policy

In talking to parents over the past years, it is clear that what they want most for their children is to know that they are safe at school. When a child does not feel safe at school, it affects everything else that goes on in that child's life. Many schools have an unofficial reputation for tolerating bullying. This reputation is usually common knowledge throughout the student community. In these schools more children tend to feel anxious about their personal safety and as a result many are reluctant to attend. By the time a school has a public reputation for being a "tough school", many victims have suffered in silence.

Once the issue of bullying is brought into the open by the school, and the community is made aware of the "No Bullying" policy, the school gains a reputation of being safe for all children and is seen as an active partner in taking care of children.

The benefits to students are significant as well. When children know that the school they attend actively works to make the learning environment a safe environment, and that bullying is not tolerated, they can afford to relax their guard and divert more of their attention to learning rather than staying safe. Even students who cannot be categorized as victims or bullies, but who witness bullying, feel more comfortable when they know that the school community, students, staff and administration stand together against bullying.

Regardless of what kind of school environment students have previously encountered, when they enter a school with a Zero Tolerance for bullying, students who have bullying potential usually test the policy. For this reason, it is important that the school maintains the active teaching of non bullying behaviors, and publishes school-based bullying statistics ( Appendix E). Students need to know that this is not just a 'shot in the dark', and that the policy will be reviewed and maintained each and every year.

Although it is best to have the entire school working toward a reduction in the number of bullying incidents, in situations where this cannot be achieved, classroom teachers can adopt individual programs. This is not as desirable for obvious reasons, but it is a start to tackling the bullying problem.

What Schools Can Do

A major cause of stress at school for children is the fear of being taunted or bullied. Kids who are bullied are two to three times more likely to have headaches or other illnesses. (ABC News, Sept. 22, 1996)

Schools need to establish a social climate where physical aggression and bullying are not used to gain popularity, maintain group leadership or influence others to do what they are told to do. No one deserves to be bullied. Once the 60% of children who are neither victims nor bullies adopt the attitude that bullying is an unacceptable behavior, schools are well on their way to having a successful bullying program.

Schools need to advertise the fact that they have adopted a Zero Tolerance policy for bullying, and that they have a working Anti-Bullying plan in force. School faculty must maintain a high profile in terms of the behavioral expectations of their students in order to gain support from the community and send a clear message to the families of present and future students that bullying will not be tolerated.

Once a school has established itself as a safe place for all students, school personnel will need to continually work at maintaining that reputation. It is a difficult task that requires the school faculty to put student safety at the top of their priority list. Remember, students who do not feel safe at school are unlikely to perform as well academically as they are capable, thus possibly impeding their future opportunities. A commitment by the staff to no-bullying in the school must be a long term undertaking. When a new school year begins, staff should be sure Anti-Bullying policies have been included and discussed in the yearly goal setting process.

Schools can create support groups where victims can concentrate on developing the skills needed to change their place within the social hierarchy of the student body. The goal is for the victim to become a part of the group of students who do not bully and are not bullied. Such changes requires a great deal of time and effort, but it is possible, given the necessary support.

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Revised: November 14, 2006